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Confusion as AGF outlaws private guards’ onboard vessels, silent on Israeli deal

The federal government has made it clear that the Nigerian Constitution forbids use of armed private guards on board vessels entering or leaving the Nigerian territorial waters and ports in particular.

This was revealed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who spoke in Lagos at the 3th edition of International Maritime Week, saying notwithstanding the spate of pirate attacks on Nigeria territorial waters, the Federal Government has declared use of armed private guards on board vessels illegal.

Whereas he was silent on the federal government’s sealed deal with an Israeli private security firm to take security charge of Nigerian territorial waters without recourse to the National Assembly, the minister called on maritime stakeholders to develop a strategy to deal with the challenges within the permissible scope of security agencies to improve maritime security.

Business Hilights recalls that the Minister of Transportation had revealed that federal government had sealed a $195m waterways security deal with HLSI Security Systems from Tel Aviv, Israel on a three-year deal to among others train Nigerian security personnel, procure equipment and guard the waterways within the period so as to stop the rising amount of payments made by shipping companies to private security companies escorting ships to high seas..

In his paper titled: ‘Armed Guards Aboard Merchant Vessels in Nigeria – Legal or Illegal,’ Malami averred that “Maritime security has become an important requirement for merchants’ vessels over the last decade. This is due to the increasing threats from pirates across the world”.

Represented by the Special Assistant to the President on Financial Crimes, Abiodun Aikomo, the minister added that “Even though Nigerian-flagged vessels cannot make use of armed private guards as the law stands today. The reality is that there must be a dynamic strategy of dealing with security challenges facing merchant vessels in Nigerian waters.”

“Human beings have the responsible for self-preservation of their life and limbs and by extension, private properties and investments.

“As to the legality and illegality of armed guards on merchant vessels in Nigeria, the debate should no longer be focused on whether armed guards should be employed. Rather, how they can effectively, legally and safely be engaged with emphasis on accreditation and accountability.

“In this regard, the United Kingdom, and Norway have provided regulations on the use of private guards onboard. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), has also announced its change of stance on armed guards.

Malami however, advised stakeholders’ to develop a strategy within the scope of power of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in collaboration with other sister agencies.

The convener of Lagos International Maritime Week, Mrs. Oritsematosan Edodo-Emore, in her remarks, argued that Africa’s development should define the vision for the maritime industry by seeking international cooperation to actualise it.

She noted that time has come for Nigeria to take advantage of the global shortage of skilled maritime manpower by developing maritime education and training institutions, to produce skilled manpower for continental and global markets with good sea times.

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