Detectives at Force Headquarters, Abuja are on the trail of a gang of criminals that specializes in vandalizing and selling off vessels allegedly in connivance with government officials.
To this end, some government officials in the state and the suspected criminals have been invited by the police failure of which they would be declared wanted.
Sunday Vanguard learned the intervention followed a strongly worded petition sent to the Inspector-General of Police, Baba Alkali, by the Managing Director of Florence Petroleum and Marine Services, Dr. Henry Okey Obi, over the alleged illegal take over and sale of his vessel ‘MT My Okiki.’
Obi said he was in the United Kingdom on March 23, 2021, when he was alerted that some armed men led by a former Commissioner for Environment in River State, took the vessel worth in excess of N600 million in the open market anchored in a jetty at Okirika, River State. According to him, the vessel was sold to one Alhaji at 50 million.
The businessman also alleged that a permanent secretary in the state played a major role as he gave the authorization for the sale of the vessel on June 26, 2021, after claiming he could not find the owner. The entrepreneur said it all started when the vessel, formally known as Mt Rex Condor until 2008, was bought by his company and rebranded it as Mt Okiki.
“The vessel, which was used for bunkering fuel tanker with Nigerian flag to offshore platforms like Nigerian Agip Oil Company in Brass, SPDC and Chevron, was involved in a fire incident on May 7, 2013, en-route to supply Marine gasoil to Agip Brass. It was later salvaged and anchored in a jetty at Okirika River State where the company pays jetty fees to the community that owns the jetty.”
Obi said ever since then, the company has been mobilizing funds to fix, repair and rebrand the vessel, adding that the company has already finished the electrical installations on the vessel after purchasing marine and armoured cables worth over seventy £70, 000 from England.
We have also done anti-rust priming and painting with zine oxides. We have equally purchased a new brand engine from the Netherlands, which is already delivered to a warehouse in Lagos waiting to be moved to the vessel in Port Harcourt for installation. All these efforts cost our company over $500, 000.
“However, upon getting the information of the illegal possession of my vessel, I informed the company’s operations manager, who wrote a petition on March 25, 2021, to the Inspector-General of Police, who approved investigation on the matter. When police invited the suspects, they procured forged documents including abuse of court processes, which aided their illegal act.
“A senior magistrate grade level one court awarded the court order that the conspirators relied upon to persuade the River State police command to discontinue the investigation of their evil act. This was done even when it is known that magistrate courts in Nigeria do not have jurisdictions over vessel and admiralty matters, as a court order was procured from the magistrate court.
“They also went ahead and vandalized my vessel after which they secured the services of armed DSS men that came, threatening anyone that comes close to the vessel. They moved the vessel to a jetty owned by one Mr Abrakassa with the aid of DSS men, who provided materials and wielders that cannibalized the vessel beyond repair.
“I, therefore, instructed my lawyer to write a petition to the DSS headquarters in Port- Harcourt. It was acknowledged but they claimed it was a presidential tax force that carried out the operation. I had to cry to the Force headquarters in Abuja, who then sent their men to stop this heinous act but by then, they had vandalized the vessel beyond repair. When the officers from Abuja got to Port Harcourt, they took over the case from the state command to continue the investigation at the federal level.
“The suspects were ordered to stop scrapping my vessel pending the completion of investigation. Unfortunately, the main suspect had continued to openly flaunt his connection with people in power, boasting that he can get away with any crime and impunity he commits. They later offered me N10 million to forget about the vessel, which is worth over N600 million and I refused,” he further explained.
Investigation revealed that when the suspects were invited by the police at Area 10, Force headquarters, Abuja, they failed to turn up. However, one of the Alhaji mentioned in the deal later surface claiming that he was only a go-between between another Alhaji and other suspects. As of press time, the detectives were making frantic efforts to arrest the suspects with a view to cracking down on the gang that specializes in carrying out the illegal mission.
Efforts made to contact the suspects on phone failed but the former Commissioner for Environment in Rivers State, Mr. Igbiks Tamuno, who was mentioned in the deal spoke to Sunday Vanguard.
He said: “I left office nearly four months ago. While in office, the government set up a committee. There were a lot of accidents occurring in our waterways due to abandoned vessels. So, we set up a committee within the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transport. What they did was, any vessel that qualified for destination of rest are all those vessels that are causing problems. I’m aware they had carried the vessel like that from one place in Agba and, in fact, at a point, moving it was a bit problematic.
“If they stole it, I don’t have a way of knowing. The intention of government was to remove all those vessels that are capable of causing accidents. Yes, the vessel may have, from history, been involved in a fire accident. As a government, we did what we did.
But at the point of vandalization or whatever has happened, I don’t know anything. I am aware that even the Attorney-General and the Commissioner of Police had to write on behalf of the state government to the police to tell the police that this is the position of government.
Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, could not be reached on phone but his Deputy, Aremu Adeniran, simply said, “we are still investigating the case.”