Businessman, Rivers Government, others bicker over ‘unauthorised’ sale of oil vessel
The Managing Director of Florence Petroleum and Marine Services, Dr. Henry Okey Obi, and Rivers State government are in a faceoff, following the former’s allegation that the government sold his N600 million worth of oil vessel, known as MT Okiki, unauthorised.
But the state government claimed it only carried out the order of a competent court in the sale.
In a petition Obi sent to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Akali Baba, and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) seeking justice, he claimed that his vessel was sold illegally when he was in London.
When The Guardian contacted the Rivers State government, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Zaccheus Adango, said it only carried out an order of an Environmental Sanitation Court sitting in Port Harcourt, which ordered the removal of the wreckage of MT Okiki from the waterways.
Adango said: “The action was based on the subsisting order of the court and the provisions of the Rivers State Environmental Protection and Management Law, 2019. If any act of illegality was committed in the course of implementing the order of the court, those responsible should be held to account. The Office of the Attorney-General of Rivers State has not done anything unlawful.”
Adango made available a copy of a letter written by his special assistant, Chukwuma Eke, to the deputy commissioner of police in charge of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), in response to a letter of the invitation extended to Rivers State Ministry of Environment over the sales deal.
The letter dated July 14, 2021, reads in part: “I am directed by the Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, to refer to your letter of invitation dated July 6, 2021, to the permanent secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Environment on the subject of purported conspiracy and stealing of scrap vessel, MT Okiki and respond to same.
“I am to inform you that sometime in July 2020, the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, in pursuance of its lawful mandate to ensure a clean environment in the state, sought and obtained an order from a Magistrates’ Court, Port Harcourt, sitting as the Environmental Sanitation Court, Port Harcourt, which authorised the Rivers State government, through the ministry to identify, gather, collect, remove and dispose of all sunk and abandoned wreckages of sea-going vessels and ships, which posed serious environmental hazard and pollution along the water channels in Rivers State.
“Sometime between January and March 2021, the Ministry of Environment, on the strength of the aforesaid order of the court, gave approval/authority to Messrs Bio-Keff Company Nigeria Limited, to salvage, confiscate, remove and dispose of scraps/wrecks on the waterways in the state.
“In the circumstance, I am directed to inform you that the salvage, removal, and release of the burnt wreck, MT Okiki was lawful activity sanctioned by the Rivers State Ministry of Environment,” he said.
Sending a save-our-soul to the IGP, Obi said he was in the United Kingdom (UK) on March 23, 2021, when he was alerted that some armed men led by a former commissioner of the environment in River State, came and stole the vessel, which was anchored on a jetty at Okirika, River State.
He said the vessel was worth in excess of N600 million in the open market and was sold to one Alhaji Usman Ilyasa for N50 million and also alleged that the permanent secretary, Ministry of Environment Rivers State, Dr Nduye Briggs, played a major role as he gave the authorisation for the sale of the vessel on June 26, 2021, after claiming he could not find the owner.
He continued: “The vessel, which was used for bunkering fuel tanker with Nigerian flag to offshore platforms like Nigerian Agip Oil Company in Brass, SPDC and Chevron, was involved in a fire incident on May 7, 2013, en route to supply marine gasoil to Agip Brass and later salvaged and anchored in a jetty at Okirika, River State, where the company paid jetty fees to the community that owns the jetty.”
Obi said ever since then, the company has been mobilising funds to fix, repair, and rebrand the vessel, adding that the company has already finished the electrical installations on the vessel after purchasing marine and armored cables worth over £70, 000 from England.
He stressed that upon getting the information of the illegal possession of his vessel, he informed the company’s operations manager, who wrote a petition on March 25, 2021, to the IGP, who invited the people involved in the illegal possession of his vessel.
He added that they procured forged documents, including abuse of court processes, which aided their illegal act.
Speaking on behalf of the buyer of the vessel, the chairman, Petroleum Financial Corporate (PFC) Limited, Abdullah Ali Sulaiman, said his company, I.M. Sheriff Nigeria Limited bought MT Okiki in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Sulaiman, who claimed to be the father of Alhaji Usman Iliyasu, said he was involved in the sales transaction.
He said: “I am in a better position to give the facts about the transaction on MT Okiki, a bunkering vessel that was involved in fire incidents in 2013. They ran away after it got burnt. What happened was that in 2013, the vessel was gutted by fire and 14 people died in the incident. One of the survivors who lived in Okrika then said the vessel was parked in the waterways in Okrika for over 10 years.
“This is not the only wreck vessel that the government scrapped. Before they were classified as a wreck, they had to tag it and the owners had to show up within seven days. But in this case, the vessel got burnt as a result of illegal bunkering and 14 people died. Since they knew there were issues against them, the owners disappeared.”
According to him, when the advert was placed for the owner to show up, he didn’t and somebody else came and claimed ownership of the wreck. And the person claiming the ownership, he said, has the power of attorney from the original owner who is no more.
“I bought a wreck not a vessel and due process was followed before it was finally released from the waterways. The Rivers State government agency did some costing of how much they have spent in bringing out the remnant of the vessel from the swampy water. They asked the original owner to pay the cost and because he does not have the money to pay, my son, Alhaji Usman Iliyasu paid the cost. That was how IM Sheriff Nigeria Limited came into the matter. I bought the wreck with recommended value and price of N57 million from the legitimate owner,” he claimed.
Top officers of the Force Headquarters in Abuja declined to comment on the matter when The Guardian contacted them.