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‘FEDEX’ Fingered In Smuggling Romp

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  •  As Court orders Tompolo’s arrest for shunning summons, over N34bn fraud

A vehicle with the word ‘FEDEX’ inscription-marks on its body, has been intercepted and detained by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), for allegedly participating in the lucrative business of smuggling frozen poultry.

The vehicle, according to the image-maker of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘A’, an anti-smuggling arm of Customs in Lagos, Uche Ejesieme, was intercepted on the Idiroko axis, by a Headquarters Compliance team,  led by  Assistant Comptroller, Ajibola Shittu, acting on intelligence reports.

Comptroller Mohammed Dahiru Umar In A Handshake With The Former Controller Of Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘A’, Comptroller Sani Madugu Shortly After The Latter Handed Over.
The banned item, loaded in an izuzu mini truck with registration number LSR 22 XQ, suspected to belong to Fedex Courier Express, had 100 cartons of  frozen poultry products, packed as parcels.

“The team shortly after inauguration, embarked on heightened intelligence gathering network, aimed at unraveling new strategies employed by smugglers to beat security Agents”, Ejesieme told MaritimeFirst, adding that the latest approach and subsequent seizure along the Ijebu-Ode – Sagamu road, Wednesday, is actually a paradigm shift from the conventional method.

DSC UCHE EJESIEME
“The team leader, Shittu Ajibola ascribed his latest exploit to the team’s strict adherence and comprehension of the policy thrust of the Comptroller-General of Customs”, he indicated further, stressing that “nobody would have thought that a vehicle that ought to be used to ferry parcels and other materials, could be used to smuggle”.

“The same team made a similar remarkable seizure recently when it intercepted a truck belonging to a haulage company used in smuggling over five thousand and twenty (5020) cartons of foreign frozen poultry products, concealed with two thousand and sixteen (2016) cartons of table water”, he stated further, confirming also, the seizure of another large quantity of used tyres, by the Command’s Controller’s team, led by a Deputy Superintendent of Customs, Jude Ohagwu.

Meanwhile, a new Controller, Mohammed Dahiru Umar has resumed and taken over the Unit, following recent deployment exercise embarked upon by Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).

The out-gone Controller, Comptroller Sani Madugu confirmed this, shortly before his valedictory meeting with senior officers, preceding his handover.

Ejesieme described the new command boss, as a “quintessential” officer.

“The new Controller is a quintessential and highly experienced officer, who have made his mark in all aspects of Customs operations with attendant results”, he stated, providing a glimpse of his new boss.

The new FOU Controller, Comptroller Mohammed Dahiru Umar hails from Katsina State and was enlisted into the Service as a Cadet Officer in 1982 after graduation from the prestigious Bayero University Kano.  A highly cerebral officer, Mohammed Umar who has attended courses in all aspects of Customs operation locally, regionally and internationally, was indicated as being well groomed in Valuation and Classification, Post Clearance Audit, Corporate Governance and Leadership.

Married with children, he became a full Controller in 2012 and has served as Area Controller in the Premier Port Apapa, PTML Command, Murtarla Mohammed Airport Command, Federal Capital Territory Command and last served as Controller promotion at the NCS Headquarters before his present posting.

In the meantime, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered the arrest of an ex-Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, for his failure to appear before him on Thursday to answer 30 counts of alleged N34bn fraud.

The judge issued a bench warrant against Tompolo and ordered that he must be produced in court on February 8, 2016 by all means to answer the charges.

The EFCC has charged Tompolo and a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi, alongside eight others.

Justice Buba had, in chambers on Tuesday, made an order compelling Tompolo to unconditionally appear before him on Thursday (yesterday) to answer to the charges.

But while all the other accused, including Akpobolokemi who came on crutches, were in court with their lawyers on Thursday, Tompolo was absent and did not send a representative.

When the matter was called, the EFCC prosecutor, Festus Keyamo, informed the court that despite the fact that the summons was issued in Lagos late on Tuesday, the EFCC successfully pasted it on the wall of the 1, Chief Agbanu DDPA Extension, Warri, Delta State’s house of the ex-warlord on Wednesday.

He furnished the court with a photographic evidence of the pasting of the summons.

Noting that despite the summons being served on Tompolo as directed by the judge, the accused did not appear in court.

Keyamo said the EFCC would be applying for a warrant of arrest for Tompolo, pursuant to Section 131 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

Keyamo added, “The 1st accused person has consistently, even at the point of investigations, spurned all invitations to make statement to the commission.

“We have extended an invitation to him to come and answer charges, but like an outlaw, he put out a full page advert, saying that nobody should push him to war; in a country with laws!

“The judiciary will not take such nonsense from anybody in a country governed by law and that is why we are applying for a warrant for his arrest to let us know if he is an outlaw.”

Responding to Keyamo, counsel for Akpobolokemi, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, pleaded with the court to give Tompolo more rope to pull as he was only served on Wednesday.

Nwobike, who clarified that he was not representing Tompolo, said the court might give Tompolo till Friday (today) to comply with the order in the interest of justice.

But Justice Buba noted that Tompolo had consistently disobeyed lawful authorities, saying the law was clear that any accused person, who shunned court summons, should be arrested and compelled to appear in court.

The judge, in a bench ruling, held, “The process is to serve him with summons to appear. Where he appears, that is the end of the matter. Where he fails to appear in obedience to the summons, the other process is to compel his attendance by way of arrest.

“There’s an affidavit, showing that the first defendant (Tompolo) was served as ordered by the court. In the circumstance, the court is in a position to exercise its discretion to order for the arrest of Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a Tompolo) to compel his attendance to answer the allegations before the court by dint of Section 131 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

“And it is so hereby ordered that the warrant of arrest of Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a. Tompolo) shall be issued forthwith.”

Justice Buba subsequently adjourned till February 8, 2016 for Tompolo to be produced in court.

The judge, however, made no order remanding the accused, who appeared in custody.

Justice Buba said they should all go home and return on February 8 but directed that anyone of them, who came to court on Thursday from the EFCC custody, should also return there.

He directed Keyamo to approach the court to seek a remand order if he believed that anyone of them was likely to run away.

Apart from Tompolo and Akpobolokemi, the other accused persons in the charge are Kime Engozu, Rex Elem, Gregory Mbonu and Capt. Warredi Enisuoh.

Among the accused also are four companies – Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, Odimiri Electrical Limited, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited and Destre Consult Limited.

They were accused of conspiring to divert various sums of money, running into over N34bn and belonging to NIMASA, to their personal use.

The EFCC said they acted contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and were liable to punishment under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

The EFCC had, in December last year, arraigned Akpobolokemi and others on two separate charges before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Justice Buba fixed January 18 for trial.

Additional report from Punch

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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