Nigeria’s territorial waters
By Kunle Akogun
The role of the Nigerian Navy in maritime revenue generation activities may be considerably whittled down if a bill being considered by the Senate is passed into law.
The Bill, Maritime Security Coordinating Agency Bill 2011, which scaled second reading Wednesday, is aimed at increasing marine security and improve revenue derivable from the maritime sector in the country.
The bill, which is making its second journey back to the federal legislature, had earlier been rejected in both chambers during the sixth National Assembly.
When it was first introduced at the House of Representatives in 2008, it was thrown out at the public hearing stage because of the strident opposition it faced. At the senate, the bill could not as well scale through before the end of the sixth session and consequently died a natural death.
Presenting the bill for second reading, Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, explained that the bill was a deliberate attempt by the Federal Government to establish a maritime security agency which will be charged with the responsibility of providing safety and safety information and communication facilities for all categories of users of the Nigerian maritime industry.
Ndoma-Egba said if passed into law, the new agency would be capable of trapping a whopping $26.3billion currently being lost to poaching, criminal piracy attacks and bunkering in the nation’s high seas, noting that the bill will also make it possible for the Federal Government to generate about N250 billion annually through ports and petroleum charges.
He further argued that the bill will create direct and indirect jobs, assist in ports decongestion processes, address cargo shipment, minimise the problem of under declaration, improve coastal trade as well as improve Nigeria’s international maritime security profile.
However, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu (APGA, Imo), in her contribution to the debate, explained that what Nigeria needs now is an ocean policy not another agency.
She said the duties the proposed agency seeks to carry out are mere duplication of the functions already being done by the Navy and other existing agencies.
Anyanwu said: “If we invest little more funds in the Nigerian Navy, it will go a long way in addressing their problems and enable them to discharge the responsibilities, which the new agency seeks to solve more effectively and efficiently. We should be less of individualistic here and think of getting our institutions to function well instead of stripping them off their powers.
“It is another duplication, which is targeted at benefiting some individuals and not the institutions. Individuals will come and go but the institutions will remain,” she submitted.
The lawmaker also criticised aspects of the bill which vests the management of the funds accruable to the agency on the National Security Adviser (NSA), noting that there are enough security challenges that should engage the attention of the NSA than distracting the office holder with such additional responsibilities. “The NSA has a lot of job to do, it is a distraction he does not need now,” Anyanwu argued.
Also arguing along the same line, Senator Olusola Adeyeye (ACN, Osun) said it was the sole responsibility of the Nigerian Navy to protect the territorial integrity of the nation’s waters, including checking the activities of bunkerers, asking, “Do you know of any Navy that allows bunkerers to go scot free?”
While describing the bill as mere duplication of government bureaucracies Adeyeye observed that out of the 229 staff proposed for the agency by the bill, less than 30 are the actual professionals that will carry out the actual functions of the agency, stating that, “What we need is to strengthen existing agencies and not create new ones.
On his Senator Ahmed Lawan (ANPP, Yobe) said: "My worry is what will be the effect on the Nigerian Navy? How does it synergise with the proposed new agency? I believe that given global security situation and best Maritime practices , I believe that the Navy can do the job. If we are to release N30 billion to the new Agency, we should not forget that the Nigerian Navy needs attention. We need to know the role of the other Agencies to avoid conflict.”
But the bill was supported by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu who based his support on two grounds: revenue and security.
He said: “When we look at such cases as Boko Haram, militants, bunkering , we need to create security measure put in place. I believe that if other countries that established similar agencies also have their Navy we need to ensure that the role of the Agency does not clash with that of the Navy. On the revenue side the new Agency can boost our revenue profile. It can generate as much as N25 billion annually.”
Also supporting the bill, Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu) said “We have seen ship arrested by the Navy and disappearing from in this Country. The Navy has left its traditional role for chasing bunkerers and money.”