DG, NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi
After arrests of sea robbers and crude oil thieves, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), is worried over lack of prosecution powers as the suspects handed over to the relevant agencies are allegedly escaping justice, reports Francis Ugwoke
The war against sea robbers and crude oil thieves has not been an easy one. This is notwithstanding the fact that the government agencies saddled with this responsibility have recorded so many arrests. The question being asked is the extent to which the suspects arrested for this national economic sabotage have been made to face the wrath of the law. From available records, so many suspects were arrested last year, but the problem has been the issue of failure to make the suspects face justice. There are strong indications that arrests and detention of suspects may have turned out a big business for some security operatives who have the power of detention and prosecution. Many of the suspects are said to have found their freedom after arrests and handover for detention and prosecution.
This ugly situation, according to maritime industry operators, is impacting negatively on the current effort to eradicate an age-long economic sabotage by few Nigerians. As an apex maritime regulatory agency which responsibility includes checking illegal activities on the nation’s territorial waters, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is worried that after so many arrests, the suspects are likely to slip away from justice as it does not have the power of prosecution in such cases. Although, NIMASA has made its grievances felt in some quarters, a top official of the agency believes that its efforts are being eroded if suspects arrested over various economic crimes are not punished adequately.
Pirates and Crude Oil Theft War
The war against pirates was stepped up last year to save the country from the negative image she suffers in international trade. This is even so as piracy was reported last year to have gone down in Somalia, which is known for its notoriety in sea robbery. In Nigeria, there have been cases of pirates attacks on the territorial waters. But these have been tackled. Early last year, NIMASA declared a full scale war on pirates when it engaged Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL) to join the Navy in checking the activities of pirates. NIMASA is into an arrangement with the Navy to fight sea robbers and oil thieves.
With this synergy, so many arrests of sea pirates were recorded last year. Deputy Director, Public Relations, NIMASA, Hajia Lami Tumaka told THISDAY that 2012 was a year of harvests of arrests of pirates and oil thieves. Tumaka had identified MT Floris carrying 185 tons (about over 200,000 litres), MV Arti laden with over 80,000 litres of suspected ‘cooked’ automotive gas oil; a fibre boat named AMOMO MARINE carrying nine 205 litre drums and sixteen 50 litre cans of Automative Gas Oil (AGO) and MT Energy Centurion as among the vessels arrested with their crew on board for suspected illegal activities. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) had also recently discovered an illegal jetty in Kirikiri where four vessels were loaded with diesel. The four suspects who were arrested were handed over to the Zone 2 Police Headquarters in Lagos. There are also others who specialise in hijack of tanker vessels which cargoes are sold to oil merchants in the black market.
From the confessions of some suspects arrested by the Joint Task Force (JTF), there are no fewer than 1,500 pirates scattered all over the territorial waters in the country. In the case of oil thieves, there are specialists who remain in secret places siphoning crude oil for local refining which are later sold in the black market. The illegal refining booms because there are many Nigerian oil merchants who specialise in this trade. Many of these people are hardly arrested because as sources said apart from being highly placed, there are many fences in their favour. It was also gathered that the local refiners are into secret oath not to disclose identities of the big time merchants when apprehended by security operatives. Besides, a source said, it is difficult to pin them down with any incriminating evidence.
Effect of the War
Following the onslaught against the pirates and oil thieves, sources said that many of those engaged in the criminal acts have been retreating. For instance, sources said that many of the oil thieves in Escravos and Gbaaramatu Kingdom, among other areas have been forced to relocate due to government’s close marking on them. Those who have remained in the business maintain a very low profile in order not to be caught. Some of the suspects are said to be relocating from the Niger Delta area, particularly Warri, to Ondo State, which is reported to be a training ground for some of the suspects arrested so far. But Tumaka said that there will be no hiding place for the oil thieves, adding that the leadership of the agency was determined to put the economic saboteurs out of business.
Challenges of Prosecution
One of the challenges being faced in the war against pirates and oil thieves is the absence of legislation which empowers NIMASA to prosecute the suspects directly after arrest. Although, NIMASA and JTF have reported to the Presidency on how lack of power to prosecute has meant a set-back on the war, what the government intends to do in this direction has remained unclear.
The position of the two is that the Police and the State Security Service (SSS) should show enough seriousness in the prosecution of the suspects referred to them by carrying out more investigations on the allegations. A shipping agent, Mr. John Ukeje said Nigerians want to see the suspects prosecuted and convicted having confessed in their crimes. “When suspects for a crime are apprehended and later left to go scot free, they will simply go back to the crime. So, those charged with the responsibility of prosecuting offenders should wake up to this task”, he said. The
Director General of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi, while calling for the amendment of the Act establishing the agency to accord it the power to enforce, disclosed that the Act was silent on powers of prosecution. The NIMASA DG said that NIMASA can only arrest but cannot prosecute. He explained that it was this inadequacy that forced NIMASA to enter into Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian Navy in April 2007. With the MOU, the Navy deployed a detachment of its officers and men known as Maritime Guard Command involved in the fight against all sea robbers and oil thieves. With this arrangement, NIMASA has been able to detain vessels that breach any maritime law. But its concern is the seriousness which the prosecuting agencies of government attach to cases involving the suspects.