*SERAP urges Buhari to probe operations of illegal oil pipelines, publish perpetrators’ names
Human Rights Activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), yesterday said the burning of a vessel loaded with stolen crude oil by the military in the Niger Delta last week was an attempt to cover up a crime.
The vessel in question was reportedly arrested by a newly-contracted private pipeline surveillance team, Tantita Security Services led by a former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, known as Tompolo.
But the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor had said that the swift destruction of the oil bunkering vessel by the criminal suspects was in line with the rules of engagement.
“There are various approaches, various solutions to a problem and at any time based on certain factors, certain considerations available to those that are at the frontline, actions are taken based on the directive which are contained in the rules of engagement,” he had contended.
But the senior lawyer stated that it was a trite law that only the Federal High Court was empowered to order the interim or final forfeiture of any vessel that was used for conveying stolen crude oil.
According to him, the burning of the vessel was a deliberate attempt to cover up the involvement of military personnel in the serious crime of oil theft as there was no provision in the rules of engagement that authorises military personnel or security operatives to set fire to or destroy vessels loaded with stolen crude.
“Indeed, the Chief of Defence Staff is not unaware that under the service law, the burning of a ship or vessel by a military personnel is a serious offence which attracts life imprisonment without an option of fine,” he stated.
Quoting section 111 of the Armed Forces Act, he argued that a person subject to service law under the Act who wilfully or maliciously sets fire to a public building, dwelling house, an office or any structure whatsoever or any vessel, ship, aircraft, railway track or wagon, or vehicle is guilty of arson and liable, on conviction by a court-martial, to imprisonment for life.
“In view of the gravity of the offence that is being covered up by the military oligarchy, General Irabor ought to resign his appointment to prevent the sabotage of the ongoing operations designed to expose the perpetrators of oil theft in the Niger Delta region.
“If the General decides not to call it quits, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari should not hesitate to fire him. After all, by authorising the engagement of non-state actors to carry out the constitutional duties of the armed forces, the president has lost confidence in the leadership of the armed forces.
“Furthermore, the president should order the Chief of Army Staff to ensure the immediate arrest of the military personnel who set the vessel on fire with a view to charging them with arson and allied offences before a court martial,” he stated.
SERAP Urges Buhari to Probe Operations of Illegal Oil Pipelines, Publish Perpetrators’ Names
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to promptly set up a presidential panel of enquiry to thoroughly, impartially and transparently investigate the operations of illegal oil pipelines from 2001 to date, and to widely publish the names of anyone suspected to be involved.
SERAP’s appeal followed recent reports that two illegal pipelines used to steal the country’s oil wealth from Forcados Terminal, and connected to the 48-inch Trans Forcados Export Trunk line had been uncovered.
The organisation also urged the president to ensure the prosecution by appropriate anti-corruption agencies of anyone suspected to be responsible for the plundering of the country’s oil wealth and the full recovery of any proceeds of crime.
SERAP further urged him to promptly authorise the investigation of reports of the destruction of an oil bunkering vessel by security agencies and to ensure that suspected owners of the vessel are identified, named and brought to justice.
In an open letter dated October 15, 2022, and signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said poor and socio-economically vulnerable Nigerians have continued to pay the price for the stealing of the country’s oil wealth apparently by both state and non-state actors.
The letter, read in part: “Despite the country’s substantial oil wealth, successive governments have largely squandered the opportunity to use the wealth to improve the lives and well-being of ordinary Nigerians. This is a clear violation of the government’s anti-corruption and human rights obligations.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.”