Former Minister of Transport, Mr Yusuf Suleiman
Fresh facts have emerged as to why the passage of the controversial Maritime Security Agency (MASECA) Bill into law was stalled at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly.
Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was said to have forwarded the MASECA Bill to the Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS) following increasing cases of lawlessness and illegalities on Nigerian territorial waters.
He had sent the bill with the provision that the PICOMSS, which had been in existence since 2003, should by the law transform into the new MASECA with wider maritime security enforcement powers.
Ahead of its passage into law, the bill, which has since been passed by the House of Representatives, was slated for the third and final reading in the Senate last week.
However, members of the upper chamber were said to have stood down the bill amidst serious horse-trading by the management of the nation’s maritime regulatory authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and PICOMSS.
Impeccable sources told THISDAY in Lagos that besides the behind-the-scene intense lobby by both bodies at the National Assembly, the global apex maritime regulatory body, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), may not take kindly the establishment of PICOMSS by Nigeria.
THISDAY checks revealed that the United Nations Organisation (UNO) organ with headquarters in London, United Kingdom is opposed to the existence of PICOMSS, which wants to transform to another government agency through the MASECA bill.
IMO opposition is hinged on the provisions of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, which disallows militarisation of merchant shipping, while PICOMSS may be encouraging the carriage of arms onboard trading ships.
Going by the provisions of IMO conventions and guidelines, NIMASA is presently the only agency recognised by the IMO to carry out maritime safety and security administration in Nigeria.
It was gathered that Nigeria faces the risk of being sanctioned if PICOMSS is institutionalised to carry out activities relating to maritime safety and security in Nigeria through the passage of the MASECA bill, since the country is a signatory to the SOLAS Convention.
THISDAY recalled that PICOMSS was an ad-hoc committee set up by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack that led to the bombing of the World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York City and the Pentagon in the United States of America.
The global maritime watchdog had, after the attack, adopted the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code to detect and deter security incidents involving ships and port facilities.
IMO had set July 1, 2004, as deadline for the IMO member-states to meet security specifications under the ISPS Code and, to facilitate this, the Federal Government had set up PICOMSS to coordinate the attainment of the prescribed security status.
However, having completed its assignment, PICOMSS failed to wind up and has been allegedly drawing funds from the organisations that initially financed its operations. Stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy had at a public hearing on the bill last year kicked against it, noting that it runs against the grains of prudence and accountability in governance.