Editorial

October 24, 2022

Military’s ship-burning scandal

Military’s ship-burning scandal

NO credible excuse or explanation can be spruced up to justify the international embarrassment that the military authorities exposed Nigeria to in the burning of a pirate ship caught in the act of illegally lifting oil in the Niger Delta.

The 87-metre long ship, which was arrested by the private security outfit of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, was reportedly laden with 650,000 litres of crude oil offshore Delta State a couple of weeks ago. The Chief of Defence Staff, Lt-General Lucky Irabor, claimed the military’s decision to destroy the vessel and its cargo was in line with the “rules of engagement” because it was caught in the act.

This highly suspicious action has been widely condemned and seen as a desperate effort to possibly destroy evidence, cover up a crime and prevent a thorough investigation that could nail those behind the massive oil theft in the creeks. Some criminal elements in the military, the oil companies, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPC Ltd, host communities and free-ranging local and international pirates are believed to be behind the theft of Nigeria’s oil.

Irabor’s justification of the ship burning on the grounds of “rules of engagement” holds no water. He should have outlined those rules to the public to show where a criminal act can legally be used to apprehend a crime. Tompolo’s company, Tantita Security Peace exists where people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively Services Ltd, which was recently contracted to help police our oil industry assets, traced, arrested and handed over the ship and its crew to the security authorities for proper investigation and prosecution.

Those who justify the destruction based on the so-called Hydrocarbon Act are just playing to the gallery. No genuine law can condone the destruction of evidence of crime. We agree with Femi Falana, SAN, who posits that the Armed Forces Act compels the military to follow the due process of the law in the execution of their patriotic duties. Section 111 of the Act provides that a person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to a public building, dwelling house, an office or any structure whatsoever or any vessel, ship, aircraft, railway track or wagon, or vehicle is guilty of arson and liable by a court-martial, to life imprisonment.

Over the years, the military and police have bastardised the concept of “rules of engagement” to justify criminal destruction of lives and property, often in retaliation for the acts of criminals. These agents of state security must be made to answer for this abuse of power, oppression of defenceless citizens and concealment of crimes. That ship burning was a deliberate criminal act which must be investigated for the law to take its course. Apart from undermining the course of the justice, it also contributed to environmental pollution. It is unacceptable.