A case for urgent action on the anti-piracy bill

pirates robbers

A recent global maritime report on Nigeria has been damning; for the second consecutive quarter, Nigeria clinched the number one spot in the number of recorded pirate attacks on vessels in 2018. Nigeria recorded 31 attacks of which 14 were carried out on vessels at anchorage. In the first quarter of the year, Nigeria alone recorded 22 of the total 45 pirate attacks against vessels in the world; obviously piracy is on the rise. As a result of this unattractive label, shipping has become a risky business in Nigerian waters. Insurers raise the premium on vessels coming to Nigeria because the country has been classified as a high-risk area. This has resulted in a loss of one-third of earnings to make costly insurance payments. Especially in the Niger Delta area, piracy is said to be alive and kicking. When vessels are attacked, navigational equipment are sometimes destroyed, the ship crew assaulted and in some instances, killed. There is also the possibility of the pirates seizing cargo and kidnapping ship crew.

One reason advanced by stakeholders for the burgeoning piracy trade is the lack of a legal framework to adequately prosecute maritime crimes. According to Oceans Beyond Piracy, a not-for-profit organization, Nigeria has tried unsuccessfully till date to pass numerous anti-piracy legislative measures. This is due to the fact that none of its laws particularly criminalizes piracy or armed robbery at sea. However, the law does criminalize the basic elements of these crimes in its Penal Code of 1959, applicable in Northern Nigeria and the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria, applicable in Southern Nigeria. However, these laws are restricted solely to Nigeria’s territory and territorial waters, lacking a criminal conspiracy where at least one felonious act occur within Nigeria. Several experts have lamented the absence of a leading law on piracy in Nigeria. As a result, the authorities often had to rely on municipal laws.

Stakeholders have in recent times become more aggressive in their call for an anti-piracy bill. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA) has been in the forefront, pushing for its passage. Already a draft of the bill, prepared by a committee set up by NIMASA, has been sent to the executive arm of government. Last December, the Federal Executive Council at its meeting approved a memo for the Piracy and Other Unlawful Acts at Sea Bill to be sent to the National Assembly for passage into law. If passed into law, it would give effect to the provisions of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1958 and 1982 relating to Piracy, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation 1988, and would regulate other related offences and matters.

Unfortunately, eight months after the FEC memo, President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to send the bill to the National Assembly. With less than six months to the national elections next year, there are fears that the bill may never be passed in this administration as the various political parties are more immersed in campaigns. Causing the bill to await the next legislative session has disastrous consequences for Nigeria. Failing to domesticate conventions after signing the relevant treaties signals Nigeria’s flippancy in abiding with accepted international conventions. The economic implications for our floundering shipping sector are far reaching.

President Buhari has severally reiterated his commitment to the growth of the non-oil sector and this must be reflected in the expedited attention the anti-piracy bill receives, both from him and the legislature.