Collaboration, Cooperation, Good Governance great strategy against piracy in GoG—Igbokwe

Mike Igbokwe, SAN

Renowned Maritime Lawyer, Mike Igbokwe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is confident that the Global Maritime Security Conference(#GMSC2019) held in Nigeria recently will be a ‘game-changer’, considering key take-aways, particularly the resolution for collaboration among States within the Gulf of Guinea(GoG) to tackle the threat of piracy.
Sharing his thoughts on the significance of the conference and expectations from discourses held, Igbokwe said the conference, which had about 4000 participants in attendance including navies of countries globally, would put Nigeria in the fore front, even in the comity of nations, and as far as its commitment to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations and treaties and international conventions is concerned. According to Igbokwe, it is significant that “IMO will begin to see Nigeria as a very serious member that is interested in fighting piracy and armed robbery at sea. Not only because it has already updated its law, but because it has already agreed to host a conference of this nature where all the navies of different countries are gathered to exchange ideas for solutions to the problem of piracy. With about 4000 participants in attendance, they would go away with new ideas, new impressions and with a lot of sensitisation that would help them to know what to do in their relevant countries and also with a view to fighting this menace.”

Igbokwe speaks on several issues including the need for good governance to improve the economic situation of citizens in the GoG States.

What are your views of the GMSC 2019, and how can conference support the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?
This conference is a very good step in the direction in helping the suppression and combating of piracy, armed robbery at sea and unlawful acts, not just in  Nigeria, not just in the Gulf of Guinea States, but world-wide. I say so, because piracy is a trans-national or cross-border crime. And as such, it is not a crime that one nation or country can successfully fight alone, because the pirates operate on the high seas or outside the territorial seas, the armed robbers at sea or unlawful actors operate in the internal or territorial waters of the state or the tail ace. These are international crimes or criminals. They may be based onshore in some country and go to the waters of another country to operate.
And because the jurisdiction of countries or their courts is limited to their territorial waters, unless you have laws that will enable the prosecutors and the courts to be able to prosecute and try offenders within their countries, in the courts of their countries, despite the fact that these offences were committed on the high seas or perhaps they ran away, you have issues.

How has statute been able to support the fight against piracy thus far?
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act in June 2019, and this will back the appropriate prosecution of those arrested and found wanting. I happen to have been an actor in the area of getting Nigeria to have a legal framework for the suppression of piracy and other maritime crimes in the sense that about 11 years ago at a conference organised by the Federal Government. The International Conference Concerning Maritime Security as it called, was organised by the Federal Ministry of Transport in collaboration with NIMASA and IMO in 2008 at the Sheraton Hotel. Issues concerning piracy and other maritime crimes were thrown up for discussion. At the end of the conference, there was a communique.
One of the key points of the communique at the time was that Nigeria should have a stand-alone legislation to fight these crimes. And NIMASA took the bulls by the horns by appointing me as a maritime consultant to drive the process of having a stand-alone legislation. Based on the technical assistant programme of the IMO, NIMASA was able to get one of IMO’s consultants, Mr. Blanco, with whom we reviewed all the Nigerian Laws and we discovered that there was no law; Criminal Code, Penal Code that was up to date in Nigeria to fight these crimes. We were having situations where those who committed these offences who were arrested by the navy, some of them were given to the EFCC and sometimes they were charged under economic and financial crimes, not piracy. Sometimes, they were released because we didn’t have the laws, until now that we have updated our laws. Nigeria has signed the two Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Shipping and Ships Conventions; that of 1988 and 2005, and also signed the 1988 protocol. The only thing Nigeria has not signed is the 2005 protocol to the SUA Convention, but she has also domesticated it because Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution says that for any treaty that Nigeria is a party to , to become enforceable in our law courts , the treaty must first be enacted into our local law by the National Assembly. And that has been done now.




The role of collaboration among the GoG States?
For this to work efficiently, especially in the Gulf of Guinea States, and because piracy is a trans-national thing, it is important that there is collaboration and cooperation among the Gulf of Guinea States. Not only ensuring that they updated their laws, but also in having joint task-forces to fight it jointly, in exchanges of information, results of investigations and extradition of offenders that run away. I was surprised to know that despite the Yaounde Treaty, Cameroon has not signed any of the SUA Conventions. I now asked myself “If it hasn’t ratified it and has not domesticated it, how can it actually update its slot and be in a position to prosecute this law?” The danger is that, you will now have a situation where some of these offenders will run to Cameroon, operate from there and Nigeria and run there and they cannot be prosecuted as a result of the fact that their laws are not updated, unless of course if Cameroon agrees to extradite them to Nigeria.

What exactly should external support be about, if need be?
Secondly, the super powers; let there be a situation where the capacity to enforce or the regulations and also the laws to curb this menace of piracy be led by Africans or Gulf of Guinea States Forces, but supported by the super powers to avoid suspicion of erosion of independence. I agree it should be led by Africans. I agree it should be led by the Gulf of Guinea States. But, I also want to say that because funding is critical, the Africans should get that support. It is needed for instance, in acquisition of the necessary weapons and the patrol boats that the navies of these countries require. Funds are also important for training, technology, technical assistance, but many of them don’t have these. The super powers that have interest in this region should be able to support them in those areas to build the capacity and supplement and complement what they don’t have. I know today that the US is a major funder of countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Syria. Why? Because they have interest there. How about in rebuilding Iraq? They have interest there. So, why does the US not also go further and support the Gulf of Guinea States in building the needed capacity, because of the fact that they have interest in the areas as a result of the oil? That needs to be explored, because we cannot do it alone, because of funding.

Looking inward to review some things that need to be done better?
There is need to fight piracy from the perspective of poverty, unemployment, welfare. The fact that these things are absent in this Gulf of Guinea States, is driving their citizens to those crimes because of the need to survive. So, if we have good governance in the Gulf of Guinea States and they actually give their people things that will make them not to go into crimes of any sort, including these kinds of crimes, it will reduce. There can definitely be a reduction of these crimes, because they are being perpetrated by human beings, and many of them get into the crime because of the need to survive as a result of unemployment and poverty. Am not saying that is a justification, but if we treat that and prevent it from happening, we will not need to be providing cure for this. 

Igbokwe  wraps up his thoughts with confidence that strategic collaboration and good governance are sure actions to achieve the goal against the threat of piracy in the GoG.