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House-boat owners protest N3 billion debt by Defence Ministry


The protesting boatr owners

The protesting boatr owners

BARELY a week and few days to the expiration of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, house-boat owners in the Niger Delta are battling to get a last minute settlement of the N3 billion debt allegedly owed them by the Ministry of Defence.

The N3 billion debt, it was learnt, was incurred when the military Joint Task Force (Operation Pulio Shield) on the approval of the Ministry of Defence, hired the house boats and boats for security surveillance of oil explorations in the creeks of the Niger Delta region. The contract is expected to end on June 2, 2015, The Guardian learnt.

Besides dragging the Ministry of Defence to a federal high court sitting in Port Harcourt, the house boat owners coalition have also commenced daily protests to draw the attention of concerned authorities to their predicament.

Last Friday, when the suit by House Boat Owners Coalition against the Ministry of Defense over the alleged non-payment of over N3 billion owed them in respect of 13 house boats hired by the Joint Task Force (Operation Pulio Shield) came up for hearing at the Federal High 1 sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, it was adjourned.

The coalition of boat owners, comprising Etukcom Integrated Service Limited, Peaches Integrated Limited and Godsam Industrial Services Limited besieged the premises of the court to protest what they described as the unwillingness of the defense ministry to clear the debt which they said had been accumulating for the last three years.

Trial judge, Justice Lambo Akanbi granted the prayer of the counsel to the defendant Mr. Ekanem Etuk for the adjournment to enable him have sufficient time to prepare his defense.

Counsel to the plaintiffs, Lawal Rabana, SAN, who addressed reporters later, said it was a matter that is quite unfortunate that that the boat owners had to resort to court.

He said: “My clients are into marine services and to boost the security operation of the Niger Delta region. They were all approached to provide house boats for the JTF to patrol some of those areas to protect the facilities, but unfortunately, having made that sacrifice of letting out their house boats to them, the office of the Chief of Defence Staff refused to pay.

“They have also refused to release the house boats to my clients, so as it is now, no money is being paid to them, they cannot put the house boats to use and of course in a civilized system, you only resort to court. So we are in court to enforce the terms of the agreement, which provided for a payment of N4.5 million every month for the use of the house boats. So what we have just done is to calculate the number of months that has been outstanding and seeking the intervention of the court for the payment.

The case was adjourned on the basis that the counsel to the defendant came into court this morning to say he needed time to file his defence and in order not for him to be shut out in the interest of fair hearing we have to accept. So, we are hoping that on June 2 he will have a statement of defense and we will be ready to proceed with their defense and close the case,” he said.

Counsel to the defendant, Mr. Ekanem Etuk, who also spoke, said they asked the court to adjourn the matter to enable them file their defense. “We have been making efforts to settle this matter out of court and efforts are being made to ensure that the house boat owners are paid”, he said.

On their part, the Managing Directors of Etukcom Integrated Service Limited, Peaches Integrated Limited and Godsam Industrial Services Limited, Dr. Etiese Etuk, Prince Edwin Ochai and Mr. Godwin Amusa respectively, said they had been providing services for the JTF for the past 36 months, lamenting that they had neither been paid nor had their boats released to them.

Spokesman of the protesters, Mr. Eberiere Otomewo, on behalf of the coalition, said they were being owed over N2.4 billion as at December last year “if we add the amount they are owing us so far in 2015 it will be over N3billion and up till now, no kobo has been paid.

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