Two oil dealers, Ekerette Emmanuel and Christopher Uko Ubong, were on Thursday convicted and sentenced to one year imprisonment each without the option of fine.
Justice Agathar Okeke of the Federal High Court, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State convicted them.
The convicts were arraigned on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 on a four-count charge bordering on dealing in petroleum products without licence and they pleaded “not guilty”. They were remanded in Uyo prison while the matter was adjourned to October 16 and 17, 2019 for hearing of bail application.
When the matter came on Thursday, T. N. Ndifon, the prosecution counsel informed the court that the commission received letters from the convicts indicating their desire to change their pleas of “not guilty”.
“We have filed an amended charge and and we shall be asking the court to allow the charge be read to them, to enable them change their pleas”, Ndifon said.
The one count amended charge reads: “That you Ekerette Emmanuel “M” and Christopher Uko Ubong “M” on or about the 23rd day of April 2019, at Essene Ikot Abasi Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did sell or distribute petroleum products (Automated Gas Oil-AGO) of about 3,250 litres, which product you concealed in nylon bags/sacks loaded in a Mercedes Benz 190 with registration No: AR 162 ABA and a Mini bus with registration NO: XA 568 BND without a licence granted by the Minister and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 4 (1) of the Petroleum Act CAP P10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 4(6) of the same Act.”
The convicts pleaded “guilty”.
In view of their pleas, Ndifon informed the court of a motion ex-parte dated June 5 2019 asking for an order of court to forfeit properties listed in the schedule to the Federal Government.
The motion was granted by the court.
The prosecution thereafter presented a prosecution witness, Victor Edet Ikang, an operative of the commission to review the facts of the case.
Ikang narrated how the Nigerian Navy handed the convicts, their vehicles and the illegally refined AGO to the Uyo zonal office of the EFCC.
The handing over letter was tendered by the witness and it was admitted in evidence and marked as exhibit P1A and B.
“After their statements at our office on April 29, 2019, we wrote to the to the Nigeria National Centre for Petroleum Research and Development, NCPRD, in Rivers State. We took sample of the product alongside one of the defendants for analysis”, Ikang said.
According to the operative, the result of the analysis, which was gotten two weeks after, showed that the products did not meet the required specification of AGO,confirming its status as illegally refined product.
The statements of the defendants were shown to him and he identified them. They were admitted in evidence and marked as exhibit P2A, P3A and C.
The response letter from the NCPRD was equally admitted in evidence and marked as exhibit P4.
The court thereafter rose and inspected the mini bus, the Mercedes Benz 190 and the illegally refined AGO therein that were brought to the court premises.
After the inspection, the court resumed sitting and Ndifon prayed the court to convict and sentence the defendants accordingly.
Justice Okeke found them guilty as charged and sentenced them to one year imprisonment each which will take effect from the date of arrest.
The court further ordered that the vehicles and the illegally refined AGO be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Their journey to jail started when officers of the Nigerian Navy Ship Jubilee, Ikot Obong Road, Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State intercepted and arrested them at Essene Ikot Abasi and Fonex Filling station, respectively, on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at about 3.30am alongside their Mercedes 190 with registration number AR 162 ABA and a mini bus with registration number XA 568 BND. They were subsequently handed over to the EFCC for further investigation.