Liberia: Four Stranded Nigerian Seamen Claim LACC Nominee and Associate Caused Them 16 Years of Hardship
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three part series delving into the past of a nominee for the post of Chairman of Liberia’s most important anti-graft agency, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC.)
Monrovia – Four stranded crewmen of a Nigerian ship that sank 14-years ago at Popo Beach have cast blame on President George Weah’s nominee for the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Ndubusi Nwabudike, and another Nigerian for their protracted misfortune.
The former seamen allegation comes following a previous report by FrontPageAfrica linking Cllr. Nwabudike to the sinking of a Nigerian vessel – M/V Pots Express.
Cllr. Nwabudike, who now serves as Chairman of the Governance Commission, was recently appointed by President Weah to head the LACC. He was never confirmed in his current role by the Liberian Senate and now faces scrutiny about his past including his alleged role in the ship saga.
The Nigerian-turned Liberian has denied all the allegations, telling FPA during an interview on October 23 that he knows nothing about the vessel as being alleged.
“I don’t know anything about that vessel; I have never heard that name before. It’s better you check your facts as a journalist,” said Cllr. Nwabudike, who has also denied ever serving as legal counsel for the charterer of the vessel.
A Turbulent Voyage
However, for the Nigerian seamen, their experience with the current Chairman of Liberia Governance Commission was detrimental and left them in uncertainties since 2007.
In an interview with FPA, Godwin Obong, 48, recalled how on November 7, 2003, the M V Pots Express arrived in Liberia and docked at the Free Port of Monrovia. He said the vessel was chattered for a year from its owner in Lagos, Nigeria.
The mission in Liberia was to secure a contract with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, where Cllr. Nwabudike worked at the time, but the contract was unsuccessful. And then the ship became transporting scrap irons from the southeastern county of Maryland to Monrovia.
A year later, a legal tussle ensued between the charterers of the vessel and the Liberian agent – Montserrado Shipping and Stevedoring Company. Before then, the vessel had incurred huge taxes and debts, so the National Port Authority ordered that it be relocated in order to free-up space for incoming ships.
“Even somebody wanted to buy the vessel after the court said it should be sold but Cllr. Nwabudike and Israel were receiving money from the owners in Nigeria and pretending like they were taking care of us.” – Albert Allwell, Crewman, M/V Pots Express Vessel
It was eventually moved to Popo Beach, several miles away from the NPA – where it stayed until eventually sinking in 2008.
Before the ship wracked, Godwin and his colleagues recalled, that there were options to sell it and write-off some of its liabilities including paying their salaries and benefits. The court had earlier ruled that the vessel be auctioned but a representative of the charterers – Israel Egware, who had contacted Cllr. Nwaubudike as a legal advisor, according to the four crewmen, – sought a court stay order on the sale.
The 14 Years Wait
Meanwhile, the crew was stranded, without money or food for several months.
When the vessel was turnover to Israel Egware by the court, the crewmen were still without money for their upkeep. Israel, meanwhile, assured them that the owner of the vessel was to remit money to settle the salary arrears. They waited in vain.
“We became affected seriously,” remembered Obong. “The first year came and we didn’t get pay, the second year came and the same thing and the third year no payment – up till today, we have not gotten a cent since we came to this country.”
“We blame all of them: Cllr. Nwabudike, Israel and Malachy for our situation. For Cllr. Nwabudike, he was the lawyer and we expected him to live up to his words because he was the one coming to us and telling us that we will get our pay but he let us down.” – Godwin Obong, Crewman, M/V Pots Express Vessel
“We didn’t have nowhere to go, all of our documents and everything we brought to Liberia sank with the vessel.”
Several of them were constrained to leave the country empty-handed but others had already started having families in Liberia. They couldn’t abandon their new family and return home.
They had lost contacts with their families back in Nigeria and integrating in a new country was a herculean challenge.
The ‘Middle Man’?
Obong claims Cllr. Nwabudike visited them on few occasions on behalf of the ship owner, seeking their patience while the case continued at the court.
“He will come and tell us to hold our heart and [he] will give us some money and say to us that he is the middleman between the ship owner and us. He gave us some money once in a while.”
“We learned that the ship owner gave Cllr. Nwabudike and Israel money to take care of us while the case was ongoing in the court but the two of them just abandoned us like that.”
“I don’t know anything about that vessel; I have never heard that name before. It’s better you check your facts as a journalist.” – Cllr. Nwabudike
‘He Let us Down’
Chinedu was the eldest of the crewmen and was also the chief officer. He was one of five persons onboard the vessel the day it finally sank. He had earlier warned that the ship had defects and was vulnerable to submerging.
Now 62 years old, it’s unlikely that he returns home. He’s also lost contact with his family more than a decade ago, a situation now compounded by his ill-health and joblessness.
Mr. Chinedu recalled that his crew only sought settlement from Israel and Cllr. Nwabudike but were left hopeless.
He also accuses the LACC nominee and his associate of receiving money from the owner of the vessel but neglected them under the pretense that they were using the law to salvage the vessel.
“Even somebody wanted to buy the vessel after the court said it should be sold but Cllr. Nwubudike and Israel was receiving money from the owners in Nigeria and pretending like they were taking care of us,” added 51-year-old Albert Allwell, one of the four crewmen still in Liberia.
“He let us down and we have stayed here and have been struggling all long.”
Allwell has turned to doing odd jobs at the Freeport of Monrovia to cater to his new family in Liberia. His wife back in Nigeria abandoned the marriage because he had overstayed in a foreign land.
“She (wife) couldn’t wait for me. I have even lost contact with my family and children all because of the actions of people who delayed until the ship sank and left us to suffer,” he said.
“We blame all of them: Cllr. Nwabudike, Israel and Malachy for our situation,” added Obong. “For Cllr. Nwabudike, he was the lawyer and we expected him to live up to his words because he was the one coming to us and telling us that we will get our pay but he let us down.”
“Up till now I’ve lost communication with my family and I’m stranded here. We blame the people who were in charge of the vessel and the case at the court for the condition we find ourselves,” added Chinedu.
‘I Made No Commitment’
Meanwhile, Cllr. Nwabudike told FPA on Monday that he made no commitment to the seamen as they claimed, adding that all he remembers is that the crew was opting to illegally sell the vessel.
“What happened to the vessel is that the crew wanted to sell the vessel, they started using the vessel illegally and those who were the owners decided to go to court,” he said, stressing that he did not serve as legal counsel to any party during the case neither did he know or interacted with Israel Egware as being alleged by the crewmen.
“I never made any promise to anybody in relation to sending them back to their country and it doesn’t put any legal obligation on me.”