A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday convicted and sentenced four men to a prison term of 24 years for stealing petroleum products belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The four convicts, who are to share the jail term equally, are Yama Abass, Adeleke Adetoro, Olaniyi Tope and Beliya Abegunde.
The men, who stole 33,000 litres of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) valued at approximately N3.2m, were arraigned before Justice Okon Abang in August, last year along with one Alabi Olayinka, an accountant in a petrol station in Lagos.
But Abang, who convicted Abass, Adetoro, Tope and Abegunde on counts three and four of the charge, discharged and acquitted Olayinka.
The judge, who said the evidence before the court did not in any way link Olayinka to the crime, said Olayinka would have a good case against the police if he sued for “unlawful arrest, detention and malicious prosecution.”
Abang, however, sentenced each of the four convicts to three years jail term on count three; and six years on count four, holding that the terms would begin from July 13, 2014 and run concurrently.
Pronouncing the sentence, Abang refused the plea by the defence counsel to temper justice with mercy, saying “nobody should commit an offence and expect the court to show mercy.”
“They have no sympathy for this country and the citizens. In spite of all the efforts made by the Federal Government to protect the petroleum pipelines and make petrol to get to everybody with ease, the convicts and their cohorts have made consistent efforts to sabotage and frustrate the effort of the Federal Government,” the judge said.
Describing them as harbingers of evil, the judge said the convicts could not plant thorns and expect to harvest flowers, adding that it was shameful that in spite of being blessed with petrol, Nigerians were still suffering from scarcity on account of the activities of the convicts.
According to the charge, marked FHC/L/220c/2014, the four convicts with some persons still at large, conspired and damaged oil pipelines and stole 33,000 litres of PMS belonging to the NNPC on July 13 along Epe-Ikorodu road in Lagos.
They were said to have been apprehended while selling the stolen products to filling stations in the city. The offence, according to the prosecution, contravened sections 390 and 516 of the Criminal Code, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and Section 7 (a) and (b) of the Miscellaneous Offence Act, Cap M 17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Abang, in his judgment, ordered the petrol stations that bought the stolen products to make restitution in the sum of N3.2m to the Federal Government within seven days of the judgment. The court also ordered the sale of the tanker used in conveying the stolen product by auction within 14 days of the judgment. The prosecution was ordered to pay the proceeds into the purse of the Federal Government.
By Pita Ochai