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Court orders final forfeiture of $16,500, N127m fraudulently diverted from NIMASA

The Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered the final forfeiture of $16,500 and another ₦127m fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

The monies are to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Justice Kehinde Ogundare ordered the permanent forfeiture of the monies, following an application which was filed and moved by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Through its counsel, Sulaiman Sulaiman, the EFCC had told the court that the monies were proceeds of unlawful activities.

On May 23, 2024, the judge ordered the interim forfeiture of the monies, while granting an exparte application brought before the court under Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14. 2006; and Section 44 (2)(B) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended).

After ordering the temporary forfeiture, the court had directed the EFCC to publish the order in a national newspaper, to show cause, why the monies should not be forfeited permanently.

However, at the resumed hearing of the final forfeiture of the money today, the EFCC lawyer, Sulaiman Sulaiman, informed the court that “pursuant to your lordship’s order made on May 23, 2024, that we should publish the order, the publication of the order was made on June 6, 2024, in Punch newspapers.”

“Our application for the final forfeiture of the sums is supported by a 22-paragraph affidavit deposed to by Oghare Ogbole, an investigator with the EFCC.

“The application is accompanied with two exhibits, the Interim order of the court and Punch publication of June 26, 2024. And it’s supported with a written address. We most respectively adopt same and urge the court to grant the relief sought.”

After listening to the EFCC lawyer, Justice Ogundare held that the “order was granted as prayed.”

The EFCC in the affidavit in support of the application made the following depositions: “that on the 2nd October, 2013, the management of NIMASA under the leadership of Dr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi vide letter referenced: NIMASA 2007/DG/NSA/2013/006 dated 2/10/13, requested for the release of the sum of N1,123,400 billion, for the implementation of International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) projects.

“That on the 4th day of November 2013, the then President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, through the National Security Adviser (NSA) approved the requested sum of N1,123,400 billion. And that upon the release of the first tranche in the sum of N1, 123, 400 billion, an account No. 0060559139, domiciled in Access Bank was opened on 03/1/14, in which Captain Bala Ezekiel Agaba, the Chairman of the ISPS Committee/Executive Director, NIMASA, Mr. Victor I. Onuzurike and Mr. Dele T, Ejekukor are signatories.

“That no sooner had the money hit the Committee’s account, 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 in Access Bank.

“That the said Mr. Uche Obilor equally received another whopping sum of N402,480 million, through his company Southern Offshore Limited with Zenith Bank Plc., account number 1013224100. And that also, the said Mr. Uche Obilor used his company known as Ace Prothesis Limited to receive the total sum of N66.8 million, through its account number 1012583949, domiciled in Zenith Bank Pic.,

“That out 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 same to US Dollars and handed them over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.

“That from the said sum paid to Seabulk Offshore Operator Limited, the total sum of N67 million, was on the 23rd July, 2014, paid to Kofar Fada Limited, who also converted the money to US Dollars and handed over same 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 equally converted to personal use without rendering any service to the agency.

“That from 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 to US Dollars and handed same over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.

“That from 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 equally transferred to Haji Kawu Investment Bureau De Change and Lekay Leads Ventures Limited, which sums were equally converted to US Dollars and handed over to Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.

“That the various sums of money transferred to the companies of Mr. Uche Obilor from the treasury of NIMASA were fraudulent in that these companies neither rendered any service nor supply goods to the agency. Rather, the funds were largely converted to Dollars for personal use and the remaining retained by Mr. Uche Obilor.

“That during the course of investigation, the total sum of $16,500 USD cash, was recovered by the Commission, part of the funds diverted from the treasury of NIMASA. And that for using his companies as mentioned above, Mr. Uche Obilor, upon invitation to the Commission during the course of investigation agreed to return the sum of N118 million, admittedly received and retained by his companies from the funds fraudulently converted from the treasury of NIMASA.

“That Mr. Uche Obilor voluntarily raised drafts through First City Monument Bank in the name of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which sums are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activity.

“That the funds sought to be forfeited are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful act of diversion of funds from the treasury of NIMASA, through Mr. Uche Obilor, his companies and other cronies.

