By Gift Chapi Odekina
The Nigerian Navy has called on the National Assembly to enact legislation for the establishment of an Admiralty or Maritime Court to deal exclusively with Maritime cases for speedy dispensation of justice concerning seized vessels.
Chief Of Operations, Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral AO Adaji made the call while addressing members of the House of Representatives Adhoc Committee investigating the status of recovered movable and immovable assets who went for an investigative visit to the Navy in Abuja.
Speaking to the lawmakers, he disclosed that, normal Court processes are delaying the disposal of seized vessels in Navy’s custody and their maintenance is affecting their finances because huge amounts of funds are being expended on their maintenance and operations to keep them in good shape.
He said, “The procedure adopted is that, once there is any suspicion of commission of crime or illegal activities, the vessels are arrested by patrol units and then a preliminary investigation is carried out.
“As soon as a case is established, the vessel is handed over to the appropriate prosecution agency. a lot of times it’s the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, but we also have dealings with NIMASA, sometimes also with the NSCDC and the police.
“The main challenge is that, when these arrests are made, more often than not, we handover to the EFCC. The EFCC doesn’t have a holding bay for vessels.
“And in some.instances, they also refused to take the crew, because to secure what I call a day in court takes time. So, they too are shying away from the responsibility of feeding those who are involved in criminal activities. Of course the vessels we understand they cannot keep.
“But we are hoping that we will grow to that level where when we arrest a vessel, a Maritime Court or an Admiralty Court could ask the vessel for a Bond, such that all these shenanigans in terms of holding the vessel and all that does not even arise.
“We take a bond and whenever the crew or the vessel is required in court, it will be made available.So, it is a lingering problem, but we are hoping that a time will come when Nigeria will have something like an Admiralty Court or a Maritime Court that is solely dedicated to Maritime offences.
“We appreciate the fact that, the National Assembly has enacted the Anti Piracy law which has helped and put a couple of bad guys in jail.
Earlier, chairman of the Adhoc committee, Adejero Adeogun said they visited the Navy because, the committee was set up by the House of Reps to respond to public clamour to understand the state of recovered loots especially proceeds of crimes in Nigeria adding that the committee has been working in the past six to seven months.
He said, “We’ve visited at least two Naval formations in Lagos within the Western Naval Command and MMS Pathfinder in Portharcourt where we inspected vessels that we’re seized.
“In the course of all these inspections and all that, we found out that, there are few things that we need to interact with the leadership of the Navy, so that we can understand each other and we might be able to actually help this country better.
“The first has to do with the case of in the course of our investigations, two things came to.mind. First, we realised that, recovered loots were supposedly used for the investment.
“We want to be sure that, these things were actually utilised so that, there will be funds that were supposedly being borrowed and persistently for the Navy we are actually done. Were the Navy to receive the equipment? Were there facilities provided so that, if borrowing funds that are supposed to be borrowed that, they were utilised”.
On their part, a member of the committee, Eng Ali Wudil said, the House will consider the request for the establishment of the Admiralty or Maritime court.
Another member of the committee, Timehin Adelegbe observed that, the Navy should not be subjected to unnecessary expenditure in the course of their maintenance of seized vessels that are supposed to be in the custody of other government agencies.
Members of the committee were later taken to the control center of Falcon Eye, a sophisticated surveillance system being used by the Navy to monitor all activities across Nigeria’s coastlines.