Before stakeholders could commend the President Goodluck Jonathan penultimate week over the withdrawal of a bill that was seeking the establishment of a Maritime Security Agency (MASECA), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) blew the whistle on a secret memo from the Transport Minister, Senator Idris Umar, to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the concession of the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain to a private company known as Global West Vessel Specialists (GWVS) by the nation’s apex maritime regulatory organ, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The proposed agency, according to the sponsors, is to complement the efforts of NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy (NN) to safeguard the nation’s territorial, waters was brought before the National Assembly in 2009.
Stakeholders at the public hearing had told members of the House of Representatives that the bill, if passed, would amount to a duplication of functions, since there are already statutory agencies saddled with the same responsibility.
The hackles of maritime industry stakeholders had been particularly raised over the entire affair because the bill was being sponsored by an ad-hoc committee, the Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS), which had set up in 2001 to ensure Nigeria’s compliance with the implementation of the International Ships and Ports Security (ISPS) Code.
That audacious move by PICOMSS was under the watch of a particularly overambitious National Security Adviser (NSA) seeking to expand his sphere of influence through the lucrative maritime sector. PICOMSS ought to have wound up its activities since 2004, and its sponsorship of the MASECA Bill was widely viewed as at best abhorrent.
When Jonathan finally withdrew the bill, a number of stakeholders were happy that the wish of the greater number of operators in the maritime sector has been respected. But no soon did they start commending the president’s action than they were shocked to hear that NIMASA has reached an agreement to concession the country’s maritime domain security to a private firm, ostensibly under the much-touted public private partnership (PPP) in the provision of public infrastructure and other services.
Without question, the concession of Nigeria’s maritime domain security to a private firm is like setting up the aborted Maritime Security Agency, which was initially proposed by the scrapped MASECA Bill under a different and even more foreboding guise.
The decision to give the contract to the company in question may not be unconnected with the donation of five patrol boats to NIMASA last year, ostensibly to aid in more effective patrol of the Lagos waters. With recent revelation unmasking the true essence of NIMASA – GVWS, it is only appropriate to equate the company’s largesse as a Greek Gift.
That fateful day, the NIMASA Director-General, Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, at a reception held at the Maritime Regional Resource Rescue Coordination Centre (MRRCC), Kirikiri, Lagos, had said that the five boats were been received at no financial cost to the agency.
A certain Capt. Remeo Itima, who had presented as the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Global West Vessel Specialists, had said that his company decided to make the donation in order to assist NIMASA in its mandate of securing the nation’s territorial waters.
Just like the previous stout arguments against the now rested MASECA Bill by stakeholders, the concession of the security of Nigeria’s territorial water to private firm amounts to a duplication of functions and wasteful spending of precious tax payers’ monies, already being deployed to maintaining the Navy.
The concession is comparable to wholesale contracting of the brief of securing lives and properties in Nigeria to a private firm, or even a number of private firms; not when the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is still in existence.
Why Nigeria should spend such a large chunk of money on contract when there are existing agencies saddled with the responsibility of policing her waters beats the imagination? Government should rather take the preferable option of investing that money into the existing structures of the Navy and NIMASA.
Another nagging issue that casts the NIMASA – GWVS contract in odium is the credibility of the actual promoters of Global West Vessel Specialists. It has been alleged severally that a certain dreaded leader of one of the frontline former Niger Delta militants’ group is a key backer of the company. If this allegation be true, then Nigeria may be toying with her national security by entrusting such a sensitive brief as overseeing the security of her coastline and waterways from Calabar to Lagos to a former militant. Private oil companies can afford to employ the services of (repentant?) ex-militants to secure their pipelines and other facilities, but certainly not Nigeria and her most precious maritime assets.
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