Despite the rising spate of attacks on vessels within Nigeria’s territorial waters, the Federal Government has said that it is illegal and against the Nigerian constitution for private armed guards to operate onboard merchant vessels in the name of offering security services.
Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami stated this yesterday at the opening of Lagos International Maritime Week which held in Lagos.
Even though he acknowledged that Nigeria's waters present an alluring area for criminal activities such as piracy, armed robbery at sea, maritime terrorism, and a host of other vices, the AGF stressed that under Nigerian law, armed guards are not permitted on merchant vessels within her waters.
Malami who was represented by the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Financial Crimes; Biodun Aikomu delivered a paper titled ‘Armed Guards Aboard Merchant Vessels in Nigeria; Legal or Illegal’
He stated expressly that in respect to security on Nigerian waters, it remains the prerogative of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)
He said that the National Assembly has enacted laws to address specific issues relating to maritime security and operations including the NIMASA Act, Cabotage Act among other international conventions which Nigerian is a signatory, the Act he said does not contain any express provisions nor legalise the use of armed guards by on ships or by seafarers.
He declared that: “The question as to the legality or otherwise of armed guards on merchant vessels in Nigeria is quite straight forward, under Nigerian law, armed guards are not permitted on merchant vessels within the Nigerian waters”
“In considering the legality or otherwise of the use of armed guards on Nigerian flagged vessels, important consideration is given to the legal regime of the Flag State (Nigeria) vis-a vis the legal regimes of other State(s) in a given situation. Fundamentally, the State has the primary duty of securing lives and properties, investments including vessels within its territorial jurisdiction. The State also has monopoly over the use of force to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria”
“Considering the necessity of protecting merchant vessels in Nigeria, NIMASA currently collaborates with the Nigerian Navy to provide maritime security within the powers of the Nigerian Navy under the Armed Forces Act. This collaboration has resulted in a number of activities”
Malami stressed further that there should be no express authorisation of vessel owners to have private armed guards on board. He said that in Nigeria, individuals are not permitted to own or use fire arms except license is sought and obtained in respect of such firearms. He said giving such permit is expressly prohibited under Section 17 of the Private Companies Guard Act.
“It is therefore illegal for ships within the Nigerian waters to have armed personnel on board. For clarity, armed guards in this context are private persons who are not members of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but who are nevertheless armed”
“The IMO neither endorses nor condemns the use of armed personnel on board merchant ships, but leaves the decision to the ship owner subject to the Law of flag state”, he stated.
According to the AGF, there is need to amend the relevant laws in the long term so as to address the increasing spate of attacks on Nigerian waters. He assured that his office is pushing to ensure that the Anti-Piracy Bill sponsored by NIMASA is passed in order to address some of the challenges.
In her welcome address, convener of the Lagos Maritime Week, Mrs Oritsematosan Edodo Emore said that the introduction of youths to the maritime industry is key to the long term development of maritime manpower in Africa. She said that this is in tandem with the theme of the event ‘developing maritime infrastructure in Africa’
She said that the Lagos Maritime Week is an event that brings together maritime stakeholders from around the globe to deliberate on concurrent challenges that face the industry, network and proffer solutions
Also speaking, the Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives; Mrs Olayinka Oladunjoye lamented that the inadequacy of maritime infrastructures in Nigeria has largely reduced the country’s ability to harness the full potentials inherent in her maritime industry.
Oladunjoye called for investments in ports and terminals, cargo handling equipment, channels and harbors, warehouses, vessel repair and ship building yards, port access roads, inter-modal transport, ICT, deep seaport, power and water.