It was in October last year that the Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi 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’’.
But, beyond what the Minister said is the fact that the identity of the Israeli firm has been unraveled as HLSI Security Firms and Technology and that the contract which is expected to kick start before June 2018.
Another fact is that, the moment the contract becomes functional; it would see operatives of the Israeli firm patrolling the country's territorial waters.
And after what appear like total acceptance, notable stakeholders including the National Assembly and Civil Society Organisations have kicked against the contract.
Perhaps, bolstered by the petition written to it by a coalition of 10 Civil Society Organisations, the House of Representatives committee on Public Petitions invited the Minister of Transportation, Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, Rear Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas, Director General, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, and the contractor, HLSI Firm Security and Technology to appear before it. But there is no evidence that this has been obeyed.
Similarly, the House committee on Navy also recently kicked against the contract. While on an oversight visit to the Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy the committee’s Chairman; Abdussamad Dasuki, flayed NIMASA for the contract.
He said ceding patrol of the nation’s waterways and other critical national asset to such foreign company was to the detriment of the navy.
He added that the constitutional role of the navy was to safeguard and patrol the coastal waters and the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
If the essence of the contract is as the Minister put it, then those who are kicking against the contract are highly justifiable.
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.
Cancelling the contract was one of the first official actions of the government of 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 te decline, hostage taking and attack on ships remained high in Nigeria.
Giving its report on activities for 2017, the IMB said in 2017, there were 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crewmembers in or around Nigerian waters.
“Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers. The Nigerian authorities have intervened in a number of incidents helping to prevent incidents from escalating,” Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, said.
Even though the above verdict from the highly respected IMB underscores failures of all current arrangements to take maritime crimes, it still does not justify handling the nation’s maritime security to a foreign firm.
While is not unheard of that a foreign firm can offer security assistance in form of training to a nation, what is unacceptable is to allow the private firm to have unfettered access to the nation’s maritime domain.
What the Federal Government is embarking on is worse than what the immediate past administration of PDP did, when it handed over maritime security responsibilities to a private firm owned by an ex-warlord.
As we have preached repeatedly in this newspaper, a Coast Guard is the most apparent solution to the unbridled maritime crimes being witnessed in Nigeria daily.