DG, NIMASA, Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi and Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho
The invasion and occupation of Integrated Oil & Gas company owned by the former Minister of Interior, Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho, by armed operatives for allegedly receiving stolen cargo loaded with diesel, is causing ripples in the nation’s shipping industry. The management of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Ihenacho who was earlier arrested and released are now locked up in war of words. While NIMASA insists armed operatives would remain in the tank farm until necessary investigation is concluded, Ihenacho is heading to court to seek redress., reports Francis Ugwoke
Efforts to address the issue of crude oil theft and piracy on the nation’s territorial waters have been intensified in recent times. A fallout of this was the arrest of top officials of Integrated Oil & Gas Limited, including the Chairman of the company who is also the former Minister of Interior, Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho. The oil and gas company located at Coconut, along Apapa – Oshodi Expressway, Lagos, was at the time of filing this report under armed siege. And as the Deputy Director of Public Relations, NIMASA, Hajia Lami Tumaka told THISDAY, the company will remain closed until investigations on the matter are concluded. But Captain Ihenacho told THISDAY that his company has concluded arrangements to go to court over the continued occupation of the tank farm by security operatives.
While Ihenacho has maintained that his company is innocent of the allegations of storing stolen products, NIMASA has on the other hand insisted that Integrated Oil is culpable. Both Ihenacho and NIMASA officials have been defending their actions since the invasion of the tank farm by security agents working for the agency.
Allegations Against Integrated Oil
Before NIMASA operatives struck at Integrated Oil, it had first paraded suspects accused of hijacking a vessel and stealing petroleum products.
The Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, Barrister Callistus Nwabueze Obi said investigations revealed that stolen products from a hijacked vessel were stored in the tank farm operated by Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, adding that it was for this reason that Captain Ihenacho and other management officials of the company were arrested. Obi who spoke on behalf of the DG, NIMASA, Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, told newsmen that the products which were stolen from the activities of piracy were conveyed and stored at Integrated Oil and Gas.
It was alleged that the vessel which deposited the oil at the tank farm was MT Grace. Before the Integrated Oil incident, NIMASA had also arrested some suspects, including Captain Okotie Nicholas as part of the sponsors of pirate activities on the nation’s territorial waters. But Okotie was quick to deny this, claiming that he owns about three vessels for charter. He said that his vessel which was impounded by NIMASA was chartered about a month ago for crew change. He insisted that he was not involved in oil theft. Among suspects arrested along with Okotie were those who said they were office staff and visitors. NIMASA’ Patrol team leader, Promise Dappa confirmed this, when he told newsmen that out of the eleven suspects, seven persons were arrested in the office.
NIMASA had about a month ago paraded other 10 persons suspected to be sea pirates. They were also suspected to have had a hand in the death of Capt Romeo Itima, the Managing Director of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL) , a company contracted by NIMASA to provide maritime security. He was killed by pirates. The current onslaught against pirates, according to sources, is linked to the anger by Global West over the death of the former Managing Director in the case of a hunter being hunted.
Defence by Ihenacho
In his defence, Ihenacho who described his arrest as abduction explained that his tank farm was on rent. But he added that the vessel, MT Grace, which was alleged to have stored stolen diesel in his tank farm was given all the approval by relevant authorities. He said there was approval from NIMASA, the Nigerian Navy and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) before his company accepted to rent the facilities to the owners of the diesel. In a document shown to newsmen, the Managing Director of Danyomile Marine Services Limited, Mr. Ilesanmi EO, had applied to the Nigerian Navy to discharge the Automative Gas Oil (AGO), from MT Grace into the Integrated Oil and Gas Tank Farm. The company had on August 28, 2012, applied to discharge 3,000 metric tons of diesel.
The request was duly approved and signed by the Commanding Officer, NNS Beecroft, Naval Base, Apapa, the document showed. NIMASA had also issued clearance to the vessel in its letter No.00010959, dated August 31, and signed by the Director of Operation and Shipping Development, which was addressed the Port Manager, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
Similarly, the DPR granted approval to MT Grace via a letter dated August 29, 2012. The NPA also granted approval to the vessel via receipt No. 0017826 of August 30, 2012.
