The Department of State Services has accused businessman and owner of Capital Oil & Gas Ltd., 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.
The agency stated that Ubah shunned NNPC’s repeated demands for the product estimated to be worth N11bn in order to cause artificial scarcity of the product.
It stated that Ubah’s action could plunge Nigeria into widespread scarcity of PMS and economic chaos. According to DSS, 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, Mr. 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, Mr. 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.
Justice Halilu adjourned until May 25 for ruling.