Akinsoji’s thoughts on the only time the anti-piracy law will work for Nigeria
The Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act 2019, popularly called the anti-piracy law, cannot make the desired impact of protecting merchant ships against attacks from pirates and other crimes at sea without a vital institutional framework and structure for implementation of the law.
Since 2019 that the law was made, the authorities should have set up a standing committee to give full and complete effectiveness to that law. When those conventions against piracy were ratified earlier in 2004 and the protocol came into force for Nigeria in 2015, we should have set up a committee to make law for that convention.
And to give that law effect, it is a very cumbersome institutional work because you need to give orientation to the coastal states, create awareness and repone the laws to fall in line with the provision of that law and you need to train people, and those states adjacent to the territorial waters to participate in the effectiveness of that law.
A proper structure to help the law function adequately would have served a better permanent purpose than a temporary measure of inviting the whole world to assist the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
The United Nations resolutions and other agencies declaration that are developing now, with regards to bringing the world to assist the GoG, simply means that the exclusive economic zone, particularly Nigeria that is the center of the GoG, is now being opened to all nations to bring their war ships and all they need to bring to suppress piracy.
Why it is a source of worry
It is a source of worry to me, because I always cherish the sovereignty of Nigeria. As a Nigerian who has been exposed to some of these international issues, Nigeria is presented as helpless, and Nigeria is a link in the chain of world trade. If a link in the chain of world trade is weak and cannot sustain its sovereignty in order to make that link be strong enough not to affect the flow of trade, the world stands up and assist to make that link strong enough for minimum strength in order that the trade can continue without problem. And that is the principle behind all these. It means that Nigeria cannot help itself and they now have to come and assist Nigeria in order that the trade would not be impaired. But that is taking away the sovereignty of that nation. You will become indebted to all nations that are contributing to it –you will need to pay for some costs of whatever they do for you, whether on the table or under the table, because nothing goes for nothing in international business. So, somewhere along the line Nigeria will have to pay for some of the expenses that would be incurred.
What worries me is that all the actions they are taking are temporary measures for the benefit of their own trade. It is temporary because the root cause of the situation has not been found. Piracy and armed robbery against ships can only happen from a shore base and when they do the robbery they come back to land.
We should understand that the pirates and robbers come from land and when they finish at sea they come back to land. It means the land security is weak. Even if they bring their frigate and all these international cooperation, from my own experience, they will still insist that Nigeria should restructure and establish an infrastructure that would prevent people from their country to would go on piracy and when they are caught doing what they are doing as pirates, they would have enough institutional framework to deal with the offenders.
What Nigeria should do now
Nigeria should put in place institutional framework, set up a standing committee for maritime security, just like Ghana did. Ghana is part of the GoG and already preparing itself to be able to deal with whoever is an offender offshore, on land to send them to court and jail them, so they forfeit whatever they make out of others unlawfully. But Nigeria does not have that kind of institutional base. After all, if anybody is caught, they must be punished.
The root cause and the sustainable eradication of piracy and armed robbery at sea must be established. For now, they just keep driving the pirates away and they will go and hide and wait until you are weak, then they strike again and come back ashore.
There must be regulations when a law is made. Then, when you make regulations, you must think of who is going to implement them. But, there is no structure for it, and the states that are involved need to carried along with that law. We are spending so much money, expending so much energy and we are portraying that we need help from other countries. They are coming to help us, but we have not done enough for ourselves to show that we are really serious and that we are on track that nobody from our country is involved in piracy. Where anyone from our country is involved, we must be well structured to arrest them and deal with them according to the law. It is only by giving it effect that we can identify any amendment that may be needed. Some of the states may have some responsibilities, but it should be understood how that should be made.
Olu Akinsoji, is a Marine Engineer and Pioneer Alternate Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), London.
He was Director General, Government Inspector of Ships.