By Godwin Oritse
THE Presidency and the Senate Committee onÂ Â Marine Transport are at loggerheads over two separate maritime security bills currently undergoing legislative processes.
While the Senator Gbemi Saraki-led Senate Marine Committee is pushing for the passage of the Coast Guard Bill, the Presidency is promoting the passage of a Maritime Security Agency, a department that will duplicate the function of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.
Vanguard gathered that powerful forces in the presidency may have re-floated the moribund Presidential Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMMS) and sold it to President Umar Musa Yarâ€™ Adua as a way of ensuring lasting peace in the oil-rich Delta region without necessarily using a full-blown military apparatus.
Presidential Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMMS) in the past was used as a conduit pipe to siphon monies from the system until it was scrapped.
Sources close to the Marine Transport Committee said that theÂ President requested that the National Assembly approves the setting up of a maritime security agency that will protect ships, oil facilities and ports in the Niger-Delta region.
It was learnt that the proposed agency is expected to have wide ranging powers, including superintending coastguard officials. The agency will have powers to inspect ships, arrest suspects and carry firearms within the Niger-Delta region.
According to Reuters, the new agency is also expected to provide â€œsecurity information on oil and gas pipelines, rigs, platforms and all other established installationsâ€.
Sources confirmed that the security agency will be funded from a one per cent levy on annual profits from companies using Nigeriaâ€™s waterways.
National Assembly source confirmed to VanguardÂ that the lawmakers may not be favourably disposed to the establishment of another security agency from the coastal part of the country; especially since the upper legislature is currently in the process of passing a bill for the establishment of a Coast Guard to police the nationâ€™s territorial waters for the purpose of providing adequate security for merchant vessels, fishing trawlers and oil tankers.
In fact, the bill which is sponsored by the chairman, Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Gbemi Saraki has gone for the mandatory second reading at the Senate and it is expected that the lower chamber will give it commensurate attention.
Our sources at both the National Assembly and the Presidency disclosed that the PICOMMS idea came up because it could fit into the idea of a post-amnesty non-fully paramilitary body that President Yarâ€™ Adua had in mind.
It would beÂ recalledÂ that PICOMMS was a child of circumstance which was born in 2004 on account of the desperation by Nigeria to meet the directives of the International Ships and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
The Presidency at that time created PICOMMS as an ad- hoc multi-agency body to ensure that Nigeria beats the deadline and meet the requirements. Its secretariat was at the Ministry of Transport.
The agency achieved this and it was able to convince former President Olusegun Obasanjo to allow it to continue as a monitoring agency.
By 2006, PICOMMSâ€™ secretariat was moved from the Ministry of Transport to the presidency where it has remained ever since as an innocuous body.
â€œIt is because it is still in the consciousness of the Presidency that officials found it easy to sell its transmutation to President Yarâ€™ Adua, who innocently is pushing for the establishment of a safety andÂ Â security enforcement agency in the Niger-Delta,” a source informed our correspondent.
Apart from facing hurdles at the National Assembly, its creation is also seen as violation of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act of 2003. The Act confines the responsibility for coastal security and safety administration on NIMASA.
However, industry sources lamented last week that it was the immediate past director-general of NIMASA, Dr Ade Dosunmu who allegedly gave a whooping N1.7 billion to PICOMMS, a development which gave the agency the impetus to still parade itself as an enforcement agency for the maritime sector but resident in the presidency.