By Stephen Ubanna
For years there have been clamour for the amendment of the 2007 Act setting up the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, to meet with existing realities on ground. Between 2016 and 2018, President Muammadu Buhari, a retired Army General had assented 17 Bills passed by the National Assembly into Law but he had refused to assent to the NIMASA Amendment Bill as he felt the amendment would create ‘‘distortions ‘’to the operations of the agency Act.
Barely five years after the Katsina state born Nigerian President had refused to assent to the NIMASA Ammenment Bill, the Femi Gbajabiamila, led House Representatives, appear to have taken the bold initiative to review the NIMASA, 45 year-old Act in order to make the agency more relevant to meet existing realities on ground.
its enormous responsibilities in the nation’s maritime sector. Informed sources told the Value News that Bashir Jamoh, the agency Director General, had championed the review of the NIMASA 45 year-old Act. As a prelude to the review of the Act, Gbajabiamila, the House Speaker had referred the Bill to the Committee on Maritime Safety Education and Administration on Merchant Shipping, for proper evaluation and come out with a complete overhaul of the old NIMASA Act for consideration.
The Committee was said to have set out to work immediately to prepare the ground for the repeal of the NIMASA Act 2007 and the Cabotage Act 2003 and in readiness for amendment and representation to the Nigerian President for his assent.
They got it right.
On Tuesday, March 15, 2022, Gbajabiamila, had had gladdened the heart of Industry Operators and the NIMASA Management when he announced that the 9thAssembly has embarked on the Amendment of the NIMASA Act 2007 and the Cabotage Act 2003 due ‘’to the need to improve the regulatory instruments in the Nigerian maritime sector to meet the need of current realities’’.
He stated this while declaring open the two day- public hearing by the House Committee on Maritime Safety Education and Administration on the Merchant Shipping Act, Repeal and Enactment Bill 2021, NIMASA Act Repeal & Enactment Bill 2021, Coastal & Inland Cabotage Amendment Bill 2020.
The Speaker noted ‘’the need for appropriate regulation of the Nigerian maritime industry in tune with realities of the times to ensure maximum utilization of the nation’s maritime sector’’.
Linda Ikpeazu, Chairman House Committee on Maritime Safety Education and Administration had said during the public hearing the amendment of the Acts relating to NIMASA Operations was informed by the position premised on submisions from maritime stakeholders from all sectors of the nation’s maritime industry.
“It is common knowledge that the maritime sector is a foundation and catalyst to growth of nations that possess marine endowments. Nigeria, by any standard, is well endowed by ocean coastline, rivers, and a rich marine bio-diversity and therefore should benefit from it’’, she had said.
According to her ‘’not only are the Lawmakers focused on making the maritime sector a key alternative source of revenue and economic growth to the country’s dwindling oil resources, but are also poised to develop a prosperous blue economy for our nation, akin to similar success in the maritime nation around the world’’.
Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and minister of Transportation, may have taken advantage of the public hearing on the NIMASA Amendment 2007 Act and other Bills meant to guarantee the effectiveness of the agency in line with what obtains in other maritime nations to speak out.
An elated Amaechi, had commended the National Assembly for embarking on the review of the Laws governing the nation’s maritime sector, noting that the new NIMASA Bills under consideration, will enhance the capacity of the Agency ‘’to effectively regulate the Nigerian maritime industry in line with international best practice’’.
The Minister who was represented at the House public hearing of the NIMASA Bills by Paul Oteh, Director, Legal Services of the Ministry, had expressed reservation about ‘’the Agency funding of the Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko, Delta state.
Hear him: “The ministry does not support 12% of NIMASA revenue going to the University. The proposal, in our view, also does not recognize the fact that the university, like other public institutions under the supervision of the National University Commission, NUC and the Federal Ministry of Education, is ordinarily entitled to public funds as may be appropriated by the National Assembly on an annual basis.” Bashir Jamoh, Director General, NIMASA, who was represented at the public hearing by Eng. Victor Ochei, the Agency’s Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, had corroborated the views of the minister of Transportation, describing it as NIMASA’s position.
Even the Nigerian Navy, under the close watch of Awwal Zubairu Gambo, a Vice Admiral, had supported the amendment of the NIMASA Act, urging the National Assembly, ‘’to look critically at the security component of the Bill to ensure that the relationship between the two agencies is enhanced’’.
