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Stop Granting EFCC Remand Orders, CJ Tells Magistrates

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  • As Senate seeks probe of $40m loan to aviation industry

As complaints mount against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over human rights violations, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Ishaq Bello, has ordered magistrates in the FCT to stop granting remand orders to the anti-graft agency with immediate effect.

Justice Bello gave the directive wednesday during a visit to the Keffi Medium Prison in Keffi, Nasarawa State.

The EFCC has been securing warrants from magistrates in Abuja to detain people without arraignment beyond the maximum 48 hours allowed by the constitution.

By so doing, the commission relied on FCT magistrates for remand warrants to detain suspects being investigated for corruption and other economic crimes, especially those linked to the misappropriation of funds from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) under the past administration.

The commission last week said it had obtained a detention warrant from a Magistrates’ Court in the FCT to enable it keep the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Olisa Metuh, in its custody pending the conclusion of its investigation.

The chief judge, who also expressed concern over the high number of inmates awaiting trial in the prison, also barred Magistrates’ Courts from entertaining cases like armed robbery and murder over which they ordinarily lack the jurisdiction to try.

“Let me also use this opportunity to say this: I understand that EFCC has been bringing some cases to you and you have been granting them remand orders. You must no longer do this from today.

“You must not arraign people for offences such as armed robbery, murder and other capital offences before Magistrates’ Courts which you don’t have the competence to handle.

“On no account should you take cognisance of cases outside your jurisdiction and which you do not have power to try.

“You must henceforth decline jurisdiction on such cases. You must not do this as from today,” Justice Bello said.

He directed the magistrates, prison authorities and the FCT High Court Deputy Chief Registrar, Mr. Sunday Ochimana, to compile all such cases currently before Magistrates’ Court in the FCT for him to re-assign to the High Court, which has the jurisdiction to try them.

The judge’s position was made known when reviewing cases of some inmates awaiting trial in the prison. He discovered that some of them were charged before Magistrates’ Courts for capital offences.

One of such cases was that of Queen Usa, charged with conspiracy and armed robbery.

Justice Bello directed that the case be transferred from the Magistrates’ Court it is currently in to Court 18 of the High Court of FCT.

Despite his position on the remand of suspects, Section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJ) Act allows magistrates to remand suspects on a holding charge for a maximum of two weeks in situations where the prosecution needs time to tidy up its case.

The chief judge, who along with his entourage, reviewed about 322 criminal cases involving suspects sent to the prison by FCT courts, and freed five awaiting trial inmates on the grounds that they were being held unjustly.

Among the 322 inmates, 301 were from the medium facility (all male), while 21 were from the old prison also in Keffi (for male and female inmates).

Those in Justice Bello’s entourage to the prison were judges, magistrates and top officials of the FCT judiciary as well as prosecutors in the Federal Ministry of Justice led by the Director of Public Prosecution, Mr. Mohammed Diri, and prosecutors from the Legal Department of the Nigeria Police Force.

One of those freed was 20-year-old Precious Ugwu who was arrested by the FCT Environmental Task Force around 10 pm on December 14, 2015 at the Durumi area of Abuja on allegations that she constituted a “public nuisance” by being outside her house around that time.

The chief judge held that the offence for which she was charged was unknown to law and that there was no reason to keep her in prison.
“You are not supposed to be here. Those at the Environmental Task Force should be able to fashion out a most civilised way of going about their duties. You are free to go,” the chief judge told an elated Precious who on hearing the judge’s pronouncement jumped up from where she was sitting and thanked the judge.

“I sell cooked Indomie (noodles) close to a bar at Durumi. I was in my place of business around 10 pm on December 14 when the task force men came. They said our area was notorious for criminal activities and queried why I did not close before that time.

“My plea for leniency fell on their deaf ears. They brought me to this place and asked me to look for money to get a lawyer. I told them that I have no money to get a lawyer. I have been praying to God since then. Look at how God answered my prayer. I thank God for his mercy,” Precious said.

Other lucky inmates included Henry Uzokwe, Emeka Okafor, Ifeanyi Nwaneri and Ifeanyi Ngige.

Earlier, the Deputy Controller of Prisons at the Keffi Medium Prison, Mr. James Lander, said the prison, with a capacity for 160, currently houses 540 inmates, 415 of whom are awaiting trial inmates.

He said of the 415 awaiting trial, 301 were sent to the prison on remand by FCT courts due to congestion at Kuje Prison in Abuja.

Lander, who highlighted the prison’s many challenges, disclosed that the facility currently has a functional mini Black Maria (prison van), with which it conveys prisoners to 80 courts spread across five local government areas in Nasarawa State and the FCT on a daily basis.

He appealed to the FCT Minister, Mr. Mohammed Bello, and the FCT judiciary to assist his prison in addressing some of the challenges, particularly in the area of transportation to ease the conveyance of inmates to courts.
Meanwhile, the EFCC has finalised plans to arraign the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP today after keeping him for more than one week in its custody.

THISDAY gathered wednesday that Metuh, who was picked up at his Abuja residence on January 5, will be arraigned before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja.

The PDP spokesman was arrested by the EFCC for allegedly collecting N400 million from the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), a charge he has denied.

Metuh, before his arrest, had confirmed that he collected an undisclosed sum of money from former President Goodluck Jonathan in order to carry out some assignments as the spokesperson for the then ruling PDP.

Since his arrest, his detention has been challenged by the PDP, which has demanded that he be released or charged to court without delay.

Similarly, the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives on Tuesday issued an ultimatum to the commission to release Metuh from its custody.

Its ultimatum followed a lawsuit instituted by a Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, at the Federal High Court in Lagos asking the court to order the immediate release of Metuh from EFCC custody.

In the meantime, the Senate has mandated its committees on aviation and anti-corruption to commence investigation into alleged disbursement of 40 million dollars ($40m) loan for rehabilitation and development of infrastructure in the aviation industry.

The mandate is part of a 15-point recommendation adopted while considering report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Aviation on the poor state of the aviation industry in Nigeria.

The report was presented by the Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Rabiu Kwankwaso (APC Kano Central).

The committees were also mandated to probe a N33.55 billion alleged to have been released by the Federal Government in 2011 for the same purpose.

The upper chamber further called on the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to stop the collection of navigational charges on all training aircraft in the country.

It also recommended that only qualified and properly trained personnel should be employed, in view of the delicate nature of the aviation industry, while capacity building should be given priority.

The Senate called on the aviation sector, under the Federal Ministry of Transport to collaborate with the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to ascertain the cause of high price of aviation fuel.
Equally, the red chamber urged NAMA and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to pay more attention to the provision of state of the art flying equipment to enhance safety and assist pilots to do their jobs professionally.

It noted that the provision of the equipment would further guard against a situation where planes could not take off and land because of poor visibility.

Chief executives of aviation parastatals and the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology were also urged to put in place a programme to replace aging pilots to pave the way for young pilots.

The Senate also urged officials of the aviation sector not to interfere in the running of specialised units in the industry.

FAAN was also advised to rehabilitate and complete all abandoned structures and pull down those that had lost their value.

The Senate also recommended that abandoned aircraft in custody of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should be resuscitated, while the Federal Government should develop a financial programme as a bailout.
The bailout, according to the upper chamber, should be tailored toward growing airlines in the country.

“The framework of this financial programme can take into consideration funds for acquisition of new equipment”, it said.

This Day with additional report from Vanguard

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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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