By Godwin Oritse
Stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime sector were unanimous in their condemnation of the Maritime Security Bill which proposes to establish a Maritime Security Agency for the country.
This fact came to the fore, at the public hearing on the Bill organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport, In Abuja.
In its presentation, the Federal Ministry of Transport, submitted that by the provisions of Section 1 (4) of the Armed Forces Act Cap 20, LNF, 2004, the power to enforce Maritime Security is largely vested in the Nigerian Navy while the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA, Nigeria Immigration Service, Marine Division of the Police and the Nigeria Customs Service are also vested with similar powers. The Honorable Minister of Transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio observed that some of the provisions of the Maritime Security Agency Bill as presently drafted were in conflict and a duplication of some existing responsibilities of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA
The Minister, whose paper was presented by the Permanent Secretary, of the Ministry, Mr Adeyemi Olayisade noted that the Ad-Hoc Presidential Committee on Maritime Security and Safety (PICCOMSS) set up in 2004 to respond to maritime security exigencies as at that time has not performed the function, adequately adding that the International Maritime Organisation,IMO does not support a militarised outfit handling maritime security of any maritime nation.
The Honorable Minister specifically, listed conflicting sections of the BillÂ with the NIMASA Act to include section 4 which was described as an adoption of section 22 of the NIMASA ACT, section 21 of the Bill which appears to be a replication of section 15 of the NIMASA ACT amongst others.
Sections 2(i), 3(a-d), 4 and 5 of the Bill, was described by the Transport Ministry as simple duplication of the Preventive, Interdictive and Detention functions and powers of the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Immigration Service, Marine Police, and the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency,NDLEA.
In his words,â€œ the Maritime Security Bill was not a product of conventional collaborative efforts of all relevant stakeholders. It is too general, contains ouster clauses, duplications and does not take other existing and relevant legislations into considerationâ€.
While admitting that the Maritime Security situation in Nigeria requires urgent attention, the Transport Ministry urged the Law makers to review the NIMASA ACT in order to empower the Agency to enforce maritime security.
On its part, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA aligned with the position of the Ministry of Transport, in faulting the Bill. The Agencyâ€™s Director General, Mr Temisan Omatseye noted that NIMASA at the moment performs all the duties proposed for the Agency in the Maritime Security Bill under the NIMASA Act 2007, Cabotage Act 2003 and the Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) 2007.
In its submission, the Nigerian Navy submitted thatÂ passing the Maritime Security BillÂ will result in undue duplication of functions, wastage of scarce resources and inimical to the interest of National Security.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Iko IbrahimÂ who personally led the Naval team to the public hearing, noted that the Bill which proposes that the Agency regulate all bodies engaged in the provision of Maritime Security in Nigerian territorial waters, seeks to usurp the function of the President Commander-in-Chief, Ministers of Defense, Transport, and Police Affairs.
The Chief of Naval staff maintained that the country has adequate legislations and Agencies to attain optimum safety and security in the maritime sector, adding that they only require adequate funding to perform optimally.
In a presentation on behalf of the Nigeria Navy, Umosen faulted the creation of a Maritime Security Agency (MSA) with the broad functions of promoting maritime security in Nigerian territorial waters.Â According to him, an analysis of the objectives, functions and operations of the proposed agency shows that it would take over most policing functions of the Nigerian Navy and create avoidable duplicity of effort in the maritime sector.
Speaking further, he explained that it would hamper the development of the Nigeria Navy into a viable maritime force by competing for scarce resources from the Federal Government
In his words, â€œmost of the roles and functions proposed for the MSA are the same roles assigned to the Nigerian Navy, NIMASA, Marine Police, Nigerian Ports Authority by the constitution, Nigerian Defense Policy and the Armed Forces Act Cap A20, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Duplicating these functions will be wasteful, unnecessary and ill-advisedâ€
On its part, the Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, ISAN, also called on the Law makers to throw out the Bill on the grounds that it will only further hinder the growth of the sector.
According to Captain Labinjo, â€œif you want to create Maritime Security Agency for us in the maritime then, you may also consider creating the Land Security Agency, Rail Security Agency, and the Aviation Security Agency. Honorable members, we say NO to this Maritime security Billâ€.
The team of legal practitioners who also lent a voice to reasons why the Bill should not be passed was led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mike Igbokwe other are Chidi Ilogu and a former Director General of NAMASA Barr. Mfon Usoro.
Mrs Usoro described the Bill as technically incompetent on the grounds that the Bill does not have provisions for consequential amendments Act, Cost Compendium, Policy and technical grounds while Hon Chris Asoluka described the proposed Agency as â€œone too manyâ€
Architect Ferdinand Agu who aligned himself with the position of the federal ministry of Transport, in faulting the bill, notedÂ that only the Justice Ministry knew about the Bill from the onset to the exclusion of all other stakeholders.
Former Chief of General Staff (CGS), Admiral Mike Akhigbe also kicked against the Bill saying that the functions being canvassed for the proposed agency are traditional roles of the Navy.
Admiral Mike Akhigbe, noted that the National Security Adviser (NSA) was only charged with the responsibility to advise the President on security matters, adding that keeping of security in the maritime industry was the responsibility of the military and not of the NSA.
Akhigbe, who once headed the Nigerian Navy stressed that passage of the Bill would create more problems in the industry than solving them.Â In his words,â€œThere is no reason why the bill should surface here, it will only create more problems, the seeming gaps and perceived non-performance of existing maritime security agencies was largely due to poor funding. â€™â€™
Other Government Agencies and stakeholders in the maritime industry who also presented position papers against the Maritime Security Bill include theÂ Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Maritime Workers Unioun of Nigeria, MWUN, National Council For Managing Directors, Association of Master Mariners, and the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping amongst others.
In his opening remarks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, represented by the Chief Whip, Hon Emeka Ihedioha, commended the Committee on Marine Transport for the public hearing and assured that the proper thing would be done.
The Chairman of the Committee,Â Hon. Ifeanyi UgwuanyiÂ assured Nigerians that the Committeeâ€™s actions as relates to the Maritime Security Bill will be guided by the submissions at the Public Hearing. Members of the Committee who spoke at the Hearing described the session as a demonstration of participatory democracy considering the fact that an executive Bill could be constructively criticized by Government Agencies.