FG’s failure to prosecute, punish culprits major cause of piracy in Gulf Of Guinea, By Ikedi Uwandu

Posted by News Express | 10 December 2020 | 863 times

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•Ikedi Uwandu

The Gulf of Guinea is strategically important for shipping. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea remains of great concern to countries in West and Central Africa, with the worst affected countries being Nigeria, Togo and Ivory Coast. This is according to the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel. The potential for high profits along with high unemployment, weak security and lack of judicial enforcement of maritime laws in many West African countries makes the Gulf of Guinea especially attractive for pirates and other criminals.

The Gulf borders many African countries with sizable oil and gas industries. Nigeria being the dominant oil-producer in the region, oil tankers are often the targets of attacks. Most criminals initially focused on the cargo on board these ships, including their oil and the crew or sometimes the ships themselves.

These coordinated attacks are because of corruption: some Nigerian politicians have been fingered in some of these attacks, but nothing is done to prosecute them. These politicians sponsor pirates and provide them with sophisticated weapons to carry out the attacks. The lackadaisical attitude of government towards punishing pirates in Nigeria is the real cause of increase in piratical attacks.

It is said that the Gulf of Guinea is the world’s piracy hotspot, with approximately 95 per cent of global kidnappings reported from its waters. In 2013, for example, according to International Maritime Organisation (IMO), out of 47 cases of piracy, 29 took place off the coast of Nigeria alone. Six ships were hijacked but subsequently released. The IMO also recorded 62 attacks on ships in West and Central Africa in 2011, and 60 in 2012.  Since 2002, 610 attacks have occurred in the region.

Regional governments in West Africa with international partners launched some comprehensive measures towards addressing piracy and other crimes at sea on their side of the continent. But, despite these efforts, piracy has persisted in the Gulf of Guinea, and it is worrisome because of its effect on Nigeria economy.

The moves by regional governments, Nigeria, and the international community have not yielded enough positive results. As a result, piracy and criminality has continued in the Gulf even as the criminal tactics of pirates and armed robbers are evolving on a daily basis. Pirates, armed with guns and knives, are abducting bigger groups of seafarers off the West African coast, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

The IMB reported 132 attacks since the start of 2020, up from 119 incidents in the same period last year in Nigeria. Also, according to the International Maritime Bureau, the region located within the West and Central African coastlines and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean has witnessed an increase of 40 per cent in cases related to piracy and kidnappings in the first nine months of 2020.

The role of the National Assembly in domestication of treaties in Nigeria is not only primary but also exclusive. Section 12 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that: “No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law in Nigeria, except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.” This section makes it very clear that the National Assembly is the only legitimate organ of government that is responsible for implementing treaties in Nigeria.

The pirates and kidnappers go unpunished due to inadequate legal framework in Nigeria and other countries in Gulf of Guinea. However, Nigeria is a party to approximately 40 international treaties on maritime. But these treaties are not enforceable in Nigeria unless domesticated by the National Assembly.

By virtue of the power conferred by section 12 (1) of the Constitution, the National Assembly has exercised this power by domesticating about 19 treaties, such as the Hong Kong International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships 2009; Protocol Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties (Intervention Protocol) 1973; the 1996 Protocol on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (LLMC); the 2002 protocol relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (PAL) 1976; International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) 1995; and the protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Act against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, among others.

As a follow-up to implementation of these treaties with help from the United Nations, a regional initiative was launched at Yaoundé in June 2013, to bring together the Gulf countries, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission.

The summit agreed on the following:

1. A memorandum on maritime safety and security in Central and West Africa that set objectives and areas of cooperation;

2. A Code of Conduct concerning the fight against piracy, armed robbery against ships, and illicit maritime activity in West and Central Africa; and

3. The creation of an Inter-Regional Coordination Centre to implement a regional strategy for maritime safety and security.

Most of these treaties lack legal backing in Nigeria because of the lackadaisical attitude of the Federal Government. Besides, we don't have indigenous law on maritime security that punishes pirates. However, on June 24, 2020, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed a law to improve security in Nigerian waters.

The new “Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill” aims to ensure safe and secure shipping at sea, prosecute pirates and criminalise piracy. Section 3 of the Act defines what constitutes piracy; section 5 (1) gives the prosecutorial authority to the Attorney-General of the Federal or Officer in the Office of the AGF or NIMASA, with the consent of the AGF.

Section 5 (2) reaffirms the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court by provision of Section 251 (I) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which vested on the court exclusive jurisdiction over Admiralty matters.

Enacting this law is laudable because it made Nigeria the first country in the Gulf of Guinea to promulgate an independent law to fight piracy. The bill fulfils the international requirement for a separate legislation against piracy set by the International Maritime Organisation, to ensure global shipping.

However, despite the enactment of this law, piracy is still on the increase. Just a few weeks ago, Nigerian pirates hijacked a cargo ship and kidnapped the crew, demanding $1.3 million in exchange for their release. Ten crew members, including three Lebanese and two Egyptians were on board Milano 1, a cargo ship, when it was hijacked.

The ship was being used by a Nigerian company to transport glass from Nigeria to Cameroon. The big question here is: What will be the fate of this company after paying such a huge ransom to the pirates?

One the devastating effects on ship owners is that it cripples their business. For example, the owner of this recently hijacked ship (Ahmad Al Kut) told newsmen he had offered to sell the ship to the Lebanese state in order to meet the ransom demand. This shows that more needs to be done aside enacting laws.

Enforcement mechanism should be put in place for effective implementation of the law, to curb the menace of piracy in the country. To entirely eradicate piracy in the Gulf region, other countries should follow the footsteps of Nigerian government. Furthermore, there is need for adoption of national legal tools to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of piracy in compliance with local and international laws as well as the development of judicial cooperation mechanism between the regional countries, in exchange of judicial information, extradition agreements, etc.

Lack of collaboration and coordination among national institutions, lack of cooperation between the states which are not integrated in the cooperation and coordination of the action to combat the unlawful acts as well as the increase in number of regional institutions with the interference objective make the fight against piracy ineffective. These are the main reasons for continuous piratical attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.

In conclusion, the Nigerian Navy lacks naval equipment for monitoring Nigeria waters and the high sea; there is also lack of logistical and infrastructural support. The budget allocated for the security of maritime space is insufficient. Besides, obsolete knowledge of law enforcement agents and lack of formal system of collection and exchange of information between states in the Gulf of Guinea also contribute to the cause of continuous piratical attacks.

Above all, the Federal Government has to be proactive in the fight against piracy.



•Ikedi Uwandu can be reached via uwanduikedi@gmail.com


Source: News Express

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