Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has defended his approval of Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd, an oil firm, to auction crude oil and diesel seized by the Nigerian Government.
Malami was reacting to a story by Saturday PUNCH republished by SaharaReporters on how he directed Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd to dispose crude oil and diesel in four sea vessels through an open bid.
In another approval, the AGF mandated the firm to sell five vessels despite the fact that the firm and its Managing Director, Mr Jerome Itepu, stood trial at the Delta State High Court, Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua, valued at N384m in 2009.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had in 2015 arraigned four persons on charges of conspiracy, stealing and receiving stolen goods.
The accused included a businessman and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Edo Central Senatorial District, Chief Francis Inegbeneki; Chief Executive Officer of Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd., Itepu; Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd and Ine Oil Ltd owned by Inegbeneki.
The suit numbered A/EFCC/1c/2015, was filed on March 24, 2015 by A.J. Arogha, Esq. and U.R. Ewoh, Esq on behalf of the EFCC.
The accused were charged with “conspiracy, contrary to, and punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C21, Laws of Delta State 2006”.
But in a statement by Umar Gwandu issued on behalf of Malami, the AGF said he committed no illegality in approving the auction.
He said the issue in contention should be whether Omoh-Jay “being a duly registered company can be denied the opportunity to participate in the auction bidding process”.
He said, “The position of the law is clear by virtue of Section 36 (5) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that a person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
“Assuming, without conceding that Omo-Jay is being tried for criminal offence, if indeed any, does that take away the constitutional presumption of innocence in their eligibility to apply and be considered for auction?”
However, despite his latest stance on the issue, a growing number of observers continue to fault Malami for giving such a questionable approval especially going by the circumstances surrounding the crude oil and diesel in contention.