…Indicts vessel operators for false alarm on pirates attacks
By Albert Akpor
FOR the Nigeria Navy (NN), they are nothing but a bunch of impersonators masquerading as naval officers. And this is why it has sworn to deal with these
self- acclaimed members of the merchant navy said to be led by one â€˜Commodoreâ€™ Benson Edema. A group which dresses its membersÂ in the traditional blue and white on white uniform in order to pass themselves convincingly as genuine naval men.
So confusing is this clash of identity that most people find it almost impossible toÂ actually differentiate between the two.Â The fighting Navy is furious because it views the existence of the group as constituting a threat to national security.Â It said the threat has heightened with the recent recruitment and passing out parade of over 30,000 members of the said â€˜fake merchant navyâ€™ somewhere in Ogun State.
The Navy says its investigation revealedÂ that those involved in battering innocent Nigerians and causing problems, especially in Lagos which members of the public see as naval personnel because of the uniforms they wear are fake merchant navy officers recruited by Benson Edema.
TheseÂ people, the Navy claims, are usually seen escorting vehicles at border posts, extorting money from commercial motorists and committing all sorts of atrocities.Â â€œUnfortunately, members of the public who cannot differentiate between genuine navy personnel and those fake navy are used to believing that they are soldiers,â€ disclosed the Director of Naval information, Navy Commodore David Nabaida
But while the Edema-led Merchant Navy is contending that they are already pressingÂ for their legitimacy by way of a bill presently before the National Assembly,Â the fighting Navy is saying that it had no problem with the existence of the group stressing however, that it has no right yet to exist since the law has not said so.Â Â Aside this, the fighting Navy said the only persons authorised toÂ carry arms and train personnel for such were either the military,
the police or other para-military agencies and not even the genuine Merchant Navy.
It said information before its intelligence department revealed that members of this â€˜fake merchant navyâ€™ were being illegally trained in arms carrying contrary to their legitimate functions which restricts them to the ship if eventually approved by law.Â Â It is against this backdrop the Navy says it has intensified efforts at curtailing the excesses of the â€˜fake Merchant Navyâ€™ and recently arrested eight suspects who wore their uniforms at sea.
Recently,Â Navy Commodore Nabaida disclosed to newsmen in Lagos that the Navy had received intelligence report of an illegal recruitment of about 30, 000 job seeking Nigerians and the man heading the â€˜fake merchant navyâ€™, one Mr. Benson Edema, was training these innocent Nigerians on weapons handling. He also dismissed as false the incessant alarm raised by vessel operators that they were being attacked by pirates, saying this was the handiwork of some criminal elements.
â€œI want to say with emphasis today that those responsible for spurious alarm are actually the perpetrators of this crime.Â They raise false alarm of attacks by pirates, whereas they connived with their supposed attackers to strike a deal, thereby giving the world wrong picture that our waters are not safe for business.
We are not saying there is no pirates attack because it happens all over the world,Â but the rate at which these vessel operators raise alarm of attacks is totally misleading; and aimed at diverting attention,â€ he stated.
Back to the Merchant Navy, he said: â€œWe take serious exception to the training of innocent Nigerians and training them in military tactics as well as weapons handling,â€ adding that the â€˜fake Commodoreâ€™ leading that bodyÂ Â â€œsigned identity cards for them and they wear real naval uniforms with ranks.
This is the height of illegality!Â This action of hisÂ is both treasonable and a threat to national security and we cannot allow it to continue.Â The only authorised institution accredited to train persons as merchant navy in the country is the Nigerian Maritime Academy Oron, Akwa Ibom State.Â This same Benson Edema who now goes around parading himself as a commodore was employed as a welder onboard MV Epa during the defunct Nigerian National shipping Line (NNSL) and left in 1994.Â We had arrested him severally and severally he was granted bail and he went back doing the thing for which he was arrested.
He has also falsely claimed to occupy the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government on 6, Force road Victoria Island Lagos and based on that information and with the disclaimers from the offices of the Federal Ministry of Transport, the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, officials of the Maritime Workers Union and NIMASA, the Navy swung into action and raided the place.Â Â Mr. Edema escaped but we are looking for him everywhere.
I am saying all these because the Navy High Command have been inundated with series of complaints from members of the public particularly those in Lagos by naval personnel.Â Based on those complaints we also swung into action and arrested some people wearing naval uniformsâ€.
When contacted, â€˜Commodoreâ€™ Benson Edema said what he is doing cannot be deemed illegal, adding that there is a bill already before the National Assembly to that effect.Â He said their existence â€œis among other things to fight and ensure safe waterways for the country and monitor the activities of illegal oil bunkerersâ€.