The Department of State Services, DSS has accused businessman and Chief Executive Officer of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Ifeanyi Ubah, of diverting about 80 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit (commonly called petrol), kept in his custody by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
Ubah, according to DSS, shunned NNPC’s repeated demands for the product estimated to be worth N11bn in order to cause artificial scarcity of the product and plunge the country into avoidable chaos.
According to the agency, the act amounted to economic sabotage punishable by death.
These were stated in a counter-affidavit and written submission filed by the DSS in opposition to an application by Ubah, asking a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Jabi, Abuja, to set aside an order for his detention for 14 days.
Justice Yusuf Halilu had granted the order to the DSS on May 10, 2017, allowing the agency to keep the suspect in custody for 14 days pending the completion of an ongoing criminal investigation against him.
The DSS’s lawyer, G. Agbadua, told Justice Halilu on Tuesday that Ubah was plotting to plunge the nation into economic and social crisis by creating artificial scarcity of petroleum product.
The DSS’ counter-affidavit deposed to by one of the agency’s operatives, Safwan Bello, stated, “The respondent (Ubah) was arrested on reasonable suspicion of his involvement in the commission of crime. He converted PMS, belonging to the NNPC, kept in the custody of his tank farm, to his personal use.
“The respondent refused to return the PMS to the NNPC after repeated demands. The PMS is worth over N11bn. The action of the respondent is affecting the distribution of petroleum products to the populace.
“The action of the respondent is sabotage of NNPC’s activities as it relates to the distribution of petroleum products. If not for the urgent steps taken by the Federal Government, the action of the respondent would have plunged the country into widespread scarcity with its attendant effect on the economy.
“Petroleum is the lifeblood of the Nigerian economy. NNPC is a major stakeholder in the petroleum industry in Nigeria. An attack on the Nigerian economy is an economic threat to national security dimension.
“The Nigerian populace will suffer untold hardship if NNPC is unable to discharge its statutory responsibilities, including distribution of petroleum products as well as generating revenue for the country.
“The action of the respondent, if not checked, is capable of undermining the NNPC in the discharge of its duties. Investigation into the activities of the respondent is yet to be completed. A premature released of the respondent will adversely impact on the investigation, which is nearing completion.”
Agbadua stated in a written address, which he adopted during the Tuesday’s hearing, that the alleged diversion of the petroleum product by Ubah was not only stealing, but an attempt to cripple the nation’s economy.
He stated that the act was punishable by death under the Petroleum Production and Distribution (Anti-Sabotage) Act, 2004.
He stated, “The action of the respondent (Ubah) to sabotage the distribution of petroleum products is a capital offence under the Petroleum Production and Distribution (Anti-Sabotage) Act, 2004.
“The act of the respondent was capable of plunging the country into chaos as a result of scarcity of product had the NNPC not taken a proactive step to forestall such situation. This clearly brings the action of the respondent under the provision of the Petroleum Production and Distribution (Anti-Sabotage) Act, 2004.
“The punishment of sabotage under this Act attracts death penalty. It is clear that the respondent was arrested for the conversion of the property of the NNPC. It is not just ordinary stealing, it is stealing of the lifeblood of the nation.
“Oil is the major source of revenue of the Federal Government. Stealing of the revenue is a crime against the economic interest of Nigeria and therefore, falls within the purview of economic threat of national security dimension.”
Agbadua stated that the gravity of the alleged offence informed why a diligent investigation was required to ensure prompt prosecution of the respondent.
He added that this was why the DSS sought the permission of the court to detain Ubah pending the conclusion of investigation.
The DSS had arrested Ubah upon complaint by the NNPC that the businessman diverted over 80 million litres kept in the tank farm of his company, Capital Oil and Gas Limited, based in Lagos.
The DSS said Ubah’s continued detention was based on the order granted by Justice Halilu.
Agbadua contended that as against the argument by Ubah that the diversion was purely a civil case, his action was criminal and was allegedly intended to threaten the nation’s economy.
He also justified the DSS’ involvement in the investigation of the case, arguing that the alleged offence fell within such issues that the DSS could investigate.
He said the act was not only punishable under the Petroleum Production and Distribution (Anti-Sabotage) Act, 2004, but also under Section 383 of the Criminal Code.
Ubah had applied to the court to set aside the detention order, arguing among others, that the court was misled by the DSS, which allegedly suppressed material facts from the court.
Arguing Ubah’s application earlier, his lawyer, Ifeoma Esom, prayed the court to either set aside its order of May 10 or order the businessman’s release on the grounds that his continued detention was unjustifiable.
Esom argued that the issue on which Ubah was being held was purely civil and contractual.
She stated that provision had been made for penalty in the case of default under the circumstances of the case.
Esom stated that Capital Oil and Gas had been one of the largest “throughput provider” for the NNPC for a long time.
She stated, “The failure to re-deliver is expressly stated by the contract to be a mere breach of contract, remediable by the payment of penalty to the owner. There can therefore be no issue of crime in conversion of products under a throughput contract (regardless of the ordinary connotations of those words).”
Justice Halilu adjourned until May 25 for ruling.