….Considers Committee report on marine transport and finance

The Nigerian Senate has called on the executive arm of government to properly fund the Nigerian Navy to enable it procure over one 150 vessels needed to undertake their constitutional responsibilities of securing the country’s territorial waters.

The call was made yesterday after consideration of a report of the Senate Joint Committee on Navy, Marine Transport and Finance on the investigation of the illegal activities by Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) at the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) of Lagos Ports.

Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator George Thompson Sekibo, said the heightening insecurity in the Nigerian waters in 2012, particularly at the Lagos Ports, led to the establishment of the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA). According to him, shippers and vessel owners hired a minimum of three armed mercenaries for Security when coming to Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria) at a minimum of USD$7,500 per day prior to the establishment of the SAA.

He said findings by the joint committee showed that with the subsequent establishment of the SAA, users are charged USD$2,500 the first day and USD$1,500 subsequently, an amount far less to what obtained previously.

The situation prompted the decision of the Nigerian Ports Authority to request the storage of the SAA was out of the need to promote ease of doing business and reduce costs incurred by vessel owners. He added that the establishment of the SAA has not contravenes the provisions of any national or international maritime laws ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria.

“The existence and operation of the SAA cannot in any way be a threat to national security as it is being operated and supervised by the Nigerian Navy and not by Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL),” he said

The allegation that the SAA pose a security threat to the country is an indirect indictment on the Nigerian Navy as it is the one operating on the platforms with the logistics provided by OMSL,” the Joint Committee report stated.

The report disclosed that the Nigerian Navy is in need of about one hundred and fifty (150) patrol boats to help in checkmating piracy and insecurity in the Nigerian sea and ports. It added that two (2) out of the three (3) patrol boats given to the Nigerian Navy by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) through NIMASA in 2014 to enhance security presence in the port are dysfunctional.

While singling out the Nigerian Navy as the institution saddled with the responsibility of operating in the Secure Anchorage Area, the Committee stated that boats provided by OMSL to the Navy are painted in Nigerian Navy colours and operated essentially as part of the naval fleet under their command and control.

Lawmakers such as Senator Baba Kaita (APC, Katsina North) and Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe, Central), in their separate contributions, kicked against the call by the Nigerian Points Authority to stop the activities of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) at the Secured Anchorage Area of Lagos Ports.

According to the lawmakers, the country’s territorial waterways would be exposed to pirates and other forms of insecurity without a ready alternative to fall back.

Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, said stakeholders such as the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA) while appearing before the Joint Committee were indicted over their inability to independently secure the country’s waterways.

“One of the critical stakeholders, the Nigerian Navy, came out clean and wrote to the committee that they don’t have the necessary capacity and equipment to secure our waterway.

“It was crystal clear that there was shortage of over 150 vessels and for them to take full charge and responsibility of Nigeria’s waterways, these things are required. What is simply happening in this Secured Anchorage Area is very simple. OMSL only provides his vessels to the Nigerian Navy. These vessels are taken charge by Nigerian Navy to secure these waterways.

“And when the Nigerian Ports Authority appeared before us, NPA is not saying the job they are doing is wrong. It is just for ease of doing business.

“That the money charged by this SAA, which is $1,500 for every vessel that come into Nigeria, is what they are against,” Adeola said.

“As we speak, Nigerian Navy even informed the committee that there’s no alternate solution in place if they ask these people to go. It was clear, we were over forty at the committee level,” the lawmaker lamented.

The Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said, “what I got from the media before this committee went into action was that somebody was given a job that ought to have been done by the Nigerian Navy and was ripping off the country. That’s all that I got.

“But I’m sitting down here, and I’m looking at it and I’m seeing that the Nigerian Navy that is supposed to do this job does not have the platform to do it.”

“And so, if a private individual is providing something for the Nigeria Navy, for which he has to charge a fee, then some people stand to say he must be taking too much.

“A government agency then says let us go away from it without providing an alternative; that is where the problem is.

“An agency of Nigeria wants to risk all cargoes coming into this country to go back to the old days of piracy and all that, why?

“An agency that has the responsibility of protection turning around to say let them just go away, because probably so that they can come out to say we are very good people and we are not corrupt.

“I think we must at all times put the interest of this country first. The interest of this country also includes that the ease of doing business, the protection of things that are happening must take precedence,” the Minority Leader added.

In his remark, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said: “This is a matter for the National Assembly or government to deal with, because if our Navy is this incapacitated, it is a big issue for us.

“And it is unfortunate that we are discussing it in plenary that we have only one functional ship. As a giant of Africa, we should be talking of maybe hundreds of ships.

“So, this is a challenge to us, the National Assembly particularly. We have to do something for the Navy,” Lawan said.

The Senate, accordingly, adopted the recommendations of the Joint Committee’s report, that the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Ports Authority be commended for initiating and implementing the provision of the Secured Anchorage Area in 2013 that checkmated the high rate of attacks on vessels at the Lagos ports.

The upper chamber also commended the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited for its genuine national interests in investing over four hundred million dollars into the security at the Secured Anchorage Area and Nigerian Waterways.

By Chibisi Ohakah

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