Integrated charged N2.50 per litre for the product. Ihenacho made it clear that his company is not the owner of the product. He said that the company which rented the facility is well known. First arrested by Global West operatives working for NIMASA, Ihenacho was later handed over to SSS. He was released after about eight hours of detention, he told THISDAY. Five officials of the company held by Global West were also released Monday.
NIMASA’s Response to Approvals on Discharge of the Product
Deputy Director, Public Relations , NIMASA, who reacted to the defence that her agency gave approval to the owner of the products in Integrated Oil tank farm, claimed that the papers seeking approval were faked. She also said that the authority was already on the trail of the vessel before, adding that it wanted to see where the cargo will be discharged. She said that the operatives moved in on seeing the vessel discharge to the oil tanks belonging to Integrated Oil. She maintained that the agency was not out to witch-hunt anybody but all out to stamp out piracy and cases of theft of oil products. She also said that Integrated Oil will remain closed until investigations on the matter are fully conducted.
Ihenacho Plans Court Action
Ihenacho told THISDAY Wednesday that his company has concluded plans to go to court over the continued occupation of the company’s tank farm by operatives of Global West. He said that he strongly believes that it is the court that will straighten issues following the invasion of his company.
Linking Closure of Tank Farm to Politics
In the shipping sector, observers have linked the face-off between Ihenacho’s company and NIMASA as plots by political enemies. Some think that politicians in his home state where he is very influential may be pressing buttons in some quarters to bring him down. Others are of the opinion that it could be other type of set up, particularly on the claims that MT Grace and the cargo, allegedly belonged to a relation of the top official of NIMASA.
It would also be recalled that some months ago, Ihenacho had in an exclusive interview with THISDAY in his characteristic manner criticised the appointment of non-professionals to head NIMASA. He told THISDAY. “We must depoliticise the issue of appointments into NIMASA. We really need to have people who are professionals in the business who understand the history of the fight that we have indeed worked to ensure that we develop the indigenous shipping capacity optimally. You must bring these people to bear. No one is criticizing the people who are already in NIMASA, there are lots and lots of people who have by virtue of their employment within NIMASA have over the years acquired this experience. And I think that this is the way to go. But one of the things we need to do is to depoliticise this issue about ‘all right, it is politics and you cannot talk about this issue’. You must put professionals in the right positions so that the right results can be achieved”.
However, Ihenacho was not alone in this criticism.. Besides, Ihenacho was not referring to the present leadership of NIMASA, but spoke generally like other maritime stakeholders. But Ihenacho had also during the interview criticised the appointment of Global West Security to provide security on the nation’s territorial waters when the Navy was there. He had instead called on funding of the Navy to provide such security.
He told THISDAY, “ Well, the first question I like to ask is: why is it necessary to bring a private security organisation that is not really trained in the business of providing security on national basis to come and partner with the Navy? Is it that there is any deficit in terms of the numbers in the Navy or in terms of the equipment they need. Why are we going to bring people that are not specifically qualified to do this job, to partner with the Navy. It is a question that needs to be answered. I think that the thing to do is to equip the Navy to discharge its constitutional responsibilities, bringing in a private contractor, I don’t see how that will indeed enhance their effectiveness or how that will indeed stop the issue of piracy attacks in our waters” .
Observers are linking these statements to the travails of the former Minister .
Appeal by Industry Stakeholders
Shipping industry stakeholders who are concerned about the face-off , have called for a truce. At the same time, they have called for a thorough investigation of the matter to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice. Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria (JEPTFON), a group of tank farm owners, during the week while condemning the take-over of the Integrated oil depot threatened to shut down operations nationwide if security operatives now occupying Ihenacho’s tank farm failed to vacate. Industry stakeholders are also wondering on what has happened to the original owners of MT Grace and cargo discharged in Integrated Oil tank farm.
However, NIMASA’s Barrister Obi debunked claims that the arrests and occupation of Integrated Oil tank farm were targeted at destroying Integrated Oil and Gas Limited. He said “ in law, when stolen property is found on anybody, that person becomes a useful component in the investigation process.”