By Oluwafemi David
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, has expressed the willingness of the National Assembly to collaborate with the executive to make new laws and strengthen existing ones in order to end incidences of piracy and theft of natural resources in Nigeria’s territorial waters.
While speaking to a delegation from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), comprising of the director general and executive management staff, in his office, the Speaker said in view of the fact that the society is presently plagued by ills caused by poverty, unemployment and underemployment, the business environment must be protected to guard against deterrents such as piracy and theft in order to attract more investors to the country and trigger job creation.
He noted that Nigeria has lost many companies to sister nations along the West Coast due to their better business environment and laws, adding that the National Assembly is bent on ensuring that more is done in addition to efforts already made towards sanitising the business environment in Nigeria.
The speaker said the parliament is willing to give expeditious consideration and passage to maritime related bills that seek to suppress piracy in Nigeria and make NIMASA more effective in discharging its functions because Nigerians will be the beneficiaries in terms of lower costs of goods and job opportunities.
Hon Dogara said, “As a country of perhaps one hundred and eighty people, we cannot afford to be losing businesses. You know, most of the ills that we face in society today are related to poverty, unemployment, underemployment; that’s those even employed but not earning living wages. So it causes a lot of problems for us and by the time we don’t sanitise our business environment, it leads to a situation where companies run from jurisdictions that have stricter laws governing businesses and business environment is not made conducive to areas where the laws are better, there is security and all the incentives for business are there. As a matter of fact, we have lost quite a number of companies that were operating in Nigeria to our sister countries within the West Coast and that is what we must address if we hope to give hope to the teeming populace.
“The Gulf of Aden used to be the flashpoint of Piracy but that has been mitigated to a point that one-third of cases of piracy now happens in the Gulf of Guinea, which is a big challenge for us as it affects not only business, but even our reputation as a nation. And so, we must do everything to ensure that when people go to supermarkets and other markets to buy things, they shouldn’t be affected by the inefficiency generated by our inability to generate the capacity to tackle those inefficiencies which leads to issues like piracy and because of the issue of piracy, for instance, insurance companies will be increasing insurance and this cost, as you have rightly pointed out, will be transferred to the consumers, who are our constituents.
“I must assure you that this is not the first time we are dealing with issues relating to doing business in Nigeria, or trade facilitation. There is this committee on Ease of Doing Business that is being chaired by the Vice President. We had very robust representation from the National Assembly in that committee and we passed record breaking laws that will help in the ease of doing business in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, there were times that there were complaints that we were passing laws within a week and to be candid, we did that just to improve on the ease of doing business. That was why in the global ranking, we moved up to 25 places, which was quite commendable. It unprecedented and I think we have even moved further and that was because of the robust collaboration between the legislature and the executive.
“We take this matter seriously and it is unfortunate that the bill on Suppression of Piracy has been transmitted to the National Assembly from the executive, it has even been read on the floor of the Senate last week as I was made to understand but unfortunately, right now as we speak, I haven’t seen it. As soon as I receive it, we will put it in the legislative mill, but you know as a legislator, there has to be constitutional processes it will pass through as a necessity before it becomes an Act.”
While assuring the NIMASA delegation of the National Assembly’s commitment to pass all relevant laws to upgrade the effectiveness of the agency, he assured that Nigerians will be given the opportunity to examine the proposals from the executive and make their contributions to the bills during public hearings that will be conducted on them and finish up for passage before the legislature closes for Christmas.
“We will be very willing, as a matter of fact, more than willing, to take the amendment of the NIMASA Act to bring it up to date with global practices and acts”, he stated, adding that, “the main reason why we are doing this is because as a country of perhaps one hundred and eighty people, we cannot afford to be losing businesses”.
Earlier, the director general of NIMASA, Hon Dakuku Peterside, who led the delegation to the Speaker’s office, said they were on an advocacy visit to solicit support for 3 important Bills that are either before the National Assembly or will soon be before it. He explained that the bills are Suppression of Piracy Act which seeks to address the rising tide of piracy along the Gulf of Guinea where Nigeria is a key player and whose effect has led to astronomical rise in freight rates and insurance costs which are eventually passed on to Nigerians as the final consumers of the goods.
Peterside also added that Nigeria has now been categorised as a war area due to the activities of pirates, with shipping firms threatening to boycott the destination amidst a threat of a movement of Nigeria from International Maritime Organisation’s whitelist to blacklist. He said the bill would provide the legal framework to fight piracy to a standstill and provide all relevant structures for the agency to act upon.
The two other bills are Amendment of Merchant Bill and NIMASA Act.