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Burning of vessel laden with stolen crude by soldiers serious criminal offence, says Falana

By Guardian Nigeria
17 October 2022   |   5:50 am
Senior lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, has described the recent burning of a crude oil laden vessel by soldiers as “a deliberate attempt to cover up the involvement of military personnel in the serious crime of oil theft.”

Falana

Senior lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, has described the recent burning of a crude oil laden vessel by soldiers as “a deliberate attempt to cover up the involvement of military personnel in the serious crime of oil theft.”

In a signed statement, yesterday, Falana said: “There is no provision in the rules of engagement that authorises military personnel or security operatives to set fire to or destroy vessels loaded with stolen crude.” 

The statement reads: “Apart from the sabotage of the national economy, the crime of oil theft has portrayed Nigeria as a nation where official impunity has been institutionalised that by the government.

“Apparently embarrassed by the involvement of highly placed military officers and their civilian collaborators in the scandalous offence of oil theft, the Federal Government has adopted measures to end it.

“Last week, a vessel loaded with stolen crude oil, reportedly arrested by a newly-contracted private pipeline surveillance team, Tantita Security Services, led by a former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo (popularly known as Tompolo), was set ablaze off the Niger Delta creeks by a group of military personnel.

“In an embarrassing justification of the criminal conduct, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, said the swift destruction of the oil-bunkering vessel is in line with “the rules of engagement.

“As if self help has become part of the rules of engagement, the General said the vessel was caught in the act and security agents subsequently set the “instrument of operation” ablaze, noting that no investigation is needed to carry out the action.

“It is trite law that only the Federal High Court is empowered to order the interim or final forfeiture of any vessel that was used for conveying stolen crude oil.

“Therefore, the statement credited to General Irabor is a deliberate attempt to cover up the involvement of military personnel in the serious crime of oil theft, as there is no provision in the rules of engagement that authorises military personnel or security operatives to set fire to or destroy vessels loaded with stolen crude.  

“Indeed, the Chief of Defence Staff is not unaware that under the service law, the burning of a ship or vessel by a military personnel is a serious offence, which attracts life imprisonment without an option of fine. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 111 of the Armed Forces Act provides as follows:

“A person subject to service law under this Act who willfully or maliciously sets fire- (a) to a public building, dwelling house, an office or any structure whatsoever, movable or immovable, whether completed or not, occupied or not;

“Or (b) to any vessel, ship, aircraft, railway track or wagon, or vehicle or thing; or (c) to a mine or working, fitting or an appliance of a mine, is guilty of arson and liable, on conviction by a court-martial, to imprisonment for life.”

“In view of the gravity of the offence that is being covered up by the military oligarchy, General Irabor ought to resign his appointment to prevent the sabotage of the ongoing operations designed to expose the perpetrators of oil theft in the Niger Delta region.

“If the General decides not to call it quits, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari should not hesitate to fire him.”

After all, by authorising the engagement of non-state actors to carry out the constitutional duties of the armed forces, the President has lost confidence in the leadership of the armed forces.

“Furthermore, the President should order the Chief of Army Staff to ensure the immediate arrest of the military personnel who set the vessel on fire, with a view to charging them with arson and allied offences before a court martial.”