Gambo, had applauded the initiative, stressing that ‘’it will improve NIMASA’s institutional capacity and enhance Maritime Administration in Nigeria’’. He was said to have made his views known through Solomon Agada, a Rear Admiral who had represented him at the NIMASA Act Bill public hearing in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
He had said that “the provision of a separate section on marine casualty and the proposed establishment of a Maritime Accident Investigation Unit, will improve compliance with extant regulations, such as, the international regulations for preventing collision at sea, 1972 and thus enhanced Maritime safety.”
The Shipowners Association of Nigeria,SOAN, Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, WISTA, Chartered Institute of Transport Administration, CIOTA, Nigerian Welfare Board, National Association of Master Mariners amongst others were the industry stakeholders that were said to have made presentations during the public hearing on the NIMASA Bills supporting the proposed amendments to the two Acts of the national Assembly under consideration.
Let us hope that if the Bill eventually passed by the House, the retired Army General would not hesitate in assenting to it into Law that would give the Maritime Regulatory agency powers to ‘’ act and bite’’.
In a related development, Yusuf Gagdi, Chairman, House Committee on the Nigerian Navy, has commended the Jamoh led NIMASA Management Team , for ‘’it Commitment to transparency in its execution of the multi-billion naira Integrated National Security and Water Ways Protection Infrastructure, popular, Deep Blue Project,
Gagdi, who could not hide his feelings had made Commendations when the agency’s Management appeared before the House Committee on Navy currently’’ investigating the $195 million Deep Blue Project contract for supply of maritime security equipment awarded to the Israeli firm, HILS International Limited by the Nigerian government.
The Israeli security firm between 2017 and now, had delivered 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol, 17 Interception Boats, Two Special Mission Vessels, Two Special Mission aircrafts for Surveillance of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, and two umanned Aerial vehicles, currently being operated operated and manintained by the Navy and the Nigeria Air Force. The Nigerian Navy is overseeing the sea equipment while the Air Force controls theHouse Committee Chair air equipment.
The House Committee Chairman on Navy may have spoken the mind of others when he said’’We in the Committee of the Navy commend your Management Team,, referring to Jamoh, DG, NIMASA, for providing all the documents we have requested for to help us in our job’’.
The Houe Committee Chairman on Navy had said that they have undertaken the investigation ‘’to ensure public funds are well spent not only in public interest but in accordance with the provisions of the Laws of the land’’.
Alao Ajala, a member of the Committee, may have taken advantage of the public hearing to express delight at the fact that ‘’Nigeria has exited the global Piracy list’’. His views were said to have been Corroborated by other members of the Committee, who also acknowledged the role the Navy had played in securing the nation’s maritime domain.
An Appreciative Jamoh had said that the ‘’the agency had acted in line with the approval of the Federal Executive Council for the agency to fund the Deep Blue Project at the cost of $195 million, with a Management fee of 10% adding that the Funds invested in managing the security assets since their deployment was appropriated for by the National Assembly’’.
He may have gladdened the heart of the Lawmakers when he disclosed that the Asian country of Korea has identified with the Deep Blue Project and has promised to support Nigeria by donating a vessel to increase its fleet under the Project. He was said to have also informed the House Committee members on Navy that the Government of Japan, another Asian country has pledged to support the agency with Funds.
The Lawmakers see the support of the foreign countries the Nigeria’s anti-piracy efforts as an approval that they appreciate what the Nigerian government is doing to make the country’s maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea Safe for ocean-going vessels laden with cargoes.
Dr Jamoh listed assets acquired by NIMASA for the project to include 17 Fast Intervention Vessels, 2 Special Mission Vessels, 2 Special Mission Aircrafts, 3 Special Mission Helicopters 4 unmanned aerial vessels and 16 armored vehicles. The project also has a command and control center known as the C4i Center located in a NIMASA facility in Lagos which is jointly manned by officials from all the arms of the Nigerian Armed Forces, NIMASA staff and other para military Agencies who are part of the project.
The assets are properties of the Agency manned and operated by the various Military arms of government to enhance security of commercial shipping in the Nigerian maritime domain
In a related development, the Honorable Minister of Transportation, Hon Rotimi Amaechi has disclosed that Nigeria has received an international recognition in form of an award from the African Union for the concept of the Deep Blue Project.
Speaking on Tuesday, at the investigative hearing on the Deep Blue Project Contract to HLS International Limited, by the House of Representatives Committee on Navy, the Honorable Minister of Transportation, said necessary approvals were secured before the implementation of the Deep Blue Project.
He said, “I was to be in Nairobi last week as, the African Union gave us award for the Deep Blue Project. Presently, the crime rate on our waters and the Gulf of Guinea region has gone down. Before now, we ranked number one in the world, but, since the deployment of the HLSI project, piracy has gone down drastically.”