Engaging Maritime Judges for Sector’s Growth


BY Martins Uba Nwamadi

One quality of a good leader is the ability to see something no one else can see. In human history, achievements were products of dreams and ideas.

When in December 1995, Nigerian Shippers’ Council engaged into a thematic discussion to start the Maritime Seminar for Judges, little did they realize that they were trying to unbundle the future of maritime laws that has been hindering and creating bottlenecks in our trade facilitation.

The intention was also to help in resolving and untying some legal issues that are of international dimension while enriching our maritime laws.

Moreso, at this era of globalization and e-commerce the importer, exporter, oil and gas merchant, ship charterer, terminal operator, big players in insurance industry must not only be responsive but also start appreciating issues bordering on international maritime laws and conventions.

The Maritime Seminar for Judges is therefore designed to address the intellectual needs of the maritime industry or better still a window to provide intellectual analyses on the numerous international conventions and regulations affecting the maritime industry.

Over a period of time, it has been pointed out that international politics and its associated maritime laws are often skewed against third world countries hence the seminar has equally offered perspectives on how to redress the imbalance by championing the domestication of favourable laws, manpower training, as well as bringing the bench and the bar together to examine emerging laws and offer solutions.

This attribute is in line with the goals of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) a specialised agency of United Nations which has its cardinal objective of facilitating global co-operation on regulations and practices affecting international shipping.

But one critical question stakeholders and key operators in the industry often ask is, how has the series impacted positively in the maritime sector?

Executive Secretary/CEO, Hassan Bello, has been part of the engagement since he joined the Council in 1997. It is not out of place if we call him the curator of the Maritime Seminar for Judges.

According to him, the seminar has evolved with time as a result of the synergy between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the National Judicial Institute (NJI), the Maritime Law Association as well as the support of the Federal Ministry of Transport which have tremendously helped to shape intellectual discussions on maritime laws and conventions.

Bello explained that the maritime subsector of the nation’s economy has greatly benefited from the seminar series as a result of reduction in the length of time within which maritime claims are resolved thus saving importers and exporters time and money especially in matters involving arrest and detention of ships in admiralty claims.

Furthermore, domesticating international maritime laws is a serious responsibility which provides every maritime stakeholder a code of conduct so as not to fall into unlawful practices. It accelerates international trade as, Nigeria being a member of World Trade Organization, such laws help to guide our international business environment.

In fact the ability of our importers and exporters to understand the rudiments of international trade and equally the ability of our legal system to domesticate major outstanding conventions into our national laws will go a long way to not only accelerate our aspiration to be a maritime nation but will confer on us a status of a nation that obeys rules and conventions.

Giving more insight into what The Maritime Seminar for Judges has done on our national psyche, Justice Ibrahim Auta OFR who has been the Chairman of the Seminar Planning Committee for about four years said that the goals and objectives of the seminar have been largely achieved.

Justice Auta emphasised that the continuing education of the Nigerian Bench and the bar for understanding of principles of admiralty law, so that judges will be equipped to determine issues before them have been achieved through this window.

Secondly, the seminar has offered Judges and Lawyers the opportunity to appreciate and recognize the commercial and international nature of admiralty law, and also its import to the national economy thereby establishing and strengthening the nexus between the judiciary and the maritime commercial interest.

Thirdly and most importantly, the seminar provides a robust platform for the promotion of uniformity of international laws and conventions amongst others.

But what does the seminar portend for the future as stakeholders request that the organizers endow a chair in some universities on maritime law so as to encourage and attract pupil lawyers to this lucrative sector of the law.

The protagonists of this opinion further canvass that the global village syndrome and the new attraction to World Trade Centers have its legal issues to unknot hence we require well grounded lawyers in this area. They also suggest that the bi-ennial seminar should be yearly. The two year gap gives room for intellectual inertia.

The group is also canvassing the opinion that the Planning Committee should market the seminar to international corporate organizations operating in Nigeria especially Oil Exploration Companies, Ship Owners, Airlines, Insurance Companies, Banks and Telecommunication companies to partner with the council in executing the seminar.

Giving a pep into the 14th Maritime Seminar for Judges holding in Abuja from May 31 to June 1, 2016, Barrister Vongtau, Director Legal Services Nigerian Shippers’ Council stated that we must begin to domesticate those international conventions and rules which will govern international interactions either now or in the future.

Today’s norms and considerations are no longer those that prevailed in the past and with ultra-fast technologies, maritime laws can be domesticated within a very short period of time. One aspect of the reforms going on in the judiciary is the growing use of information and communication technology that is evolving. This has created conducive environment for judges and lawyers to research easily thereby creating room for knowledge, information and ideas. If we want to match the speed at which the maritime world is developing, we need to quickly adapt and change to the global concepts.

Vongtau said that the 2016 Maritime Seminar for Judges promises to be more engaging and intellectually driven given that already many countries like Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Britain, and some ECOWAS countries, have all indicated interest to participate in the summit.

Given the assurance from the Planning Committee of the Seminar, it is therefore germane to state here that the Maritime Seminar for judges has become a critical instrument in achieving IMO’s goals.

We salute their dexterity and commitment to unbundle Nigeria’s Maritime Laws. The seminar has attracted an effective rhetorical comparison and index on how, through maritime laws, international trade disputes are settled with less strain. But most importantly for bringing members of the Bench and members of the Bar into one room to rub minds on critical maritime issues affecting our national economy.