January 28, 2023

SEARCH FOR OIL THIEVES: Spat between EFCC, Tompolo

•EFCC wants to compromise our battle against oil thieves 

•In the middle of the biggest  investigation of a ship-owning oil-stealing cartel, the EFCC is asking Capt Enisuoh to name his intelligence sources

•No, Captain Enisuoh has a case to answer – Uwujaren, EFCC spokesperson

Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

Nigerians were surprised, last Saturday, when the Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, a pipeline surveillance company, operated by ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, cried out that that the nation’s anti-graft agency,  Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was sabotaging its hunt for oil thieves.  

Given the good works, the company had performed in the last few months after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPCL, engaged it, including discovering illegal pipelines attached to the country’s export lines; ambushing and catching oil thieves in action; exposing illegal depots operated by the oil mafia and lots more, many were enraged and demanded clarification from the EFCC.  

Tantita, claiming that some oil thieves were using the anti-graft agency to derail its efforts to track them down and stop their illicit business, alleged that the EFCC had detained the arrowhead of its recent accomplishments in taming the oil mafia, Captain Warredi Enisuoh.

Walking into a trap

”On the 19th of January 2023, EFCC invited and detained Tantita’s Executive Director Operations and Technical, Capt. Warredi Enisuoh. He has been in EFCC custody since. All efforts to ensure his release have proved abortive, as the Commission has insisted that unless he provides a list of names who were his intelligence sources he would not be released.

‘The EFCC’s invitation came right in the middle of an ongoing operation to unravel one of the biggest oil stealing cartels in this country. Capt Enisuoh flew straight from Port Harcourt (where he was coordinating the operations) to Lagos to heed the EFCC’s invitation and walked right into a trap,” the company said.  

Admitting that Enisuoh was under investigation by the EFCC before now, it added: “Initially, the EFCC dangled bail before Capt Enisuoh on the condition he divulged the names of persons paid out of the accounts. Capt Enisuoh pointed out that in addition to the fact that the matter was presently undergoing trial in court; the persons concerned were intelligence assets who provided valuable intelligence and need to be protected.”

“Moreover, some of these people still provide intelligence in our ongoing operations at Tantita. Compromising their details will not only blow their cover but also interfere with the ongoing war against oil thieves. 

“Because Capt Enisuoh refused to divulge the name of intelligence assets, the EFCC refused to release him or grant him bail (even though he was already on bail before a court of law, as well as on administratively before the EFCC since the 6th of September 2022). They have continued to hold him claiming he is being uncooperative.

“While Tantita is determined to carry on the fight against the oil thieves regardless, it is our position that the EFCC investigation, if genuine, can be carried out with minimal interference to the war on oil thieves and if not, it is clearly being used by powerful forces to scuttle the war on oil thieves. Let Nigerians be aware of what is been done in their name.”

EFCC fires back  

Forty-eight hours later, EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, responded to Tantita’s claim that it detained Enisuoh for refusing to divulge his intelligence sources to the anti-graft agency, confirming that he was in its custody.

The anti-graft agency disclosed that Enisuoh was under investigation in an alleged case of money laundering involving the criminal dissipation of funds in an account held by him, which is the subject of a longstanding investigation by the EFCC.

It said that as an official of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Enisuoh was under prosecution with a former Director General of the agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi, for fraudulent conversion of various sums of money belonging to the agency.

“In the course of that investigation, over $420,000, suspected proceeds of illicit activities, was traced to an account held by him. The Commission had obtained a court order to freeze the accounts and preserve the funds, but Enisuoh, 2018,  secured an order from the Court of Appeal to lift the freeze order.

“However, the Court of Appeal did not find in favor of Captain Warredi Enisouh that the funds in issue were not proceeds of unlawful activities.

“The Commission received intelligence that Enisuoh dissipated the funds reasonably suspected to be the proceeds of his unlawful activities within three days in May 2018. He was on the Commission’s watch list until January 19, 2023, when he was taken into custody. A remand notice was duly filed to keep him, pending the conclusion of the investigation.

“He is cooperating with the investigation and has already returned $100,000 to the account.

