Legislating against Mercenarism in Nigeria’s Security Architecture

Recently, media reports emerged that some members of the National Assembly are mulling plans to review existing legislation, to create an opening for private security organizations to be recognized in securing Nigeria’s maritime environment.

This is, frankly, a very bad idea. Among the arguments being made is that the “monopoly” being enjoyed by the Nigerian Navy needs to be rolled back. First and foremost, this is a patently false claim – the Nigerian Navy does not enjoy a monopoly when it comes to securing Nigeria’s maritime environment and Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Armed Forces Act, which gives legal backing to the existence and the operations of the Nigerian military, outlines the specific roles and responsibilities of the Nigerian Navy—in addition to the primary role of defending Nigeria by sea—as follows:

“the Navy shall, in particular, be further charged with-

(i) enforcing and assisting in co-ordinating the enforcement of all customs, laws, including anti-bunkering, fishery and immigration laws of Nigeria at sea;

(ii) enforcing and assisting in co-ordinating the enforcement of national and international maritime laws ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria;

(iii) making of charts and co-ordinating of all national hydrographic surveys; and

(iv) promoting, co-ordinating and enforcing safety regulations in the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria.”

It is very clear from the foregoing that there is a strong emphasis on the co-ordinating function of the Nigerian Navy in the maritime environment of Nigeria. This coordinating function presupposes the existence of other Government agencies.

The document on “Harmonized Standard Operating Procedures on Arrests , Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons in Nigerian’s Maritime Environment, 2016” clearly outlines the various Federal Government agencies that also in one way or the other have responsibilities in the maritime environment, including the other Services of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police Force, the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Customs Service, NIMASA, NPA, NAPTIP, EFCC, NIS, NESREA, NOSDRA, and others.

So, clearly, the Nigerian Navy’s role is a lead role, and a coordinating one, not a “monopoly” as being alleged by some. So, all the arguments that the Navy has a monopoly that needs to be broken are false and mischievous.

The second important point to be made is that it is inconceivable for any branch of government in Nigeria to be exploring a way to legislate private security organisations into the security architecture of Nigeria, whether land, sea or air. No country in the world modifies its laws to give private operators powers that are similar to that of its constitutionally-established and empowered military.

That is not to say there is no room for private players to operate in supporting roles. But these are discretionary matters, that relevant government officials can make routine decisions on, as needed. There is absolutely no basis or need to amend a country’s constitution or laws to make this possible.

At the moment, a number of private players have been engaged by the Nigerian government to support and assist with pipeline surveillance and monitoring, as part of the fight against crude oil theft. These companies have been working with and supporting the Nigerian Navy and other law enforcement agencies, under the auspices of various security operations and initiatives, and yielding positive results.

It therefore beggars belief that anyone would think there is the need to legislate private security operatives into the laws of the land. There is no room for any illegitimate forces that seek to rival or even supplant the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Legislating private companies into Nigeria’s maritime security architecture is akin to enlisting mercenaries to do the work of the Nigerian military. They can continue playing the supporting roles that they have always played. All over the world, Navies traditionally take the lead in securing offshore waters. This is not different and should be no different in Nigeria.

This is therefore an open call to the leadership of the National Assembly, to not entertain any attempts by any person or persons, to push a nefarious agenda through the hallowed chambers of the Assembly.

In addition, it is a reminder to Mr. President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that, in the event that any such legislation is sent to him for assent, he has a duty to safeguard the integrity of Nigeria’s Armed Forces, and also to safeguard his own legacy, by standing firm against any and all attempts to legislate and legalize mercenarism or any other form of private security arrangement in Nigeria’s security architecture.

The existing arrangement, where private security support is enlisted, especially at the level of surveilling and monitoring oil infrastructure in the extensive nooks and crannies of the Niger Delta, is the way to go, and additional efforts should be invested in refining this arrangement and improving its effectiveness.

Anything else, as being suggested by some, would be tantamount to endorsing and legislating illegality in ensuring and achieving the security of the country.

Tunde Bamise writes from Abuja.

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