“That I know as a fact that Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba, the then Executive Director, Maritime Safety and Shipping Development of NIMASA was convicted, sentenced by this Honourable Court, per Buba, J (rtd) and subsequently granted pardon by the Council of State.

“That in view of the findings in preceding paragraphs and upon a thorough analysis of the evidence on record, this Honourable Court on the 23 day of 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) the assets sought to be forfeited.

“That I know as a fact and verily believe that this Honourable Court on the said 23 day of May, 2024 also directed the Applicant herein to publish in any national daily the said interim order of forfeiture to enable any interested party appear before the Court to show cause why the assets should not be finally forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria, in favour of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

“That in compliance with the order of this Honourable Court, the Applicant herein published in The Punch newspaper of 6th June, 2024, the interim order of this Honourable Court.

“That I also know as a fact and verily believe that notwithstanding the Order of this Honourable Court directing any interested party to appear and show cause why the assets sought to be forfeited should not be finally forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria in favour of NIMASA, no person or party had served any affidavit showing cause on the Applicant herein.

“That this Honourable Court has the requisite power and jurisdiction to grant this application. And that it is in the best interest of Justice to hear and determine this application.”

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Police arrest, parade two suspected drug traffickers in Imo

The Imo State Police Command has paraded two persons, Uchechukwu Nwaguma, 28, and Onyekosi Chukwu Ebuka, 35, as suspected drug traffickers who specialise in selling different kinds of illicit drugs.

According to a statement from the Public Relations Officer of the command, ASP Henry Okoye, the arrest of the suspected drug pushers was carried out by the operatives of the command’s anti-narcotics unit in different locations through painstaking investigations.

He stated that Uchechukwu Nwaguma was arrested on July 17, 2024, at Caroline Hostel, Okwu Uratta, Owerri, with large quantities of weeds suspected to be Canadian Loud, a substance the police spokesperson said to be an imported strong synthetic strain of cannabis, and hard drugs commonly known as molly or happy pills.

According to ASP Okoye: “The suspect, upon interrogation, confessed to the crime, stating that his parents were late and that he moved into the sale of hard drugs to enable him to take care of himself and his siblings.”

In another successful operation by the operatives of the command’s anti-vice unit on the same day, Onyekosi Chukwu Ebuka of Uloano in Isu LGA of Imo State was arrested for unlawful possession of weeds suspected to be Indian hemp. He was arrested following a tip-off received from a concerned citizen.

The police spokesperson in the statement further informed that the suspects will face prosecution upon completion of a diligent investigation.

Following the development, Commissioner of Police Aboki Danjuma has reaffirmed the command’s dedication to clamping down on illicit drug dealers and peddlers in the state.

He implored parents to caution their children against indulging in the intake or sale of hard drugs or illicit substances, warning that violators will face severe legal consequences.

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Student loan scheme will thrive on equity and inclusiveness says President Tinubu

President Bola Tinubu says the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND) will thrive on fairness and equity and promote inclusiveness by removing the financial barrier to higher education for Nigerian students.

The President, who launched the digital NELFUND disbursement exercise at the State House on Wednesday, said the provision of loans to students will encourage more people to seek knowledge, go for higher education, and become valuable contributors to national development.

“As I earlier said, my belief is that education is the greatest weapon against poverty. Without education, there is no vision; without education, there will be no development; without education, you cannot successfully conquer poverty, insecurity, and abuse in society.

“Education is that light at the end of the tunnel, and no matter how sluggish it moves, it will give you light and the hope you need. We are investing in it. We do not want to try ignorance as an alternative. We want education from the foundation to the topmost level.

“I am glad we are achieving it with NELFUND and that the leadership has accepted this responsibility, and they are working hard,’’ the President said.

President Tinubu commended the Chairman of the Fund, Mr. Jim Ovia, and the Managing Director, Mr. Akintunde Sawyerr, for their efforts in driving the critical agency.

The President expressed his determination to ensure the success of the Fund and the fulfilment of the dream of higher education by indigent Nigerian students.

“The tool is available, and the hope is here; genuine, and the commitment to inclusiveness is what democracy is all about. I am fulfilling one of my greatest promises of the campaign. We are building an inclusive society. You can find many ways around any opportunity, but you cannot find a way if you are not well-educated,’’ President Tinubu stated.