“The Commission is a critical stakeholder in the fight against oil theft and has demonstrated this by successfully prosecuting perpetrators of such a heinous crime. It will, therefore, not take any step to frustrate the determination of the government to fight oil theft and sundry offenses,” EFCC said.

Tantita replies point by point

Tantita, which anticipated EFCC defense, had explained: “Sometime in 2015/2016, the EFCC commenced four cases against Capt Enisuoh and several others. Of the four, the court has concluded three in favor of Capt Enisuoh.

“The last one is  ongoing before Honourable Justice Faji of the Federal High Court, Lagos. Before these cases were instituted, the EFCC issued orders to various banks to block all of Capt Enisuoh’s bank accounts.

“He challenged this administrative order in court on the basis that the EFCC has no power to freeze accounts without a court order and the Federal High Court lifted the freeze orders.

“The banks failed to comply, so he brought contempt proceedings against them, somehow the new judge handling the contempt proceedings froze the accounts again.

Capt Enisuoh appealed to the Court of Appeal, which overturned the second judge and restored the orders of the first judge.

“Based on that judgment of the Court of Appeal in CA/L/1320/2016, delivered on 25/11/2017, the banks allowed Capt Enisuoh access to his accounts.

“The EFCC, which was the first respondent before the Court of Appeal in that case never, appealed the judgment.

“Then in September 2022, one month after Tantita began operations, the EFCC invited Capt Enisuoh and asked him how he gained access to the accounts. He showed them certified true copies of the judgment of the Court of Appeal. They also asked him to make statements, which he did, and pointed out that the questions bordered on the ongoing trial before the Federal High Court, Lagos.

“The investigating team led by Mr. Lawal Aminu claimed to be unaware of the case, so he provided a certified true copy of the charge and pointed out that the prosecution was being led by Mr. RotimiOyedepo, SAN, a staff of the EFCC. He declined to make further statements on a matter sub judice.

“However, as the war against oil thieves firmed up, many of them (oil cartels) have continued to threaten that those trying to stop their nefarious business would pay dearly for it. For the avoidance of doubt, the judgment of the Court of Appeal was delivered in 2017, more than five years ago.

“Again, Capt Enisuoh is undergoing a full trial, would it not be better to let the courts decide who is right and who is wrong?

“Apparently, not so for the EFCC investigation team and the legal department… Maybe it was all coincidence. Just the way it is a coincidence that in the middle of the biggest investigation of a ship-owning oil-stealing cartel, the EFCC is asking Capt Enisuoh to name his intelligence sources.

“In spite of all the documents earlier provided to EFCC, on Thursday, 19th of January, 2023, the EFCC again invited Capt Enisuoh and detained him. Their position was that their lawyer had read the judgment of the Court of Appeal and he did not agree with the decision of the Appeal Court.

Call EFCC to order—IMG

However, the Coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group, IMG, Mr. Joseph Evah, on other Niger Delta leaders/groups, which spoke on the development, called on the international community to prevail on the Federal Government and its agencies to stop the harassment.

“For us, the people of the Niger Delta, our first interest is our environment. The oil thieves are killing our environment without mercy. Environmental pollution is making life miserable for our people. Therefore, Tompolo is coming to save our environment and that is why the people of the Niger Delta are behind him to succeed in the work of the Tantita security outfit.

“The Ijaw wonders why EFCC which was established by law to partner with patriotic Nigerians to fight against economic sabotage will be involved in this controversial national issue where a company, celebrated by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and NNPC, is alleging that EFCC is been used to frustrate its operations.

“The action of EFCC is now causing panic among the staff of Tantita. It is enough reasons why the Minister of Petroleum, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the NNPC Managing Director, should step into this matter immediately to renew the confidence of the international community in the globally publicized slogan by the NNPCL that with the involvement of Tompolo, stakeholders should have faith in the operations of Nigeria’s oil industry management.

“We wish to add that the EFCC should allow the detained Tantita security company, Director of Operations to see his family, doctors, and lawyers without delay,  as the alarm raised by the company that he has been held incommunicado without any news of his whereabouts is causing worries everywhere in the Niger-Delta.”