A Federal High Court in Calabar on Tuesday sentenced 16 persons to life imprisonment for adulterating about 100 tons of petroleum product suspected to be Automotive Gas Oil, also known as diesel.
The suspects were arrested on July 7, 2016 by the operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps along the Brass River in Bayelsa State while heading towards the sea on a vessel, MV ALEZZA LILAH.
In a four-count amended charge made available to the Southern City News on Tuesday, the offence which dwelt on conspiracy and adulteration, ran contrary to sections 1 (17) and (18) (a) and (i) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap, M17 LFN 2004 and punishable under the sections.
The case was instituted by the Bayelsa State Command of the NSCDC on behalf of the Federal Government against the 16 convicts in the charge number FHC/PH/129c/2014.
Those convicted were Egbayo Charles, Lawrence Sosoo, Iboho Allen, Obiora Sunday, Akpan Wisdom, Isaac Essien, Kingsley Anighoro, Simeon Ohinomado, Ime Ubong, Joseph Thomas, Nseh Obot, Second Philip, Unubiri Prebai, Emmanuel Abel, Edmund Okoye and the Captain of the vessel, Baba Mathew.
They had pleaded not guilty to the offence.
But in his ruling, the presiding judge of the Federal High Court in Calabar, Justice Inyang Ekwo, said the 16 suspects were convicted on all the four-count charge and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Justice Ekwo said, “The 1 to 16 convicts are hereby sentenced to life imprisonment without an option of fine. They are also sentenced to eight and 10 years respectively for the first two counts. All the sentences are to run concurrently, while the vessel and all there are is forfeited to the Federal Government.”
The counsel to the defendants, Mr. Richard Oyiwona, said that he would appeal against the judgment at the appropriate time.
Oyiwona, who had earlier pleaded that the accused were first time convicts, expressed hope that the judgment would be set aside at the appellate court.
He said, “His Lordship has spoken, this is not the final court. I will go on appeal and I believe that the judgment will be set aside in the Court of Appeal.”
But the prosecution counsel, Mr. Kingsley Nwachukwu, said the law had taken its course, adding that judgment will send signal to pipeline vandals and those who get involved in the adulteration of petroleum products.
“For me, a prosecution counsel is an officer of the law. This is to ensure that the law takes its course and that is what we have experienced today. We hope that the judgment will send signal to those involved in pipeline vandalism, adulteration of petroleum products, among others that they should understand that NSCDC is fully empowered to confront the challenges,” he said.