By Onozure Dania
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered the Nigerian Navy and the Chief of Naval Staff, jointly and severally, to pay an oil company, Mercury Oil Limited, the sum of N200 million as damages for illegally detaining its vessel M T SAPPHIRE 1 and siphoning 280,000 litres of Automated Gas Oil contained in the said vessel.
Trial judge, Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke said: “The present case has brought to the fore once again, the arrogant, brutal, callous and capricious manner our law enforcement agencies commonly adopt in the exercise of their functions to the consternation and embarrassment of any discerning and decent mind around. We are in a democracy and must do everything to enthrone and nurture democratic ethos for the good of the society.”
The judgment was sequel to enforcement of rights suit by Mercury Oil Ltd., its vessel M T SAPPHIRE 1,and four crew members on board, Folorunso Olayiwola, Joshua Arthur, Asabalashe Johnson and Wale Alade, through their counsel, Mr Norrison Quakers, SAN.
In an affidavit in support of the suit, the Managing Director of the firm averred that sometime in February, 2014,Mercury Oil company was engaged in offshore operation to load Automotive Gas Oil, AGO after relevant approvals were obtained. However, the vessel and its crew members were arrested on suspicion of engaging in illegal operations.
After due investigation by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, which is the body responsible for such investigation, the vessel was cleared of any wrong doing or illegal activities and it was recommended that the vessel should be released, but the Nigerian Navy refused and during the period the vessel was in detention, the 280,000 litres of AGO in the vessel was illegally siphoned by the Nigerian Navy.
The product on board of the vessel, the MD averred, was financed by a bank loan to the tune of N170 million.
The claimants had demanded N200million as general damages and also urged the court to declare their arrest and detention illegal and also declare as illegal and unlawful the siphoning of 280,000 liters of the AGO on board of their vessel.