About two years after the Federal Government had approved the award of a security contract valued at $195m (about N60bn) to an Israeli firm, Messrs HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, to procure security equipment and train Nigerian security personnel to tackle crimes on the nation’s waterways, has yet to begin operation in Nigerian waters, minister of Transportation, Romiti Amaechi revealed.
The $195m maritime security contract was signed off by the Federal Executive Council in December 2017 and was for the provision of three helicopters, three airplanes, three big battle-ready ships, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious cars, to aid security of Nigeria’s waterways.
In January 2018, the House of Representatives criticised the management of NIMASA for awarding the contract to HLSI, saying it was a breach of Nigeria’s internal security and defiance of the local content law.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in May 2018, cancelled the contract via a memo directing the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to terminate the contract and for the National Security Adviser and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency to investigate how the contractor obtained security clearance without an end-user certificate.
Buhari also ordered HLSI to supply equipment to the tune of the $50m upfront payment it received from Nigeria. The Federal Government, however, reinstated the contract in August last year.
However, Amaechi told our correspondent in Abuja, during a shipping industry forum in Abuja, that platforms and equipment meant for use under the contract were still being manufactured, adding that it would take some time to have the platforms delivered.
He hinted that the Nigeria Navy, Air Force and other agents who would man the platforms under the contract are currently being trained.
“The infrastructure that the security firm is purchasing are not things you buy off the shelf. They have to be fabricated. They are buying two or three helicopters. You don’t just go there and say, give me this helicopter, they have to manufacture it. They are buying 20-speed boats; they can’t be got off the shelf. There is also one or two big boats that will carry the helicopters. Now, the Naval, Air Force officers and other agents that will man that equipment are in training. All those things will take time, but we have told them that they should be in the waters before December. Everybody is tired. Nigeria is becoming very notorious,” Amaechi said.
While Nigerian importers are paying billions of naira for war risk surcharges, the minister confirmed that multinational shipping lines coming into the country are paying heavily to secure their vessels while at berth.
“If there is no insecurity in the water the multinational shipping lines won’t charge you war risk surcharge. So, we have to improve on the security of the maritime domain. I don’t think the charges are deliberate. It is a risk they are bearing, with fear that something may happen, but most of the time nothing happens and they still go away with the money,” the minister noted.
Amaechi at a send forth the party that marked the end of his first tenure as minister of transport, held in his honour by maritime industry stakeholders disclosed that global shipping giant, Maersk Line, spent a humongous $18m to provide a private security onboard its ship when they approached Nigerian waters.
The minister under whose supervision the contract was awarded to Messrs HLSI Security Systems and Technologies narrated how a leading shipping line coming to Nigerian ports, Maersk Line had reported to him about the huge amount it paid to some individuals to provide private security for their vessels.
Trying to justify the $195m maritime security contract signed between the Federal Government and an Israeli firm, HSLi Global, Amaechi said that the Nigerian importers were paying war risk surcharges for vessels to berth at Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri Ports as a result of piracy and activity of militants.
“Maersk Line told me that they were spending $18m as security on their vessels on Nigerian waters, I asked them, can I quote you on this, and they said yes.
“This is ‘free money’ going into the pockets of some powerful Nigerians at the expense of the country,” he said.
Recall that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre rated the seas around Nigeria as the world’s most dangerous for piracy.
Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage onboard or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea, specifically off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.
According to IMB, of the nine ships fired upon worldwide this year, eight were off the coast of Nigeria.
Amaechi has said that the illegal economy on Nigerian waters has hit a $25bn yearly, adding that illegal bunkers in Nigeria are the seventh largest producers of oil in Africa.
He, however, warned that whether the Israelis deliver on the contract or not, they would get their money and Nigeria would still be on the losing end.