By Musa Ilallah
The first good news for Nigeria this year from the international community did not suprise anyone, particularly players and stakeholders, both at home and abroad in the Maritime sector; that the United Nations (UN) strongly commended the Nigerian government for being the first country in Africa to successfully secure conviction for piracy offences.
Conveying the UN’s commendation to the Nigerian government from its headquarters in New York, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, Ghada Fathi-Wali particularly acknowledged that Nigeria’s leadership role and commitment towards curbing maritime crimes could be attributed to the successful collaboration between Nigeria and UNODC.
In the words of Mr Ghada, the Global Maritime Crime Programme and the Strategic Vision for Africa launched in 2021 has encouraged the organisation to extend its partnership beyond national governments to regional organisations.
The UN was full of praises for Nigeria for being the only country in Africa to have passed an anti-piracy law as at December 2021.
Nigeria’s Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act, 2019, SPOMO Act is aimed at “preventing and supressing piracy, armed robbery and any other unlawful acts against a ship, aircraft and any other maritime craft, including fixed and floating platforms.”
The SPOMO Act was signed into Law by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
It must be noted that the law gives effect to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, UNCLOS and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, 1988, SUA.
A Federal High Court presided over by Justice Ayokunle Faji in Lagos took the bull by the horn when it sentenced 10 pirates to a total of 48 years each in prison under the SPOMO act for hijacking a Chinese fishing vessel, FV Hai Lu Feng II in May 2020.
In his official reaction to the landmark judgement, Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh said “history has been made” adding that “a huge lacuna has been filled in the battle against maritime crimes in Nigeria and the entire Gulf of Guinea”.
He added that ‘history has been made, our industry has made a huge leap in the battle to rid our maritime domain of illegalities. We are not going to rest on our oars as we now have a tested legal instrument like the SPOMO ACT which is a major tool in Nigeria’s quest to end Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea’.
It is worthwhile stating that Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community. By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern. Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.
It has become a hotspot for piracy due to high unemployment rates in coastal West Africa, corruption, weak security, and a lack of enforcement of maritime laws.
In 2020, the most actual and attempted piracy attacks totalling 35 occurred off the coast of Nigeria. Moreover, 11 of such attacks took place in Benin’s waters and 9 in Ghana’s waters making Africa the most targeted region by pirates.
A combination of root causes can be attributed to the pervasive presence of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, most of which display considerable overlap.
Overall, research seems to indicate that when speaking of piracy, it is therefore important not to focus on one single solution, but instead approach the battle from a multi-layered perspective, solving multiple issues with a combination of national, regional, and international efforts.
Nigeria has frontally taken bold and workable steps towards dealing with piracy and its attendant consequences on the continent’s security, economy and well-being of its citizens.
That patriotic approach by the PMB administration has earned it a pride of place among the comity of nations in the African continent.
This government once more deserves a pat on the back for this milestone in taming crimes particularly piracy in the Gulf of Guinea through an appropriate and water tight legal framework.
EMEKA ANYAOKU STREET ABUJA [email protected]