The recent clampdown on many Merchant Navy associations should worry the Federal Government. Not being the first time that such will happen, it is high time something concrete was done.
In one of such arrests in 2017, the Nigerian Navy announced the proscription of six unauthorized agencies. The illegal outfits include: Nigerian Merchant Marine, Nigerian Merchant Navy Corps, Global College of Marine and Technology, Merchant Navy Maritime Academy as well as Nigeria Merchant Navy and Maritime Law Enforcement Agency.
The then- Director of Public Information, Nigerian Navy; Commodore Christian Ezekobe, alleged that the activities of the agencies have caused several cases of security breaches and criminal activities.
He said the fake naval personnel have continued to intimidate, harass and defraud unsuspecting members of the public.
In the latest clampdown, the Nigerian Navy declared eight security outfits for allegedly conducting secret recruitment exercises as operating illegally in the country.
The Navy said the illegal outfits were selling recruitment forms to unsuspecting members of the public and are also conducting secret military training for members, particularly in the South-West and South-South regions.
It also raised the alarm that the increasing number of the illegal maritime security outfits and their presence might worsen the state of insecurity in the country.
Specifically, the military named some of the proscribed maritime outfits operating illegally as: the Nigerian Merchant Navy, Nigerian Merchant Navy Coastal Defence Force, Nigerian Coast Guard, Merchant Navy Maritime Academy, Nigerian Merchant Navy Coast Guard Security and Safety Corps, Maritime Security Agency as well as Nigerian Maritime Law Enforcement Agency, amongst others.
There is an age-long relationship between the Nigerian Navy and the Merchant Navy, and this dates back to pre-independence.
The Nigeria Navy was created in 1958 from the defunct Nigerian Marine Department originally formed in 1914 after the merger of the northern and southern Nigerian marine detachment, which was the Merchant Navy.
The Nigeria Navy was formed because of the attack the Merchant Navy was facing on the high sea and because the Merchant Navy are not armed, equipped and trained as Navy to face the attack.
History has it that the British Government carved out Nigeria Navy from Nigerian Merchant Navy to be trained as a sea soldier with just 11 small boats and harbour crafts and about 200 officers and men were transferred from the then-Nigerian Merchant Navy to become independent naval defence force.
But explaining the apparent mix-up which has snowballed into the harassment of merchant navy personnel of different sorts, the Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association had once lamented the emergence of various types of organisations claiming to be merchant navies.
The association says: “We have our clearly defined roles of Merchant Navy activities which is different from that of Nigeria Navy of protecting the nation’s territorial waters and waterways”
We take a clue from the explanation offered by the Merchant Navy officers. There is obviously a clear distinction between the roles and dressings of the two.
However, we also take note of the concerns of the Navy about how its personnel and that of the various merchant navy organizations operate.
It is often difficult for the average Nigerian to differentiate the Nigeria Navy from these commercial navy outfits. This has led to abuses severally.
The second leg of this development is that a lot of illegal maritime training institutions have sprang up, and are throwing various deceitful offers to train youths for life and jobs at sea.
In the arrests that have been made by the Navy, a strong link was established between these mushroom and the questionable training institutions and the various abuses.
The schools offer unsuspecting youths opportunities to become seafarers and in the process, they are lured into other things, top among which is giving them regimental uniforms that looks similar to that of the Navy. This development has compounded the security situation, especially in the Niger Delta and some parts of the South West.
While we empathise with the Nigeria Navy in its position on the illegality of these maritime navy outfits and the excesses of those which are even registered under the law as unions, associations and maritime training institutions, the agency must act within the ambit of the law and respect the legality of the existence of some of these bodies.
We are of the opinion that the Navy should intensify its efforts in the arrest and prosecution of the brains behind the illegal maritime security outfits, while recognizing the right of a few of them to exist.
Perhaps, the question should be asked: Why is it that the illegal bodies continue to grow despite Federal Government of Nigeria official Gazette No. 58 Vol 100 titled “the Dissolution and Proscription of Certain Associations Order, 2013” banning all such firms/outfits.
Why is it that illegal maritime security outfits and illegal maritime training outfits continue to multiply, even with the sustained clampdown by the Nigeria Navy?
Perhaps, one way of sanitizing the environment is by streamlining the number of Merchant Navy groups, and the number of maritime training institutions in the country,
The decay in the system and the flagrant abuse of the respected uniforms of the Nigerian Navy is a reflection of how bad the nation’s security architecture has become.
The Navy may need to organise series of stakeholder engagements with these schools and merchant navies. The meeting will map out actionable strategies to handle the decay menace of illegal existence of these bodies. The meeting should also have the Corporate Affairs Commission in attendance, because it is the body that registers the various bodies. It is its license that they parade and upon which they claim legitimacy. It must also be attended by NIMASA.
Yes, the constitution of the country guarantees freedom of association. But this can not be at the expense of national security. Opening the nation’s waterways to all manners of uniformed organizations is tantamount to anarchy.
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