A Merchant Vessel in Lagos

The Nigerian government has insisted that it is illegal and against the Nigerian constitution for private armed security guards to board merchant’s vessels in the guise of providing security services in Nigeria.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami dropped the bombshell yesterday during the opening of the Lagos International Maritime week in Lagos.

In a Paper titled “Armed Guards Aboard Merchants Vessels In Nigeria: legal or illegal the representative of the attorney general who is the special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Financial crimes, Biodun Aikomu set the records straight on who has the prerogative of ensuring security in the national maritime waters.

Convener of the Lagos Maritime Week with Participants

According to him, it is the constitutional duty of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA to provide security in Nigerian territorial waters and no other agencies or organization.

He referred to the Nigerian legislation such as acts of national assembly targeting maritime security, the Cabotage act as well as international conventions as laws which are silent on the role of private armed guards in merchants’ vessels in Nigeria.

According to Aikhomu “the question as to the legality or otherwise of armed guards on merchant vessels in Nigeria is quite straightforward. Under Nigerian law, armed guards are not permitted on merchant’s vessels within the Nigerian waters”.

Former IMO Official at the Conference

In Considering the legality or otherwise of the use of armed guards on Nigeria flagged vessels important consideration is given to the legal regime of the flagged state(Nigeria) vis a vis the legal regime of other states in a given situation.

“Fundamentally, the state has the primary duty of securing lives and properties, investments including vessels, within its territorial jurisdiction. The state also has the monopoly over the use of force to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.

“Considering the necessity of protecting merchants’ vessels in Nigeria, NIMASA currently collaborates with the Nigerian Navy to provide maritime security within the power of the Nigerian Navy under the armed forces act. This collaboration has resulted in a number of activities”

“It is therefore illegal for ships within Nigeria waters to have armed personnel on board. For clarity armed guards in this context are persons who are not members of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but who are nevertheless armed” added Malami

“The International Maritime Organization IMO neither endorses nor condemned the use of armed personnel on board merchant’s ships but leaves such decision to the shipowner subject to the laws of the flag state, He added further.

Commenting on the spate of armed piracy attacks in Nigerian territorial waters Malami assures that his office is working on the long-term solution of amending relevant laws in Nigeria to deal with the unpleasant issue. He mentioned the anti-piracy NIMASA bill currently before the national assembly and pledged his support towards it quick passage so as to address the current challenges.