By Kenneth Jukpor
Nigeria has just recorded the first conviction of pirates under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act as the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt convicted three persons involved in the hijack of an Equatorial Guinean flagged vessel named, MV ELOBEY VI, off Equatorial Guinea’s coast on March 21.
The conviction, which is the first since the signing into law of the SPOMO Act in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari, is tipped to further enhance the global perception of the nation’s vendetta against piracy and other related maritime crimes.
Delivering judgement, Justice Mohammed Sani summarily convicted Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar and Ghane Gordon on Counts 1 and 2 and they were ordered to pay a fine of N20 million each under the new Antipiracy Act 2019.
The Nigerian Navy had arrested nine persons, namely, Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar, Ghane Gordon, Hassan Hakeem, Gregory Smith, Ofem Uket, John Mark, Chidi Amadi and Eze Amadi, who were suspected to be members of the kidnapping syndicate.
The pirates were said to have demanded a $2 million ransom out of which $200,000 was eventually paid.
During the proceedings in the court on August 10, Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar and Ghane Gordon pleaded guilty to counts 1 and 2 and not guilty to counts 3 – 5 while the remaining 6 accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, described the conviction as a signal that Nigeria is in the right path in the war against piracy and other crimes on the nation’s waterways.
Jamoh said NIMASA as an interested party will continue to work closely with other agencies of government, the international community, and other stakeholders to achieve improved security in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Director-General said: “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 on our efforts to ensure a safe and secure maritime domain in line with our mandate.”
“The SPOMO 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.”
The prosecution counsel, Labaran Magaji, who spoke to newsmen outside the court, said the judgement was a landmark victory for the antipiracy law.
“They were charged under Section 16 (4) of the antipiracy law and once the charge was read to them, they pleaded guilty and the prosecution actually applied to the court to summarily convict them to pay a fine of N20 million each and only three of the defendants were actually sentenced,” Magaji said.