By Kenneth Jukpor
Prof. Muhammed Ladan is the Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS). At the 9th edition the Admiralty Law Seminar for Judges organized by NIALS in collaboration with the
Nigerian Maritime Administation and Safety Agency (NIMASA), MMS Plus had a chat with Prof. Ladan. In this interview he highlights the importance of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, reveals some shortcomings and addresses other pertinent issues.
What does the SPOMO Act mean for Nigeria and what’s the significance of this engagement with judges?
We need to underscore the fact that before the arrival of the SPOMO Act on 2019, what we had were
scattered pieces of indequate legislations responding to different components of armed robbery at sea, piracy and other maritime crimes. We never had the opportunity of a single comprehensive and fully packaged legal instrument as a stand-alone law. Our goal as an Institute with the collaboration of NIMASA, is to engage the relevant justice sector actors such as judges, prosecutors and other enforcement agencies, particularly anti-corruption agencies manning the maritime environment. This is the first time such engagement with relevant players would be taking place on the SPOMO Act and our key objective at this seminar is to engage these justice sector actors.
This is the ninth edition of the Admiralty Seminar for judges but the scope for this year is the biggest
because in the past we never had the opportunity of the SPOMO Act which is a new law. The Act is
broken-down into twenty-three sections and four major parts. The beauty of it is the comprehensiveness and its capacity to buttress effective prosecution and also put our judges on their
toes to understand why they need to trigger the clauses for the application against those who embark on piracy activities and those who engage in armed robbery at sea.
Another good thing about this seminar on the instrument is that justice actors will be responsible for
investigation, analyse evidences and understand where the prosecutors are coming from and what type of evidence should be weighty.
Let me give an example of these incidents, 2017/2018, 40 percent of the piracy activities recorded
globally happened in Nigeria. In 2018/2019, 16 piracy attacks were recorded in Nigeria alone. It’s barely two months in 2020 and more than 15 percent of the entire global piracy attacks have occured in Nigeria and particularly in the Lagos region. The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) has about seven countries but
Nigeria is the largest in the sub-region, the most populated and Nigeria’s economy accounts for a
significant amount of the economy of the sub-region. You can see the significance of Nigeria in shipping
for the West and Central African region.
Globally, shipping is responsible for over 80 percent of trade and there is need to have safe and secure
oceans and seas to carry out this very important trade. You need to be able to guarantee the safety of
seafarers onboard these vessels and also ensure that the import and export of goods reach the nation
safely and reach the destined ports safely. No nation can sustain its economy without ensuring safety of
the maritime domain responsible for international trade. Nigeria is located in the Gulf of Guinea and the nation has to do its part to ensure tranquility in the maritime environment. This is what the SPOMO Act represents. The other nations in the region need Nigeria to step-up in order to play the role of the big brother because we aren’t just the largest but we also have the biggest economy. It is also unfortunate that the other nations in the GoG have weak economies or weak political structure which means that they are largely dependent on Nigeria for the survival of these economies. Now, you can see that Nigeria didn’t have a choice than to come up with the SPOMO Act which means a lot to the nation, the sub-region and Africa at large.
We couldn’t be scoring first globally in all these criminal activities and refuse to develop a comprehensive legal framework to address them. The SPOMO Act has provided a platform to guide our investigators and prosecutors on how to generate evidence. It has also brought clarity to our judges to better understand the gravity of these incidents and the kind to weight to address them. This would help us stem the tide of piracy and gradually we would keep improving as we review the law periodically and deploy other startegies to resolve the problem.
There may be areas of the law that could be very challenging to the prosecutors, judges, Naval forces,
among others but as we proceed we could make adjustments or amendments in the next three or five years. However, the most important step is to start which is something we are ready to do with this seminar.
In your welcome address you gave an indication that the SPOMO Act had some flaws. As Director General of NIALS, you must have spoken from an informed prism. What are these challenges?
It is true that the Act isn’t perfect. However, I don’t want to do a critique at this stage. I also believe that the review of any legal framework less than one year after it has been drafted should be fair to the lawmakers and sponsors of that law. The review should also be fair on those charged with implementing the new instrument which would be the judges.
What I have observed preliminary for the purpose of this seminar is that there is the need to tighten
some areas of the requirements for prosecution and also sanctioning strategies. We also have some
conceptual issues for discuss in order to enable us the global treaty obligations and also enable us
harmonize the existing scattered pieces of legislations that are to some extent relevant to the subject
matter of maritime security and safety. Our distinguished experts would provide us the nitty-gritty
analysis for the benefits of the participants. Recall that I stated in the opening ceremony that our judges must open up to deliberation from the resource persons, ask for clarifications so that they can
understand better in the next three days.
Nevertheless, I don’t think this is the time with less than one year for any instrument to undergo a critque and expect an amendment. We must give room for the implementation of the law so that the practical challenges would come out during the implementation. However, we expect our resource persons to be fair and balanced so that the judges understand what the Act seeks to achieve.
With SPOMO Act, you should note that the plan is to domesticate two critical components of
international protocols such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS)
and the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention).
Nigeria is meeting up with the international treaty obligations and we are also providing our judges and prosecutors with the comprehensive legal document on the way forward. We believe that when we begin implement the provisions in this instrument, we would reduce the technicalities that enable these sea robbers and pirates to evade justice. That’s the bottom line.
This Admiralty Law Seminar for judges is the 9th edition, have these seminars transmuted to
expeditious and meticulous handling of maritime court cases by judges over the years?
In fairness to our judges, the last eight editions or seminars have always been on the scattered
legislations relating to maritime safety and security in Nigeria. At the NIALS, we have been doing the
reviews and publishing in journals and policy briefs. We have also been disseminating our findings to
judges and prosecutors but this is the first time we are having an opportunity to review the instrument itself.
After this seminar, we intend to have a strategy of going back to the courts and engaging the
prosecutors to have applied this instruments.
We would like to appeal to NlMASA to expand the funding base for this programme to enable NIALS
deploy its vast human resources and other experts to develop a training manual, draft implementation guideline/framework for SPOMO Act, 2019 and do field-work from 2021 to generate judgements from
our courts for analysis and pubiication of special digest of case law on maritime safety and security law as Nigeria’s contribution to enhancing the capacity of similar notional institutions in the Gulf of Guinea Region.
Note that timelines in justice dispensation is critical to realizing the potentials of the maritime sector.
This is to enable investors trust our judicial process. The more time taken on a case, the more
investment opportunities are lost. Hence efficient and timely dispensation of justice in maritime related cases will boost stakeholders and investors confidence in the judicial system.