The Gulf of Guinea is strategically important for shipping, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea remains of great concern to countries in West and Central Africa, with the worst affected countries being Nigeria, Togo, and Ivory Coast. This is according to the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWA). The potential for high profits along with high unemployment, weak security and a lack of judicial enforcement of maritime laws in many West African countries makes the Gulf of Guinea especially attractive for pirates and other criminals.

Gulf of Guinea borders many African countries with sizable oil and gas industries, with Nigeria being the dominant oil producer in the region, oil tankers are often the targets of attacks. Most criminals initially focused on targeting the cargo onboard these ships, including their oil, the crew or the ships themselves. These coordinated attacks is as a result of corruption, some politicians have been fingered in some of these attacks but nothing is done to prosecute them. These politicians sponsor pirates and provide them with sophisticated weapons to carry out these attacks. The lackadaisical attitude of government towards punishing pirates in Nigeria is the real cause of the increase in piractical attacks. It is said that the Gulf of Guinea is the world’s piracy hotspot with approximately 95% of global kidnappings are reported from its waters. In 2013 for example, according to International Maritime Organization(IMO) out of 47 cases of piracy 29 took place off the coast of Nigeria alone. Six ships were hijacked but subsequently released. The Organization also recorded 62 attacks on ships in West and Central Africa in 2011 and 60 in 2012. Since 2002, 610 attacks occurred in the region.

Regional governments in West Africa with international partners, launched some comprehensive measures towards addressing piracy and other crimes at sea on their side of the continent. Despite these efforts piracy has persisted in the gulf of guinea and it is worrisome because of its effect on Nigeria economy. These moves by regional government, Nigerian and international community have not yielded enough positive results, because piracy and criminality continue in the Gulf of Guinea, and the criminal tactics of pirates and armed robbers are evolving on a daily basis. Pirates armed with guns and knives are abducting bigger groups of seafarers off the West African coast, according to the International Maritime Bureau(IMB). The maritime agency reported 132 attacks since the start of 2020, up from 119 incidents in the same period last year in Nigeria. Also, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the region located within the West and Central African coastlines, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean has witnessed an increase of 40% in the cases related to piracy and kidnappings in the first nine months of 2020.

The role of the National Assembly in the domestication of treaties in Nigeria is not only primary, but also exclusive. Section 12 (1) of the 1999 constitution provides that “no treaty between the federation and any other country shall have the force of law in Nigeria except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly. This section makes it very clear that the National Assembly is the only legitimate organ of government that is responsible for implementing treaties in Nigeria. These pirates go unpunish due to inadequate legal framework in Nigeria and countries in gulf of guinea. However, Nigeria is a party to approximately 40 International treaties on Maritime, these treaties does not become enforceable in Nigeria unless it is domesticated by the National Assembly. By virtue of the power conferred by section 12(1) of the constitution, the National Assembly has exercised this power of by domesticating about 19 treaties such as the Hong Kong International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships 2009; Protocol Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties (Intervention Protocol) 1973; and the 1996 Protocol on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (LLMC), the 2002 protocol relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (PAL) 1976; International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) 1995; and the Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Act against the Safety of Maritime Navigation to mention but few. As a follow up to implementation of these treaties with help of the United Nations, a regional initiative was launched at Yaoundé in June 2013 to Bring together the gulf countries, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), the summit agreed to the following:
1) A memorandum on maritime safety and security in Central and West Africa that set objectives and areas of cooperation;
2) A Code of Conduct concerning the fight against piracy, armed robbery against ships, and illicit maritime activity in West and Central Africa; and
3) The creation of the Inter-regional Coordination Centre (ICC) to implement a regional strategy for maritime safety and security.

Most of these treaties lack legal backing in Nigeria, this is as a result of lackadaisical attitude of federal government, before the ratification we don’t have indigenous law on maritime security that punishes pirates. However, on 24 June, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed a law to improve security in Nigerian waters. The new “Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill” aims to ensure safe and secure shipping at sea, prosecute pirates and criminalise piracy. Section 3 of the Act defines what constitutes piracy, section 5(1) gives the prosecutorial authority to the Attorney General of the Federal or Officer in the office of AGF or NIMASA with the consent of the AGF. Section 5(2) reaffirms the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court by provision of Section 251 (I) (g) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which vested exclusive jurisdiction over Admiralty matters. Enacting this law is laudable because it made Nigeria the first country in the Gulf of Guinea to promulgate an independent law to fight piracy. The bill fulfils the international requirement for a separate legislation against piracy set by the International Maritime Organization(IMO), as to ensure global shipping.

Despite the enactment of this law piracy is on the increase, just few weeks ago Nigerian pirates hijacked a cargo ship and kidnapped the crew and demanded $1.3 million in exchange for their release. Ten crew members, including three Lebanese and two Egyptians, were on board the Milano 1 cargo ship when it was hijacked, the Milano 1 was being used by a Nigerian company to transport glass from Nigeria to Cameroon. The big question here is, what the the fate of this company after paying such huge ransom to pirates. One the devastating effects to ship owners is that it cripples their business, the owner of this recently hijacked ship (Ahmad Al Kut) told the newsmen he had offered to sell the ship to the Lebanese state in order to meet the ransom demand. This shows that more need to be done aside enacting law. Enforcement mechanism should be put in place for effective implementation of the law to curb the menace of piracy in the country. To entirely eradicate piracy in the gulf of guinea other countries should follow the footsteps of Nigerian government. Furthermore, in conclusion there is need for adoption of national legal tools to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of piracy in compliance with local and international laws and the development of judicial cooperation mechanisms between the regional countries in exchange of judicial information, extradition agreements, etc. Lack of collaboration and coordination between the national institutions, lack of cooperation between the states which are not integrated in the cooperation and the coordination of the action to combat the unlawful acts, the increase number of regional institutions with the interference objective make the fight against piracy ineffective, these are the main reasons for continuous pirates attack in the gulf of guinea. The Nigerian Navy lack naval equipment for monitoring Nigeria waters and the high sea, there is also lack of logistical and infrastructural support, the budget allocated for the security of maritime space is insufficient and Obsolete knowledge of law enforcement agents also contribute to the cause of continuous piratical attacks as well as lack of formal system of collection and exchange of information between states in the gulf of guinea. Government has to be proactive in the fight against piracy.

Ikedi Uwandu

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