Court Orders Final Forfeiture of $16,500 and N127 Million of Former NIMASA Managing Director, Akpobolokemi

Court Orders Final Forfeiture of ,500 and N127 Million of Former NIMASA Managing Director, Akpobolokemi

BY AISHAT ABUBAKAR

Justice Kehinde Ogundare of a Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, has ordered the final forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria of the sum of $16,500,000 and N127 million fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Justice Ogundare ordered the final forfeiture of the monies on Tuesday, following a petition filed and defended by counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC Sulaiman Sulaiman

According to the EFCC, the funds were allegedly sourced from illegal activities.

The judge had on 23rd May 2024 ordered the interim forfeiture of the sums, while granting an ex parte application, filed before the court in accordance with section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Offences Related to Fraud Act No. 14, 2006; and section 44 (2)(B) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)

The court, after confiscating the monies in the interim on May 23, 2024, had ordered the EFCC to publish the order in a national newspaper, to show cause why the monies should not be permanently confiscated.

However, during the resumption of the final forfeiture hearing on Tuesday, EFCC counsel, Suleiman I Suleiman, informed the court that “pursuant to your order made on May 23, 2024, we should publish the order. The publication of the order was done on June 6, 2024 in the Punch newspaper. The said application is supported by 22 paragraphs filed by Oghare Ogbole, an EFCC investigator.

“The application is accompanied by two exhibits, the interim order of the court and the Punch publication of June 26, 2024. It is supported by a written petition. We adopt them and urge the court to grant the relief sought.”

Justice Ogundare, after listening to the EFCC counsel, said “the order was granted as prayed for.”

The EFCC in the affidavit supporting the application made the following statement: “That on 2nd October, 2013, the management of NIMASA under the leadership of Dr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi in a letter referenced: NIMASA 2007/DG/NSA/2013/006 dated 2/10/13, requested for the release of the sum of N1,123.4 trillion, for the implementation of the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) projects.

“On 4th November 2013, the then President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, through the National Security Adviser (NSA), approved the requested sum of N1,123.4 trillion. And that following the release of the first tranche of N1,123.4 trillion, an account No. 0060559139, domiciled at Access Bank, was opened on 01/03/14, in which Captain Bala Ezekiel Agaba, the Chairman, ISPS Committee/Executive Director, NIMASA, Mr. Victor I. Onuzurike and Mr. Dele T, Ejekukor are signatories.

“No sooner had the money been deposited into the account of the Committee than one Mr. Uche Obilor, a close associate of the Chairman of the Committee, Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba, received the total sum of N437,726,666.66 million through his company known as Seabulk Offshore Operator Limited with account number 005326440 domiciled at Access Bank.

“That the said Mr. Uche Obilor also received another huge sum of N402,480 million, through his company Southern Offshore Limited with Zenith Bank Plc., account number 1013224100. And that further, the said Mr. Uche Obilor used his company known as Ace Prothesis Limited to receive the total sum of N66,800 million, through his account number 1012583949, domiciled at Zenith Bank Pic.,

“Of the N437,726,666.66 million paid to Seabulk Offshore Operator Limited, the total sum of N187 million was transferred to Usaini Sabo on 06/03/2014, 10/06/2014, 12/06/2014 and 09/07/2014, who in turn converted the same into US Dollars and handed it over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.

“That out of the amount paid to Seabulk Offshore Operator Limited, the total sum of N67 million was paid on July 23, 2014 to Kofar Fada Limited, which also converted the money into US Dollars and handed it over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba. And that the sum of N66,800 million, received by Uche Obilor through his company Ace Prothesis Limited from NIMASA, was also converted for personal use without rendering any service to the agency.

“That out of the sum of N402,480 million received by Uche Obilor through his company Southern Offshore Limited from NIMASA, the total sum of N268 million was paid to one Usaini Sabo, who converted the said sum into US Dollars and handed it over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.

“That out of the sum of N402.480 million, received from NIMASA by Mr. Uche Obilor through his company Southern Offshore Limited, the total sum of N103.100 million, was transferred equally to Haji Kawu Investment Bureau De Change and Lekay Leads Ventures Limited, which sums were also converted into United States Dollars and handed over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.

“The various sums of money transferred to Mr. Uche Obilor’s companies from the NIMASA treasury were fraudulent in that the companies did not render any service or supply any goods to the agency. Rather, the funds were largely converted into dollars for personal use and the remainder was retained by Mr. Uche Obilor.

“During the investigation, the Commission recovered the total sum of $16,500 in cash, part of the funds fraudulently diverted from the NIMASA treasury. And that by reason of the use of his companies as aforesaid, Mr. Uche Obilor, upon invitation by the Commission during the investigation, agreed to return the sum of N118 million, admittedly received and retained by his companies from the funds fraudulently diverted from the NIMASA treasury.

“Mr. Uche Obilor voluntarily issued drafts to First City Monument Bank in the name of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, sums which are reasonably suspected to be derived from illegal activities.

“It is reasonable to suspect that the funds sought to be confiscated are proceeds of an unlawful act of embezzlement from the treasury of NIMASA, through Mr. Uche Obilor, his companies and other accomplices.

“I am actually aware that Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba, the then Executive Director, Maritime Safety and Navigation Development, NIMASA, was convicted, sentenced by this Honourable Court, by Buba, J (rtd) and was later pardoned by the Council of State.

“In view of the findings in the foregoing paragraphs and after a thorough analysis of the evidence on record, this Honourable Court on 23rd May, 2024, made an interim order of forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria in favour of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), of the property sought to be forfeited.

“I am in fact aware and sincerely believe that this Honourable Court on 23rd May, 2024, also ordered the Applicant to publish in a national daily newspaper the said interim forfeiture order to enable any interested party appear before the Court to show cause why the property should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria, in favour of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

“That pursuant to the order of this Honourable Court, the applicant published in The Punch newspaper dated 6th June, 2024, the interim order of this Honourable Court.

“I am also aware and sincerely believe that despite the order of this Honourable Court directing any interested party to appear and show cause why the property sought to be forfeited should not be finally forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria in favour of NIMASA, no person or party has served any affidavit justifying such decision on the Applicant.

“The Supreme Court has the power and jurisdiction to grant this application. It is in the interests of justice to hear and determine this application.”