The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has convicted three persons accused of involvement in the hijack of an Equatorial Guinean-flagged vessel, MV ELOBEY VI, off Equatorial Guinea’s coast on March 21, 2020.
It was the nation’s first conviction under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Crimes (SPOMO) Act 2019 since it was signed into law in June 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In his judgement, Justice Mohammed Sani summarily convicted Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar and Ghane Gordon on first and second counts and ordered each to pay a fine of N20 million as provided for under the new Antipiracy Act 2019.
The Nigerian Navy had arrested the three, alongside six others, namely, Hassan Hakeem, Gregory Smith, Ofem Uket, John Mark, Chidi Amadi and Eze Amadi – all suspected to be members of the kidnap syndicate that had demanded a $2 million ransom, out of which $200,000 was allegedly eventually paid.
During the court proceedings on August 10, Johnson, Lemmar and Gordon pleaded guilty to first and second counts, and not guilty to third to fifth counts, while the remaining six accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Excited at the outcome so far, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said the convictions signal that Nigeria was in the right path in the war against piracy and other crimes on the nation’s waterways.
He disclosed that NIMASA, as an interested party, will continue to work closely with other government agencies, the international community and other stakeholders to achieve improved security in the Gulf of Guinea.
“This will serve as a deterrent to other criminal elements who are still engaged in the nefarious activities on our waterways. On our part as an agency, we will not relent in our efforts to ensure a safe and secure maritime domain in line with our mandate.
“The Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Crimes Act 2019 has come to stay and it is victory for Nigeria as a whole as we are determined more than ever before to take our rightful place in the comity of maritime nations.”
Prosecution counsel, Labaran Magaji, told newsmen outside the court that the judgement was a landmark victory for the anti-piracy law, adding: “They were charged under Section 16 (4) of the anti-piracy law.
“Once the charge was read to them, they pleaded guilty and the prosecution applied to the court to summarily convict them to pay a fine of N20 million each. Only three of the defendants were actually sentenced.”