Truth can be so bitter that it shocks: the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) though has officially made over 244 ship arrest, the agency till date, has nonetheless secured not even a single conviction!
For more than two weeks, the Maritime First had been checking the records to find out if there had been any; and came up with none. It was not funny. It was not evil. It was criminal. So, what have you been doing with the nation’s resources, telling the whole world the country was fighting piracy?
“NIMASA has power only to detain. We have no power to arrest. We have no power to prosecute. It is the responsibility of NIMASA to hand over such vessels (and suspects) over to the police or the SSS”, the agency Executive Director, Capt. Ezekiel Bala Agaba told bewildered newsmen, prompting some of them to almost shed tears at the Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
No wonder the pirates kept coming back; or never departed in the first instance. Or was it that they simply kept re-circling themselves? Who knows: there might even have been only 20 pirates out there, and the agency had merely arrested each of them about 13 times each!
Of course, it cannot be empty ships only that the agency had been arresting. Even though, on another date, the Maritime First may still be interested in the where about of the detained, over 244 vessels the agency had purportedly arrested.
On one occasion, according to the Executive Director, one detained suspect, was re-arrested, barely one week “after being handed over, after arrest” to the appropriate authority, but he declined to indicate the exactitude of the “recipient” quarters which let the suspect loose.
But while the issue of ship arrest was going on, the Maritime First learnt that the agency, out of over zealousness, sometimes, arrested, absolutely without genuine reasons. Take for instance, the arrest of a tug, which reportedly broke down and was undergoing repairs in the middle of a channel. The tug, reportedly without any pipes, hose or tools for siphoning liquid was nonetheless arrested and its crew detained.
A ship master and owner of the said tug told the Maritime First, during the recent Shippers Council- Judges seminar in Abuja that even when the court intervened and directed that the tug be released, the agency, demonstrated its sheer impunity, by refusing to obey the court.
Interestingly, all efforts directed towards independent investigation was yet to reveal a cuckoo or graveyard where the agency was nesting some 244 vessels, prompting industry watchers to wonder, if the agency had actually been making the arrest of the 244 vessels with the proverbial lose basket!
An industry watcher who gave an opinion in confidence advised Nigerians, not to believe all they are told, stressing that after the reading the report of over 244 ships arrest, over illegal activities, he became convinced that it was either the newspapers were quoting the agency out of context, or there was a deliberate efforts in some quarters to mislead the reading public.
“How can you arrest over 244 vessels for illegal activities, and yet failed to secure even a single conviction”, he asked, wondering every vessel arrested was manned by only ghosts!
Every attempt by the Maritime First made in defense of the agency left the respondent absolutely unconvinced.
“Okay, I agree with you; so where the ships they arrested? You want me to believe they were hardworking and not misquoted; okay, where are they keeping the 244 ships. If they didn’t release our friend’s tug arrested, while undergoing repairs, why should they release the remaining over, 243 others? Or were they also doing a general arrest, but selective detention?” he asked further, laughing to scorn, the attempt to protect the agency’s image.
However, another respondent, Anthony Emordi on the strength of the confession by the agency that it had failed to secure a single conviction despite the purported arrests, has urged the President Goodluck Jonathan to review the no-cure no-pay contract the agency has entered into with the Global West Shipping group, for the provision of platform to enable the vessels arrest, if at the end of the day, the management of the agency was going to mess up the process of bringing suspected culprits to book.
“What is the sense in spending hundreds of millions of Naira on monthly basis, for the provision of platform alone, if at the end of the day, the agency couldn’t secure a single conviction, even two years after? Are we not further throwing more resources down the drain?” he asked, saying if such monies was invested in the empowerment of the half-baked graduates of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron; Nigeria would be better for it.
A member of the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-owners Association (NISA), who spoke on condition of anonymity however spoke very well of the agency, noting that while the agency might not be perfect in its vision and styles, it determination to move the country forward should nonetheless be commended.