The story of my arrest – Ex-Minister, Iheanacho opens up
BY KUNLE KALEJAYE
…Issue has international dimension – NIMASA
Former Minister of Interior and Chairman of Integrated Oil and Gas Ltd, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho, narrates the story of his arrest by officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and a security firm headed by a former militant leader, for allegedly receiving stolen petroleum products in his tank farm.
It was alleged that Integrated Oil and Gas received a vessel, ‘M.T. Grace’, laden with suspected stolen petroleum products that were intercepted by NIMASA and the firm’s officials.
The former minister was released penultimate Friday night after officials of NIMASA and those of the firm invaded Integrated Oil and Gas corporate headquarters, Marine Road, Apapa where Iheanacho was arrested and kept for several hours at NIMASA before the matter was transferred to Lagos State Command of the State Security Service, SSS.
The former minister told Sunday Vanguard his company was surprised by the invasion. In the course of the invasion, he said the intruders ransacked the tank farm complex manhandling the workers. At the end of the day, the former minister said four members of his staff were arrested and taken to NIMASA for interrogation and have since been transferred to the SSS office at Shangisha.
He lamented that there was no formal notification on the cause of the attack nor the reason for the siege on the company’s business.
During the course of his being held, the former minister said it was announced that the ‘Head of State’ was coming, then an ex-militant leader and his associates surfaced.
Reacting to allegation of receiving stolen petroleum products from the M.T. Grace vessel, Iheanacho said: “The products stored in our tank farm are fully served by the availability of clearance documents which include navy clearance, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, clearance, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, clearance including those issued by NIMASA, our accuser.
“False and fractious reports originating undoubtedly from NIMASA and the ex-militant leader seeking to link me and my company with horrible scourge of oil theft have been widely circulated. “I want to use this opportunity to categorically deny any link or involvement by my company to the scourge of oil theft in any guise, shape or form.
“We have always established and operated our company with the best tenets of corporate governance and having in mind due regard for the requirements for integrity and accountability; and we have not and will never knowingly embark on a business transaction that is questionable”.
According to Ihenacho, his tank farm remained under occupation by security forces. “We do not know what has happened to the integrity of our depot or its content. Meanwhile four of our staff are still being held in detention,” he said.
“We want to use this opportunity to call upon the security firm and NIMASA to vacate our tank farm forthwith so that we can enter therein to take early stock of the state of our facility and its content.
“We also call upon MIMASA and the security firm’s authorities to remove the armed men which they have placed on board our vessels, the M.T. Providence, illegally and without our prior permission and authorization. The continued presence of the security firm’s armed guards on board our vessel without our permission could well be interpreted as a vessel in the process or under seizure by pirates.
“We call upon the national security establishment, the IGP, the DG, SSS, to take early measures to guarantee our personal safety and security and that of our families as we believe that our safety is currently in serious jeopardy.
“The armed unit at NIMASA could very well be said to be a private army which is now being used for personal political purposes other than for Nigerian maritime capacity development.”
The ex-militant leader had disclosed that the vessel ‘M. T. Grace’ was traced to the tank farm of Integrated Oil and Gas.
He stated that whoever is involved in any form of economic sabotage will be brought to justice. To this, the former minister said some people wanted to destroy the business he spent years to build.
“They tried to use the Aig Imoukuede’s Committee but they failed; now they are saying that they found stolen products in our facility,” Iheanacho said.
“I did not buy any stolen product, I did not sell any stolen product and I did not receive any stolen product, they only used our facility for storage. We have the THROUGHPUT agreement document, NPA clearance, navy clearance, DPR clearance and NIMASA clearance of the vessel, M.T. Grace.”
Meanwhile, the Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria, JEPTFON, on Tuesday, in Lagos, warned that its members will shut down their depots and tank farm facilities across the country within 24 hours if government failed to accede to its request to remove security operatives at the Integrated Oil and Gas Depot.
It said, “The Association unanimously resolved that if NIMASA did not vacate the illegal and criminal brigandage of its invasion of the depot and facilities of Integrated Oil and Gas including their head office within 24 hours, it shall have no choice than to close down all depots in the country.”
Indeed, some of its members are currently assisting the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, in distributing petroleum products by trucks around the country, pending when the corporation can resume pipeline distribution.
Speaking with newsmen in Lagos, the Executive Secretary of JEPTFON, Enoch Kanawa, said members of the association summoned an emergency meeting where members deliberated extensively on the matter.
At the end of the meeting, he said that JEPTFON members condemned in strong terms “the illegal and unlawful seizure of the Integrated Oil depot and offices, especially as it is only the DPR that is empowered by law to close down a tank farm, and not NIMASA.
According to him, “The illegal and unlawful seizure of the depot and facilities of Integrated Oil and Gas Ltd and its head office is in total disregard to the safety and sensitive nature of such an enormous asset, we totally condemn this action by NIMASA”, he pointed out.
“More worrisome is the physical torture of its Chairman, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho, who was abducted and had to be rescued by the State Security Service, SSS. The arrest and detention of the company staff is abomination, as Nigeria is supposed to be a democratic nation where the rule of law holds sway.”
Kanawa said that the association unanimously resolved to close down all depots in the country if NIMASA failed to vacate Integrated Oil and Gas depot at the close of work by Wednesday.
But in a television interview, Callistus Obi, Executive Director, Maritme Labour, NIMASA, said the issue at hand “has international dimension”.
Obi said a vessel belonging to a South American nation suffered a pirate attack and its content stolen and diverted. He also said the issue has become one that is very embarrassing to the nation.