The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has opposed the suit filed by the Managing Director of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Ifeanyi Ubah, seeking to be released from the custody of the Department of State Services.
In a preliminary objection filed through its lawyer, K.T. Turak (SAN), and argued on Thursday before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos, the NNPC claimed that Ubah and his company diverted 84,891,730 litres of Premium Motor Spirit belonging to the NNPC.
The NNPC claimed that the alleged fraud was discovered when its books were being checked.
It said Ubah was aware that the NNPC had been under “serious scrutiny, investigation and financial audit of its various accounts and daily productions” since the beginning of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The development, the NNPC said, was aimed at “stopping leakages in revenue and non-remittance of proceeds from the sale of petroleum products.”
The NNPC said contrary to Ubah’s claim, it did not intimidate the business, alleging that rather, it was Ubah and his company who circumvented a commercial agreement they had with the NNPC in order to allegedly overreach the NNPC and the Asset Management of Nigeria.
It said, “Consequent upon the above development, the 7th respondent (NNPC) carried out stock physicalisation of operators’ storage facilities including those of the applicants (Capital Oil and Ubah).
“He (Ubah) knows, as a fact, that the exercise revealed huge variance between the book stock maintained by AMCON and the physical stock available at Capital Oil depot as follows:
“As of January 2017, the variance between the book balance and physical balance of product in the applicants’ depot was 21k,286,860 litres.
“As of February 2017, the variance between the book balance and physical balance of product in the applicants’ depot was 56,481,861 litres.
“By March 2017, the variance between the book balance and physical balance of product in the applicants’ depot reached 84,891,730.
“At the end of the exercise, it was discovered that the applicants had converted and/or diverted 84,891,730 litres worth N11,144,586,314.40 without the knowledge of the NNPC and AMCON.”
The NNPC alleged that despite writing Ubah and his company to return the product or pay the money, they had “deliberately failed, refused and/or neglected to do so.”
The NNPC said Ubah was arrested and detained by the DSS pursuant to the security agency’s mandate to stop leakages and recover government revenue.
Also, the DSS, which had been detaining Ubah since May 6, urged Justice Idris to dismiss the businessman’s suit, saying Ubah was being detained on the order of Justice Y. Haliru of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The security agency said the order was lawfully obtained on May 10 in compliance with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
Though Justice Idris had on May 9, 2017 ordered the DSS to produce Ubah before him on May 12 to give reasons why an order for Ubah’s unconditional release should not be made, the DSS failed to take Ubah to court.
Rather, its lawyer, Mr. Peter Oluremodu, said Ubah was being detained based on a court order for the purpose of investigation and urged the judge to dismiss the businessman’s suit.
“We urge the court to dismiss the application because it is a ploy by the applicant to distract the agency in the ongoing investigation.
“This is a case of economic sabotage for which a court in Abuja has ordered that we go on with our investigation. I urge My Lord to dismiss the application,” Oluremodu said.
But Ubah’s lawyer, Mrs. Ifeoma Esom, urged Justice Idris to order Ubah’s release, contending that the DSS could not act as a debt collection agency.
“Even if money were owed, it is still not enough reason to arrest and detain the applicant. The functions and duties of the Department of State Services as provided by law do not include the recovery of debts.
“There is no correlation between the facts before my Lord and national security,” Esom said.
Justice Idris adjourned till May 25, 2017 for ruling.
By Ramon Oladimeji.