Posted by News Express | 6 July 2015 | 3,442 times
Stakeholders on maritime sector on Sunday expressed worry over worsening spate of piracy on Nigerian waters with offenders allegedly operating without fear of being arrested and punished.
A cross-section of the stakeholders who spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in separate interviews called for the establishment of ``Coast Guard" in the country and a push on Piracy Bill at the National Assembly.
The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the U.S. military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission with jurisdiction covering both domestic and international waters.
However, some stakeholders believed that the formation of coast guard and new legislation would drastically address the problem of piracy and sea robbery on Nigerian waters.
Some of the stakeholders alleged that the Nigerian Navy was objecting to the formation of coast guard, saying the naval force was seeing the guard as a rival.
Mr Iguwo Ukwu, a Lawyer and an expert on piracy, told NAN that despite the fact that Nigeria does not have a coastguard, the country has the largest number of naval vessels in the Gulf of Guinea.
He said some stakeholders alleged that the Nigerian Navy had at a time has low operational capacity, adding that only 28 per cent of its ships were actually believed to be operational.
Ukwu, therefore, stressed the need for government to set up a coast guard in view of the multi-faceted nature of security challenges in Nigerian waters cutting across economic, military and civilian factors.
According to him, the Nigerian Navy had in a conference also considered the formation of coast guard as ``capital intensive which require skilled manpower, specialised equipment and duplicate of its functions as well’’.
Ukwu said the Navy had in the same forum admitted that ``security agencies lacked the power to confront pirates because the existing law does not permit use of force or effective prosecution of suspects’’.
He added that the Navy then called for the amendment of the enabling laws, in order to give more impetus and power to the force to make arrests and prosecution of pirates possible and easy.
Ukwu said maritime experts were also of the view that there was need to review inadequate municipal laws and set up special courts or tribunals to ensure efficient prosecution of suspected pirates.
Similarly, a Lawyer and Public Affairs Analyst, Mr Giti Ogunye, argued that there were no gaps or loopholes in the corpus of criminal law that facilitates the escape of criminals on Nigerian waterways from justice.
Ogunye said if the Navy, the marine police and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Security Agency (NIMASA), were unable to enforce laws to apprehend pirates they shouldn't blamed their deficiencies to inefficient laws.
``There is nothing that is criminal in the maritime sector that has not been sufficiently covered by our laws either crimes involving illegal bunkering of petroleum products, smuggling of goods, attacking vessels and piracy.
``We need to emphasise that there is a distinction between platitude of laws and the capacity to enforce laws.
``It is my considered view that's it is a lack of willingness to enforce our maritime laws that is the problem," he said.
``What ought to happen in the maritime sector is the resetting of our maritime security and safety infrastructure, and this resetting will entail the provision of adequate materials and motivation as well as re-orientation of personnel to do their job.
``We need the kind of government attention that is currently being given to the north-east of the country in our maritime sector because this sector is very key to our Nigerian economy.
``It requires the kind of focus that we have in the fight against insurgency," Ogunye said.
The President, Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), Mrs Jean Chiazor- Anishere, however, urged the National Assembly to conduct a public hearing on the Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea Bill.
``Unfortunately we do not really have in our rules a law against armed robbery at sea or piracy.
``Interestingly, I know that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency had given some form of contract to the firm of Mike Igbokwe, SAN and Co, to come up with a Bill on Piracy Act," she said.
The maritime lawyer insisted that what the nation had was Criminal Law; Criminal Act in the Southern part of Nigeria and the Criminal Code in the Northern part of Nigeria.
According to her, the provisions of the Criminal Act or Criminal Code only provides for armed robbery not at sea but armed robbery per say; theft and not piracy.
Chiazor- Anishere suggested that ``where the act is committed on land, the Criminal Code will have sufficient punitive measures that will be attached to the offender".
She explained that unfortunately, ``the prevailing situation is that where the Armed Robbery Act is committed at sea, there is no such provision as to what the penalty or the punishment will be".
``So that is why it is important that this Bill on Piracy and Armed Robbery which was put together by the firm of Mike Igbokwe and Co. be looked into and then let the National Assembly call for a public hearing of that," the lawyer suggested.
When contacted, the Command Information Officer, Western Naval Command, Nigerian Navy, Lt.-Cdr. Abdusalam Sani, insisted that the Nigerian Navy was very efficient in its responsibilities of manning the Nigerian waters.
He, however, denied that the Navy was weak in its operational capacity, especially in arrest and prosecution, saying the Nigerian Navy doesn't have any problem in prosecuting suspected vandals.
Sani said anybody arrested by the Nigerian Navy would be handed over to the appropriate security agencies for prosecution.
He also said a number of suspected pirates had been handed over to the Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for prosecution. (NAN)
*Photo shows Sea pirates
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