The President emphasized that education is an essential antidote to some of the challenges faced by the nation.

“We cannot even fight terrorism and banditry unless there is inclusiveness, and our people are properly educated and can invest in their own lives. I promise that we will hand a banner without stain to our children. Therefore, it is my honour to launch the portal,’’ the President said.

In his remarks, the Chairman of NELFUND thanked the President for the privilege to serve the nation.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to be here today for Mr. President to formally launch the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND). Mr. President, I would like to make reference to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, of which education is number four.

“The President has recognized that; hence, he inaugurated and also signed into law in February the NELFUND. We are all grateful for Mr. President’s time for inaugurating and also sanctioning the activities of NELFUND,’’ Mr. Ovia said.

The Managing Director of NELFUND affirmed that there were enough funds to meet the initial requests of students across the country.

“Your Excellency, at this stage, we have more than enough funding. When we start to promote properly, we might need more, but right now, we can disburse to any single person who has applied,’’ he said.

Mr. Sawyerr said the portal was opened on May 25, 2024, and had so far received 110,000 applications, with more than 164,000 visits; noting that the applications have been increasing daily.

“Clearly, what we want to ensure is that there is equity in the distribution of the loans across the six geo-political zones. So, we are having to look very closely at the data we are receiving to ensure that we are doing the right things and pushing the right buttons to ensure that those who need these funds get them, and that it is seen to be fair and equitable,” Mr. Sawyerr added.

President Tinubu presented cheques to some of the students and institutions that had already been processed by NELFUND. Students are to receive stipends for their upkeep, while tuition goes directly to the institutions.

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Imo House of Assembly recommends sack of Chief Judge for misconduct and age falsification

The Imo State House of Assembly has recommended the removal of the state’s Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Chukwuemeka-Chikeka, citing misconduct and alleged age falsification.

This decision was reached during a plenary session on Thursday, with a two-thirds majority of the lawmakers voting in favour of the recommendations made by an ad hoc committee.

The committee was established to investigate a petition filed by the Civil Society Engagement Platform (CSEP), which accused the Chief Judge of falsifying her age. The petition, titled “Petition Against The Chief Judge of Imo State, Hon Justice Theresa Chukwuemeka Chikeka For Age Falsification Which Is A Grave Criminal Offence And An Act For Which Many Other Judges And Justices Have Been Summarily Dismissed And Some Are Currently Being Prosecuted By The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC),” prompted the House to take action pursuant to Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

The ad hoc committee, chaired by Hon Ikenna Ihezue, included Hon Bernard Ozoemenam, Rt Hon Clinton Amadi, and Hon Ebonine Beneath, with Mrs. Anne Martins Ezirim serving as the committee clerk. They conducted thorough investigations by inviting relevant individuals and institutions to provide oral and documentary evidence.

Despite the committee’s invitation, Justice Chukwuemeka-Chikeka declined to appear, citing the Constitution and insisting she would only appear before a panel set up by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Key testimonies and documents were obtained from the Civil Society Engagement Platform, represented by its Director of Investigations, Comrade Ndubuisi Onyemaechi. Additionally, the Head of Service of Imo State, the Secretary of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission, the Secretary to the Council of Legal Education, and the Director of Administration at the Nigerian Law School were consulted. These consultations aimed to verify the actual date of birth of the Chief Judge, as recorded during her admission to the Nigerian Law School in 1981 and her employment with the state’s civil service in 1993.

Evidence revealed that Justice Chukwuemeka-Chikeka had altered her date of birth from October 27, 1956, to October 27, 1958, via a statutory declaration of age sworn in 2006. This adjustment was made long after she had initially declared her birthdate when enrolling in law school. The statutory declaration was later submitted to the Judicial Service Commission.

The ad hoc committee concluded that Justice Chukwuemeka-Chikeka had indeed engaged in misconduct and recommended her removal from office by Governor Hope Uzodimma. The House also resolved that this recommendation be forwarded to the National Judicial Council for further action.

All 19 members present at the plenary session unanimously adopted the committee’s recommendations. The resolution marks a significant development in the state’s judicial administration, with further actions anticipated from the NJC.

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