An oil and gas mogul, Akpoviri Ebbah, has lamented his nine months’ detention by the Nigerian Navy at the NNS BEECROFT, an operations base of the Western Naval Command on Harbour Road in the Ijora area of the Apapa Local Government of Lagos State.
Ebbah’s workers, including his company’s representative, Graham Brown; a captain, Ifeanyi Osadinizu; two marine engineers, Matthew Epiagolo and Taiwo Ayodele, have also condemned their nine months’ incarceration by the Nigerian Navy at the NNS Wey, a maintenance unit of the Western Naval Command at the Navy Town in the Alakija area of the Ojo Local Government Area of the state.
PUNCH Metro gathered that a Cameroonian company, Narresa, had through a lease arrangement, asked Ebbah’s company, Akiz Synergy Limited, to handle its vessel, MV Morgan, after it had disengaged another firm, Ubadon Maritimes, owned by one Oboso Abednego, from handling the vessel.
Our correspondent learnt that Oboso’s refusal to relinquish the vessel to Ebbah led to disagreements that necessitated the involvement of some naval personnel, allegedly including the former Commanding Officer, NNS BEECROFT, one Commodore Eyo, and Lt. Cdr. Yakubu Yahaya, in efforts to broker peace between the parties.
Ebbah, while speaking to PUNCH Metro, said ever since he attended a follow-up meeting involving Oboso, Yakubu and a yet-to-be-identified base operational officer on Sunday, September 23, 2018, at the NNS BEECROFT, he had been in detention.
The 38-year-old lamented that despite being a civilian, the naval authorities had detained him for nine months based on hearsay and without proper investigation.
He said, “The former Commanding Officer, NNS BEECROFT, Eyo, was the one who handed us over to Yakubu when Narresa’s representatives visited Nigeria to settle the issue of Oboso’s refusal to give up its vessel after his contract was terminated.
“So, to resolve the matter, Yakubu invited Oboso to Lagos and we had a meeting at the NNS BEECROFT. I was surprised when Yakubu said the meeting was not about the vessel as Oboso had alleged that I was involved in illegal dealings called Konja, that is, buying of stolen products.
“I quickly denied Oboso’s allegation, but when Yakubu asked if I knew two of the people they were investigating for the Konja business, I said they were popular in the oil and gas industry, but I had not seen them for over eight years. I was shocked when Yakubu said I would have to be in their custody for three days to investigate if I had any dealings with them.
“So, while conducting a search on me at the detention centre, the officers saw my police identification card, which I received from the police training centre in Ikeja. They also saw that my car had a customised number plate, SPY, which I acquired from the police headquarters in Abuja.
“On the second day, Yakubu asked if I was a policeman and I told him to hand me over to the police if that was the reason I was being detained, but he said I should exercise patience and that in less than seven days, he would be done with his investigation.
“On the seventh day, Yakubu told me that I had no dealings with the suspects, but said he couldn’t set me free because of my police ID card and the number plate. He gave an assurance that he was going to hand me over to the police, but he has refused to do so by keeping me here since then. I later discovered that my workers, Brown, Osadinizu, Epiagolo and Ayodele were also arrested and were being detained at the NNS Wey.”
Brown, who also spoke to our correspondent, said he and his colleagues were working on the vessel when Oboso allegedly mobilised naval officers to arrest them.
The Rivers State indigene said, “On September 20, 2018, I got a call from my boss that two engineers, Epiagolo and Ayodele, and the captain, Osadinizu, would be coming on-board to overhaul the vessel’s engine and generator. They were working on the vessel when Oboso came on-board to stop the work and left on a speed boat.
“I informed Ebbah, who ordered us to continue working because he had informed Yakubu of the overhauling. Oboso came back on Sunday morning with armed naval officers, led by Yakubu, to arrest us.”
After the arrest, Ifeanyi said, “We were tortured with sticks, asked to do frogmarch and tied together without telling us what we did,” adding that they had yet to be interrogated despite being in custody for nine months.
Epiagolo, who condemned the naval authorities for subjecting civilians to inhumane treatment, said he was the one who paid for his medical treatment when he fainted while in detention.
“You need to see the way they treated me when I fainted. I was chained to the bed while on admission at the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital. In fact, I was the one who paid for my treatment; I don’t know what we did for them to make us go through such a treatment,” the 35-year-old marine engineer said.
Christopher, while appealing to the Federal Government and the naval authorities to intervene in the matter, said he and his colleagues were suffering for no justifiable reason.
When contacted, Oboso denied mobilising naval personnel to arrest Ebbah’s workers on-board the vessel, adding that he was at the naval base when their arrest was made.
“I did not follow the naval officers to arrest them on-board; my captain and I were told to wait at the naval office. After they were arrested, the officers brought them to the NNS BEECROFT,” he stated.
When contacted, the Nigerian Navy spokesman, Commodore Suleiman Dahun, who said the navy had been forbidden from interfering in civil matters, added that he was going to investigate if any civilians were being detained and get back to our correspondent.
Dahun said, “I will love to investigate and get back to you, because this is a matter involving civilians, so what is the concern of the navy in it? The families (of the detainees) can make false allegations. I am not aware of any such detention, because these are purely civil matters and we are expressly forbidden from interfering in such matters.
“So, I doubt the veracity of these claims. But notwithstanding, I will find out if we have any civilian in our detention and get back to you.”
He had yet to get back as of the time of going to press.