By Alex Enumah
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), yesterday disclosed that his last year’s approval to some operators in the oil industry to sell five sea vessels laden with crude oil and diesel forfeited to the federal government was legal.
Malami’s Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Gwandu, was reacting to reports on how the minister was said to have directed Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited to dispose of the crude oil and diesel in four sea vessels through an open bid.
It was also alleged that Malami had in another approval mandated the firm to sell five vessels despite the fact that the firm and its Managing Director, Mr. Jerome Itepu, were standing trial at the Delta State High Court, Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua.
The allegedly stolen crude oil was valued at N384m in 2009.
The auctioneer was to get three per cent of the sale.
However, the minister yesterday justified his approval of the auction, insisting that he committed no infraction by granting the auctioning approval to Omo-Jay and its officials even if they were being prosecuted for alleged theft of crude oil.
“The issue of interest to the public, of which a serious journalist need to support the general public to know is whether Omoh-Jay being a duly registered company can be denied opportunity to participate in the auction bidding process on a purported account that the company is standing trial (not convicted) by a competent court of the land if indeed as claimed,” that the company was being criminally tried.
“The position of the law is clear by virtue of Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that a person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. ‘Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty’.
“Assuming, without conceding that Omo-Jay is being tried for criminal offence, if indeed any, does that take away the Constitutional presumption of innocence in their eligibility to apply and be considered for auction?”
The minister argued that if the allegation is that of breach of process and procedures of disposal of assets, the publication needs to clearly state which processes and procedures were breached.