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How ‘untidy’ maritime bills failed presidential assent

By Sulaimon Salau
30 January 2019   |   2:37 am
The failure of many maritime bills to scale through the hurdles of presidential assent portends grave set back to the maritime sector’s development agenda.

A container-laden vessel

The failure of many maritime bills to scale through the hurdles of presidential assent portends grave set back to the maritime sector’s development agenda.

Industry operators had yearned so much for the bills to become a law, and consequently bridge some observed legislative gap affecting certain operations in the sector, but the stagnation of the bills at Aso Rock has thrown up a fresh challenge to the sector. Indeed, the promoters have to go back to the drawing board.

However, stakeholders believe that there is more to the failure of the bills than meets the eye, suggesting some political undertones might have outweighed national interest.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2016, signed 17 bills into law within two months; seven in January 2018 – two in June, and another five in November, but none of the maritime sector bills was able to scale through.It all started when President Buhari wrote to the Senate in October last year, to inform the federal lawmakers of his rejection of the Maritime Security Operations Coordinating Board (Amendment) Bill 2018, alongside others.

About two weeks ago, the President also declined assent to the National Transport Commission Bill 2018, which lowered the morale of many operators.Giving reasons for his action, Buhari said he refused assent to the Maritime Security Operations Bill, because the proposed amendments will create distortions and duplications with the functions and operations of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Also, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017 also failed to get a presidential nod because he felt the amendment would create ‘distortions’ to the operation of the NIMASA Act.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that the Anti-piracy Bill might be the first maritime bill to sail through, as the body language of Mr. President showed that he is a keen supporter of the legislation.While rejecting the other bills, President Buhari had urged the Senate to focus on passing the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Bill, currently before the National Assembly, to achieve a more comprehensive review of operations in the maritime sector. The objective is to realigning its agencies for more efficient service delivery, and focus on the security of the country’s maritime frontiers.

Other maritime bills before the National Assembly are: the Nigerian Ports Authority Act repeal and re-enactment) Bill 2016; the Chartered Institute of Shipping of Nigeria (CISN) Bill; and the Bill Establishing the Economic Regulator (shipping sector). Also awaiting passage are the National Inland Waterways Authority Bill; the Maritime Security Agency Bill; and Nigeria Railway Bill, the Maritime Zones Bill; Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act (amendment) Bill 2018; and the Nigeria Coast Guards Bill 2018, and a host of others.

An executive bill sent to the Senate last year seeking to concentrate the control of water resources under the Federal Government died a natural death in the red chamber.The Bill is for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matter.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public petitions, Senator Sam Anyanwu, said the fact that the controversial bill was rejected by the majority of the senators when it was brought was an indication that the legislation was unpopular and had since died a natural death.He said: “Nobody is talking of that bill again. We have moved on beyond that. It can never see the light of the day. It has died a natural death. In fact, it was dead on arrival.”

Stakeholders believe the government might be on the offside regarding the interest in those Bills, arguing that national interest should be allowed to prevail on the Bills, rather than personal interest.President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Agents, (NCMDCLA), Lucky Amiwero, alleged that the incumbent government is holding onto the Bills for personal interest rather than national or economic interest, which he said is very dangerous to the growth of the economy.

He said: “When you come to the chambers, most of the time, proper legislative works are not done. There is a way the government interpret their law, and discover some conflicts. You have many of them, some will not have any conflict, but it depends on the interest of the government.

“Even the legislators, everybody have his own interest. Until we start to make law for Nigeria’s future and the generation yet unborn, we may continue to find ourselves in this mess. We should not make laws to suit our own purpose. We should make laws that are sustainable, durable and applicable to national interest.

“Just the like Electoral Reform Bill, everybody was involved in that Bill, but the President still refuses to sign the Bill. The National Assembly has to wake up from slumber. How can a country spend four years and not sign any Bill has to do with the economy? Executive Order is not a law. You cannot use it as a law. There is need for us to have a law that can always be referred to I know there is political undertone, but we need to do beyond that,” Amiwero stated.

He enjoined the promoters of the bills not to be discouraged, but to go back and review the affected areas; where there are errors or conflicts, and continue with the struggle to get those Bills signed.President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche, said the delay in signing the bills into law is detrimental to the growth of the national economy.

Uche said there are still many bills with the National Assembly, and it all depend on government to have the political will of passing and signing the bills into law.He said the Bill when signed into law would help the economy, help to put reforms in place and attract development to some sectors of the economy.He said the promoters really have to go back to the drawing board. “It is not unusual. It all depends on the intention of the government. What they need to do now is to go back and fill the loopholes in the bill. The delay is affecting the growth of the economy generally. These are the things we need to do now in order to conform to the tenants of globalization. If we need to key-in appropriately, those laws need to be put in place.”

Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, however insists that all hope is not yet lost on the assent of the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill by President Buhari. He explained that the President only directed that areas of conflicts or duplications be removed from Bill, and the disputed areas are being worked on by the National Assembly for return to the President for assent.

He disclosed that following the return of the Bill to the National Assembly, the legislative body equally sent it back to the Ministry of Transport, while the Ministry of Transport and relevant bodies have eliminated the areas of conflict, including the issue of secure, and returned it to the lawmakers.Bello said the Senate has already re-passed it, while the House of Representatives will soon follow, adding that the President would soon give assent to the Bill.

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