However, the bill was roundly opposed not just by stakeholders in the maritime industry but more remarkably by all the relevant government agencies. Charting the course for what turned to be an annihilation of the bill was the Federal Ministry of Transport which urged the House not to pass the bill. The ministry's position was adopted by the Nigerian Navy which equated the bill with setting up an alternative navy. Similarly, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) as well as professional associations of ship owners, master mariners, freight forwarders, chamber of shipping and other groups all shot down the bill.
Now, what was it about the bill that made it attract unanimous condemnation? The bill seeks to transmute an ad hoc committee - the Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Security and Safety (PICOMSS) into a Maritime Security Agency. PICOMSS was set up to coordinate Nigeria's effort towards meeting the International Ship and Port Safety (ISPS) Code that had July 1, 2004 as deadline for International Maritime Organisation (IMO) members to meet security specifications under the Code.
By the provisions of the bill, the proposed agency would take over the protection of the maritime infrastructure, including ports in the country and more importantly take over maritime administration in the country.
On finance, ship owners are expected to pay one percent of the freight value of the cargoes they lift while another one percent of their annual profit will be remitted to the agency. On administration, the director general and executive management of the proposed agency will be appointed on the advice of the National Security Adviser (NSA) by the president. Similarly, the agency would be reporting to the NSA just as its audit report would also be submitted to him.
Although this aspect of the bill equally angered stakeholders, the major factor was that the bill appropriated the functions and responsibilities of a number of existing agencies, including the Navy, NIMASA, the Police and NPA. For ship owners, the sore points are the addition of a fresh agency and the extra levy they would be required to pay, thereby increasing their operational costs. However, the all round opposition the bill attracted points to the circumstances under which it was presented. It emerged that contrary to the procedure for bills, it was not evaluated at the Federal Executive Council (FEC). In effect, it was denied the benefits of consultation which would have enabled its sponsors understand its shortcomings.
It is true that just as the bill posits, Nigeria has significant shortcomings in safety issues within the maritime industry. But as pointed out by stakeholders, including the Navy, the solution does not lie in creating a new agency under the office of the NSA. Such arrangement runs contrary to the requirements of the IMO which recognizes and deals with only maritime administrations under civilian control.
Rather than set up a new maritime security agency, the existing ones, including the Navy, NIMASA and the marine police, should be strengthened and better funded. The bill before the House should be jettisoned.