Prior to the recent cancellation of the controversial maritime security contract awarded to an Israeli firm, there was a deluge of opposition from different quarters. First, it was the National Assembly, the House of Representatives was later to summon the Minister of Transport; Mr Rotimi Amaechi over the $195 million deal
Later, Israeli media widely reported the arrest of three senior officials in Israel shipyards for allegedly bribing Nigerian officials to secure the contract.
Also, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which is the user agency, had to deny any involvement in the deal.
Perhaps, not satisfied with the contract or suspicious that it was not what was presented to him; President Buhari recently terminated the controversial security contract in a memo dispatched by his Chief of Staff; Abba Kyari.
He also ordered the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) to investigate how the contractor obtained security clearance for the job without an end user certificate.
President Buhari also directed the Minister to work towards the return of either the $50m paid upfront or supply security materials in the like sum.
Recall that it was in October last year that the Minister announced that the Federal Government has awarded a contract worth $195Million to an Israeli firm to procure security equipment and assist in training Nigerian security personnel tackle crime along the nation’s waterways.
Trying to justify the contract, the Minister acknowledged that the nation’s maritime domain is still facing security challenges, as more cases of attack and kidnappings are still being recorded yearly.
According to him, one of the burning issues in the maritime sector is security. Amaechi said the agreement became imperative given the high charges shipping firms’ pay for security escort on Nigerian waterways.
He told the gathering of stakeholders at the 2017 World Maritime Day, that it was imperative to secure the services of the Israeli security experts because operators spend about $18 million yearly due to insecurity on the nation’s waterways, in addition to high war risk insurance payable by shippers to do business Nigerian waters.
Within the three years that the contract would last, the Israeli firm will train Nigeria’s security operatives to take over after the expiration of the contract.
Apparently satisfied, Amaechi further boasted that, ‘’they are yet to launch because they are still buying the equipment. When you see the equipment on the waterways, people will know they are safe and secured’’.
Before this government came into power in 2015, the PDP government was vilified for awarding a similar contract to Global West Vessel Services, a firm in which ex-militant leader; Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo allegedly had interest.
Cancelling the contract was one of the first official actions of the government of the APC. Its argument was that it was wrong to award maritime security contract of a whole nation to a private individual or a private firm (as the case may be).
While it is true that the nation waters are very prone to sea robbery and piracy, inviting foreign firm is not the solution.
Currently, there is an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. The essence of the MoU is maritime domain security.
Statistics from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) indicates that, whereas globally, piracy is on the decline, hostage taking and attack on ships remained high in Nigeria.
IMB’s in its first quarter 2018 report said that its Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 66 incidents in the quarter, up from 43 for the same period in 2017, and 37 in Q1 2016.
According to the IMB, Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents between January and March 2018
Even though the above verdict from the highly respected IMB underscores failures of all current arrangements to tackle maritime crimes, it still does not justify handling the nation’s maritime security to a foreign firm.
The years of back and forth movement over maritime security contract justifies our longstanding position that Nigeria needs a stand-alone agency to tackle maritime and related crimes. The answer is in the creation of Coast Guard.