The Federal High Court in Lagos, on Tuesday, began the trial of seven suspected pirates who were caught with arms and ammunition.
They were arrested by the Nigerian Navy personnel on a vessel for alleged piracy and dealing in petroleum products without authorisation papers.
Charged for violating laws on money laundering and firearms prohibition, the defendants Umarama Ovuiro, Adesola Peter, Collins Harrison, Paul Adeyemi, Adedeji Joshua, Samuel Oluwafemi and Abdulrahman Kabir (also known as Tunde) as well as the vessel, MT Dejikun,
They were on 19 February 2016, at the Nigerian coast, allegedly conspired to deal in petroleum products without lawful authorisation.
The complaint – Federal Republic of Nigeria – said the defendants, “while committing piracy, did transfer petroleum products from the MT Maximus vessel”.
The prosecution said the suspects were in unlawful possession of an AK49 rifle numbered 9973, as well as an AK56 rifle, numbered 15515.
The accused persons were also allegedly caught with a single barrel Magnum revolver, numbered 7080; 161 rounds of live 7.62mm ammunition, six empty AK47 cartridges and six cartridges.
The alleged offence violates sections 3 and 8 and punishable under Section 27 (1) (a) of the Firearms Act of 2004.
The offence of conspiracy, dealing in petroleum products without authorisation and transferring it to another vessel violate sections 1 (17), 3 (6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act 2004 and Section 15 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, the prosection said.
Although they pleaded not guilty, but were remanded in prison custody.
The prosecuting counsel, Mrs E. S. Osiade, a Senior State Counsel at the Federal Ministry of Justice, sought to tender statements made by the defendants after their arrest.
But the defence counsel objected on the basis that the statements were not made voluntarily.
Kabir’s lawyer, Mr Jerry Omoregi said: “My client informed me that the statement is a product of great torture which spanned over a period of two weeks while he was in a detention cell of the Nigerian Navy Apapa.”
Counsel for Ovuiro, Peter, Harrison, Joshua and Olawufemi, Mr N. C. Onyejiaka, also claimed his clients were forced to make their statements.
“The original statements which they made voluntarily are not here,” he said.
But, the Navy claimed that the statements were obtained voluntarily after the defendants were duly cautioned.
Testifying in the trial within trial, a Lieutenant Commander, O. J. Adeyemi, said he took the statements after cautioning the defendants and that none of them was forced to write.
“I even bought food and drinks for two of the defendants at different times when they complained that they were hungry. They wrote their statements willingly and not under duress,” he said.
Justice Hassan later adjourned until November 6 and 7 for continuation of trial within trial.