13th December, 2015
A Federal high court sitting in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, has ordered the Nigerian Navy and its chief of Naval Staff jointly and severally to pay an oil company Mercury Oil Limited the sum of N200 million damages for illegally detaining its vessel M T SAPPHIRE 1 and siphoning 280,000 litres of Automated Gas Oil conveyed by the vessel.
In his judgement, the presiding judge, Chukwujekwu Aneke said:”The present case brought to the fore once again the arrogant, brutal, callous and capricious manner our law enforcement agencies commonly adopt in the exercise of their functions to the consternation and embarrassment of any discerning and decent minds around. We are in a democracy and must do everything to enthrone and nurture democratic ethos for the good of the society.”
The judgement of the court was sequel to enforcement of fundamental right suit filed by a Lagos lawyer, Barrister Norrison Quakers, SAN, before the court on behalf of Mercury Oil Limited, and its vessel M T SAPPHIRE 1,and four crew members on board, Folorunso Olayiwola, Joshua A. Arthur, Asabalashe O. Johnson, and Wale Alade.
In an affidavit in support of their application sworn to by the Managing Director of Mercury Oil Company Osita Onumonu and argued before the court by Mr Norrison Quakers, the deponent averred that, sometime in February 2014, Mercury Oil company was engaged in offshore operation to load Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) and relevant approvals were got.
However, the vessel and its crew members were arrested on suspicion of engaging in illegal operations.
After due investigation by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps which is the body responsible for such investigation, the vessel was cleared of any wrong doing or illegal activities and recommended that the vessel should be released. But the Nigerian Navy refused, and during the period the vessel was in detention, the 280,000 litres of Automated Gas Oil in the vessel was illegally siphoned by the Nigerian Navy.
The product on board of the vessel was bought through a bank loan to the tune of N170 million.
Consequently, the applicants while demanding for N200 million as general damages, urged the court not only to declare their arrest and detention illegal but to also declare as illegal and unlawful the siphoning of 280,000 litres of Automated Gas Oil on board of their vessel.
In spite of being served with the court process several times repeatedly, coupled with several adjournments, Nigerian Navy and its Chief Of Naval Staff did not file any defence.
In his judgement, Justice Aneke acceded to the request of the applicants and ordered the respondents to pay N200 million as damages to the applicants.