The 13th maritime seminar for judges, organized by the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) was unique in all ramifications. Apart from replenishing the belief that the nation’s maritime sector required a perfect blend of maritime law adjudication and application, it left different taste in the mouth of participants.
To the bar and the bench, it was another opportunity to refresh, replenish or learn newly unfolding developments. To the maritime operators and major stakeholders, it was an opportunity to grow, strengthen and reinforce the platform for better understanding. However, to the newsmen, the seminar was a window for shocking revelations.
Taking an Eagle eye view of the seminar, a Maritime lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Igbokwe declared it as the wonderful opportunity for boosting interaction between the Bench, the Bar and the other major stakeholders and key maritime players, who must directly or indirectly defend, profess, tinker or adjudicate in respect of maritime laws, some of which are international, or national as they have been domesticated, with their direct bearing on the well being of the country, its economy and its people.
“The first major gain derives from the interaction between the bench, the bar and the other major maritime stakeholders, with its multiplier impact on maritime laws and the economy”, he posited, noting that it also created a strong platform for sensitizing and enlightening all those functioning in the realm of law making, law application to adjudication in respect of international or national laws, with the overall aim of continous improvement on sound knowledge.
Earlier, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alooma Mouktar had utilized the opportunity of the seminar to emphasize the need for maritime laws, not only to foster justice, equity and fairness; but common goals should be attained while the law should be acceptable and affordable. The application of the law must also be made relevant and encompassing in the protection of hardworking stakeholders.
“There have been disturbing reports of pirate attacks on ships in Nigeria waters. But, most of the people involved have been discovered to have entered the country illegally for criminal activities”, she indicated, expressing her joy that the Nigerian Government was, however, leaving no stones unturned, in the process of its statutory mandate to protect the business class from the illegal activities of the deadly few.
Emphasizing the need for collaboration and cooperation between the bar, bench and the maritime operators or experts, the CJN insisted that the law must ensure the creation and sustenance of desired conducive business environment, enabling life to function in the most desirable manners.
“The main purpose of this seminar is to sensitize the judges, to be fully aware of what is expected of them when adjudicating on cases brought before them.
The judiciary must be ready to make justice accept-able and affordable, especially as it is so obvious that no nation can thrive adequately, without a strong legal platform”, The chief justice also stressed the need to foster the growth of the maritime sector, “via the stand-ardization of maritime laws”, in the march towards best practices.
A maritime guru and former President, National Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Captain Ernest Ishola praised the vision and the long term goals of the Seminar, adding that he was satisfied that the organizers were also increasingly pursuing the goals of making the seminar internationally recognized.
“I would say it has helped us to open the eyes of our judges. To be honest with you, what we see in the book was sometimes, not the same thing that we saw in practice. And the fact that the practitioners on the field are also similarly involved in the seminars has impacted positively in the seminar.
“The seminar has enable the judges to realize that you cannot arrest a ship and keep the ship, and the owner would not be losing money; just as the terminal operator too, would be losing money. So, the seminar has enable the judges to know that we can put a bond; or such other alternative means to get that ship working again; and continue to create the desired wealth, for bth the owners, and other relevant stakeholders. So, it has opened the eyes of the judges to the trend of things”, he stated further.
Captain. Ishola however observed that some decisions of the court could nonetheless still remain mysterious, despite the benefits of the seminars, as some court judgment might be delivered on political considerations, and as such stretch beyond the realm of easy understanding.
“You have heard of such statements like ‘my hands are tied’ or such like” he indicated, explaining that it is such issues that the judicial council must assiduously work on and surmount.
But to the newsmen, the seminar provided them with the window to view the different shades, under which different stakeholders perceive same issues. For instance, while the Nigerian law makers see the issue of piracy, as an obsolete event, soon to become a thing of the past, the Ghanaian judiciary, see the issue as a menace presently wrecking havoc, in the Gulf of Guinea .
Delivering a statement from the Senate President at the venue, the Chairman of the Marine Transport Committee, Senator Zainab Kure had highlighted that the National Assembly was glad to note the extent of work it had done in that respect, and was satisfi ed to declare piracy, a development soon to become a thing of the past.
“We have been able to see that some agencies that have to do with the reduction in piracy cases have been able to live up to their responsibility; and that the issue of piracy, as I am speaking with you now is a thing of the past, as far as our coastal waters are concerned”.
The message of goodwill, from the Ghanaian Chief Judge, Georgina Theodora Woods, as read by her representative, Justice Joseph Bawa Akwamba said the claim was far from being real.
Stressing the need for Nigeria to go more extra miles, the Ghanaian CJN task the Federal Government to adopt more measures, including a collaborative front by all relevant agencies within the Gulf of Guinea terrain.
“Well, I heard a very good report that piracy in our waters is about to be declared as non-existent; that certainly would have been great news. But, the interna-tional perspective to this, is that there is now, a shift of maritime crimes from the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Guinea” the Ghana CJN declared, stressing that the development should be a matter of great concern to all, especially to the judges who may from time to time, be called upon to deal with cases emanating from such issues bothering on international crimes.
The revelations at the seminar were shocking as the inadequacies of the executive arm of the government was exposed. The law makers said they are now beg-ging the executive arm of the Government to resubmit some of the executive proposed bills meant to uplift maritime operations, but which only disappeared later, under the guise of wanting to go and fine tune the bills.
The bills included the Port and Harbour Bill, the In-land Waterway Bill and some other transport sector uplifting bills.
“The Minister of transport, I would want to say that the Marine Transport Committee has been looking for those bills that the Federal Executive Council did put some committee to work on. We are extremely waiting for them (bills), so that most of the problems that have some bearing with the port especially, will be a thing of the past”, the Senate President pleaded further, prompt-ing rueful chuckles from the audience.
It would be recalled that early last year, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) appointed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke, as chairman of a special committee set up to finetune the proposed bills. But more than one year after, the law makers were now begging for the bill, since the bills are yet to get to the national assembly deeming every hope of their being passed during the life span of the present administration.
Perhaps, it was the Permanent Secretary, Nebolisa Emordi, an engineer, who steered the hornest nest, when he, in the course of statement he read on behalf of the Transport Minister, Senator Idris Umar, had mentioned that the Ministry was still putting finishing touches to the Ports and Harbours Bill, among others, for submission to the National Assembly.
“The Federal Executive Council will soon submit a Bill to the National Assembly, the bills which seek to repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority Act of 1999 and enact the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Act. This Act envisages the provision of ownership, management, operation, development and control of ports and harbours, make the Ports and Harbour Authority the technical regulator and promote private participation,” he had said.
But the disclosure rather than draw applause, it only drew the ire of the Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who quickly chastised the ministry, noting that such action would be nothing more than a duplication of the efforts of the legislators.
“Why is the executive producing another Ports and Harbours Bill when we already have one here at the National Assembly? Are you people not aware that there’s a Ports and Harbours Bill here sponsored by the Deputy Speaker and co-sponsored by me and which has passed second reading in the House? So, is it your own that the Senate will approve or the one sent from the House to the Senate?”
Obviously, the 13th Maritime Seminar for Judges would be long remembered as a sensitization as well as a revelation platform!- International Trade Monitor