A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday ordered the release from detention of the Chairman of Capital Oil and Gas Ltd, Ifeanyi Ubah.
Justice Mohammed Idris issued the order while ruling on various applications for and against the release of the applicant.
Ubah had filed the suit through his lawyer, Mrs Ifeoma Esom, seeking an order compelling his release from the custody of the Department of State Security (DSS).
Joined as respondents in the suit are: the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the D-G, Department of State Security (DSS).
Also joined are: The DSS, Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), NNPC Retail Ltd, and Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).
The DSS had on May 12, taken Ubah into custody on allegations of “economic sabotage” and diversion of petroleum products to the tune of N11 billion.
The petroleum products were said to have been stored by NNPC in Capital Oil’s tank farm in Lagos, under a “throughput” agreement, but the products went missing under controversial circumstances.
Meanwhile, Ubah in his suit is urging the court to declare his detention unlawful and to direct his immediate and unconditional release from the custody of the DSS.
In his ruling on Thursday, Justice Idris issued an order directing the DSS to effect an unconditional release of the applicant, within 48 hours.
The judge held that where the applicant is to be detained beyond the time allowed by the law, then the DSS must prefer a proper charge against him.
The court, therefore, directed the release from custody of the applicant.
At the last adjourned date on May 18, counsel representing both the applicant and respondents had all argued their respective applications before the court.
Arguing a preliminary objection to the suit, counsel to the NNPC, Mr K. C Turaki (SAN), had urged the court to strike out the applicant’s suit for lack of merit.
He had argued that the applicant diverted petroleum products kept in his custody and so was guilty of economic sabotage.
He told the court that the corporation had in the recent past, been subjected to various investigations, particularly on issues of fuel diversion.
According to Turaki, the NNPC has a duty to inform investigating agencies where the petroleum products were kept, for them to carry out further investigations.
He argued that even if an agreement existed, between the applicant and the NNPC, the position of the law is that a crime had been committed by the diversion of the products.
According to him, it is the law that no party in an agreement has the right to decriminalise the Criminal Act.
Turaki also submitted that the security agencies have inherent powers under the Constitution, to investigate economic crimes, which includes diversion of Petroleum products.
In challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the applicant’s suit, he stated that all the alleged infringements committed by the plaintiff took place in Abuja.
He had, therefore, urged the court to decline jurisdiction on the matter and strike out the applicant’s suit.
In the same vein, counsel to The DSS, Mr Peter Okerinmade, had also urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit for want of Jurisdiction.
He argued that the applicant’s motion is aimed at frustrating ongoing investigations on allegations made against him by the NNPC.
On his part, counsel to the EFCC, Mr A. M. Ocholi, had argued that going through the affidavit filed by the applicant, there is no allegation of any breach of the applicant’s rights by the commission.
He had also urged the court to dismiss the suit.
Meanwhile, arguing the applicant’s motion on notice, applicant’s counsel (Esom) had told the court to discountenance all the objections raised by the respondents.
She brought her originating summons pursuant to order 2, Rule 1 of the Federal High Court Civil procedure rules, and supported by an affidavit of 103 paragraphs deposed to by the applicant’s company Secretary.
Esom had told the court that the only reason why her client (Ubah) is being harassed by the first to sixth respondents was solely on allegations of his indebtedness to the NNPC.
She had also informed the court that the said debt arose from a contractual arrangement, which she argued was not a criminal offence.
Esom also told the court that the NNPC is currently indebted to the applicant’s firm, (Capital Oil and Gas Ltd) to the tune of N10 billion and 8 million dollars.
She had argued that in spite of this debt, the applicant had never laid any report against them to any security agency.
She said that her client was arrested on two occasions in Lagos and kept at the custody of the DSS in Shangisha, before being transferred to Abuja.
Esom had, therefore, urged the court to grant the applicant’s reliefs, and order the DSS to release him unconditionally.
In addition, she had also sought an order of court, to in the alternative, admit the applicant to bail, pending the conclusion of the matter.