•Orders seizure of his multi-billion naira property in Warri, Escravos, Effurun
•Human Rights Commission to meet Service Chiefs over human rights abuse
By Innocent Anaba, Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THE woes of embattled ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, worsened, yesterday, with a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordering the seizure of his multi-billion naira property, following his refusal to appear in court to stand trial over allegations of money laundering and stealing of about N34 billion belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA.
By the order, Tompolo will forfeit: a River Crew Change Boat named MUHA – 15, the property known as “Tompolo Dockyard” by the end of Enerhen Road, Effurun, Warri and the property known as “Tompolo Yard” at the end of Chevron Clinic Road, next to Next Oil, Edjeba, Warri.
Others are the Diving School at Kurutie, at Escravos River; the property known as “Tompolo House” at Oporaza Town, opposite the Palace and any other property discovered by the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, moveable and immoveable, belonging to Tompolo.
Trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, made the order following an ex-parte application by the EFCC.
Justice Buba had on January 14 issued a bench warrant against Tompolo and ordered his arrest for failing to honour court summons in respect of a 40-count of alleged N34bn fraud levelled against him and nine others by the EFCC.
Those charged alongside Tompolo are Patrick Akpobolokemi, Global West Vessel, Odimiri Electrical Ltd, Kime Engozu. Boloboere Ltd, Rex Elem, Destre Ltd, Gregory Mbonu and Captain Warrendi Enisuoh.
The suspects allegedly diverted N34 billion, which accrued from the public private partnership agreement between NIMASA and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited for personal use.
On February 8, counsel to Tompolo brought an application for the vacation of the order.
The judge in a ruling declined the application and renewed the order for Tompolo’s arrest.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that Tompolo, who had wanted to appeal the court’s ruling could not do so, as the court did not release a copy of the ruling till yesterday.
At the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, counsel to EFCC, Festus Keyamo told the court that the warrant of arrest issued by the court had not been executed despite the “best efforts” of all the security agencies in the country.
He stated that all the nation’s security agencies were involved in the search for Tompolo but his whereabouts are not known yet.
He thereafter, sought the leave of court to amend the charge by removing the name of Tompolo from the charge, so that the trial of the other accused persons could commence.
Keyamo also drew the attention of the court to the ex-parte application dated February 18, 2016 praying the court for an order authorising EFCC to seize Tompolo’s property.
All the defence counsel opposed the application on the grounds that they were not served with copies of the motion.
Dr. Joseph Nwobike SAN (counsel to the 2nd defendant), Mr. Wale Akoni, SAN (counsel to the 7th & 8th defendants) and the other defence lawyers argued that it was necessary for them to have copies of the motion ex-parte in the interest of justice and fairness.
Justice Buba in a short ruling held that an ex-parte application needs not to be served on parties, adding that the motion was specifically directed to the first accused (Tompolo) who was neither in court nor represented by a lawyer.
Arguing the ex-parte application, Keyamo prayed the court to order the seizure of property belonging to Tompolo pending the time he would appear in court.
He prayed that after three months, the court can order the property to be auctioned if he (Tompolo) did not make himself available in court.
In another ruling, Justice Buba held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 empowers the court to seize property of an accused, who refused to face trial.
The court noted that even though Tompolo refused to appear in court, he briefed his lawyers and through them sought to vacate the order of his arrest.
He ordered seizure of property belonging to Tompolo pending the time he chooses to appear in court.
The following assets belonging to Tompolo were attached and to be seized; Property at No. 1 Chief Agbamu Close DDPA Extension Warri (Effurun), Delta State among others.
Justice Buba refused to attach all the limited liability companies listed by the EFCC until the proof of ownership is revealed to the court.
The Limited liability companies include; Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, Odimiri Electrical Limited and Kime Engozu, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited, Rex Elem, Destre Consult limited, Gregory Mbonu and Captain Warredi Enisuoh respectively.
In an affidavit in support of the motion ex parte, the EFCC averred that Tompolo was invited on several occasions to come and answer to the allegations of fraudulent activities levelled against him which was uncovered during investigation but he failed to honour the invitations.
The matter has been adjourned till March 22 for hearing.
Human Rights Commission to meet Service Chiefs over human rights abuse
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the Human Right Commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, has said that his commission will soon meet with Service Chiefs over the planned arrest of Tompolo for the security chiefs to guard against human rights abuses.
This is just as a member of the House of Representatives, Julius Pondi representing Burutu Federal Constituency of Delta State, advised the military to follow strictly its rule of engagement in efforts to arrest those behind the bombing of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
Angwe said the planned meeting was targeted at advising the military and the police on the importance of observing the rights of persons in whichever community the arrest of the ex-militant is effected.
Prof. Angwe who made his intention known during the 2016 budget defence by the Edward Pwajok-led House Committee on Human Rights at the National Assembly further stated that it was necessary to prevent a repeat of cases of military invasions as witnessed in Odi, Bayelsa State, in 1999.
He was responding to a question by a member of the committee, Julius Pondi (Burutu Federal Constituency, Delta State) who expressed concern over the heavy military presence in his constituency in the bid to arrest Tompolo.
However, Pondi insisted that the people in his constituency have to be protected because death and destruction have been carried out in a desperate attempt to arrest a wanted individual.
According to him, “In 1999 it was under the command of Obasanjo, in 2009 it was under the command of President Yar’Adua, in 2010 it was under Goodluck Jonathan. And we are beginning to wonder if it is a tradition now in Nigeria that every civilian government would invade one Ijaw community or the other in the Niger Delta.
“Because as it appears now, this is under Buhari’s government and we’re on the verge of being bombarded again. What are the penalties for past culprits so that such an act would not be repeated?”
While speaking at the session, the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Edward Pwajok noted that there was need for the Commission to be functional because of the number of human rights violations in the country.