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Akinsoji’s thoughts:  No justification progressing with Coastguard Bill   

By Olu Akinsoji


It is my view that a bill before the highest law makers of the nation must be such that emanates from a well-researched work that leaves no doubt of existing substantial law or instrument to drive a particular national policy. The status of this bill is contrary to this view. We are told that this bill has successfully gone through the first reading and scheduled for the second reading. Progressing this bill without the expression of thoughts and caution may allow it to ridicule our most valued national assembly. I consider it worthy of note that the observations and intended mandates of this bill are inherent in the existing laws and are provided for by the abundant (primary and secondary) structures begging for competent executive action and the assembly statutory interventions.

The Assembly Brief on the Bill:

In the preamble of the brief, the attention of the Assembly was called to publications of several incidents of loss of life of Nigerians as well as foreigners on our coast and water-fronts due to the lack of emergency response services. Suffice to state that this avoidable loss of life occurs even more frequently in our inland waterways especially in the densely populated riverbanks, where citizens depend on water transport for their social and economic activities. You may wish to visit: https://businessandmaritimewestafrica.com/nigerian…

The bill asserted in paragraph two of the brief ‘There is presently no government organ that is responsible for the proper administration of Nigeria’s beaches and the protection of tourists and fishermen alike along our coastal lines.’

This assertion wrongfully assumed a gap in the nation’s basic institutional framework for safety of life and rescue of persons. The bill is therefore intended to carry along the members of the Nigerian National Assembly on this assumption in order to establish an institution and structure that will fill the gap and provide mandates for functions such as:

  • Disaster management along the beaches, seas and sea shores.
  • Emergency response.
  • Administration and policing of the beaches, seas and sea shores.
  • Prevention of illegalities such as illegal fishing, smuggling and violation of other maritime laws
  • Rescue and salvage operations in times of natural catastrophies
  • Dissemination of information, including warnings by radios and other mass media as the need arises



 The incidences are attributable to lack of effective Maritime Search and Rescue Services (M-SAR service). Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to persons who are in distress or imminent danger in the maritime environment. The ineffectiveness of the services is due to many reasons other than insufficient laws, institutional provisions and resources.

It is an inaccurate assumption that the incidents are attributable to insufficient law and infrastructure and therefore there is institutional gap and structure to necessitate the bill. Nigeria is a party to all relevant international treaties/conventions concerning Search and Rescue. Nigeria has not only ratified the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (ICMSR) but was present at the adoption conference in Hamburg from 9th – 27th April, 1979.

Consequently, Nigeria enshrined Search and Rescue Services in the Merchant Shipping Act, 2007 as well as in the Act of 2007 establishing the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). It is a stand-alone provision under the functions of the Agency. NIMASA is the statutory organ designated to carry out the function enshrined in both instruments. It is also provided in the act that the minister should make necessary regulations and establish coordinating centres to give effect to the provision.

It is noteworthy that ICMSR may refer to international ships and the coast serving international merchant ships but the provision of ‘Provide Search and Rescue Services’ in the municipal law of Nigeria makes it flexible for a competent executive organ of government to interpret and develop an implementation plan that will serve the needs of the country. These needs should then form the policy of the nation on the subject. It is expected that the provision will be interpreted by a competent executive organ to provide in an inclusive manner an implementation plan that will achieve the national policy on the subject. Such an implementation plan will identify and provide for the scope, coordinating centres, sub-centres, relevant entities, facilities and necessary regulation using the enabling power of the minister as provided by the Act.

Discussing this bill on the floor of the National Assembly is unfair to the citizens who have worked very hard to achieve the status on the subject matter. The bill is considered obnoxious. The effectiveness of a law to drive the national policy is a joint responsibility of the legislative house and the executive arm of government. This is informed by the provisions of oversight and auditing functions of the legislative arm of the government. It may therefore be necessary for the Honourable members to find the root cause of the ineffectiveness of coast guarding our waters. Rather than discuss this bill, the Assembly should use their good offices to pursue remedial actions to give full effect to the relevant existing laws and optimal utilization of infrastructures.

This paper will endeavour to highlight some of the legal instruments and structures begging for competent administrative processes to rid our coast and entire waterways of avoidable loss of life.

Nigerian status:

Nigeria has come a long way in terms of institutional frameworks and infrastructure. It has more than enough. If any action is required, it is re-orientation for knowledge-based and evidence-based administrative procedures. The executive arm of government should enhance their capability to interpret laws especially their statutory functions. They should endeavour to develop implementation plans for each of their functions in an inclusive manner and means for performance evaluation of their administration. It is in their own interest to be systematic and develop the principle of shared interest in giving effect to their statutory functions. Nigeria is in good standing as it concerns the existence of institutions task with the safety of life and conduct of human, social and economic activities for the maritime sector:


Nigeria is a party to and faithful to the provisions of the relevant international organizations. Every relevant treaty and convention emanating from these international organisations concerning safety of life, security and care of human beings in socio-economic activities are substantially domesticated:

 Member of the International Convention on the Law of The Sea (UNCLOS)

  1. Member of the International Maritime Organization
  2. Member of the International Labour Organization

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is the focal point for maritime safety administration of Nigeria and it is so statutorily designated. One of the safety functions and power of the agency is to provide services for the search and rescue of persons in distress and imminent danger in Nigeria waters and if necessary to make regulations through the minister of transport.

Institutional Frameworks:


    1. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)
      1. NIMASA Act, 2007 ( Part IV-Functions and Powers of the Agency Section 22f- Provide Search and Rescue Services); Section 22 (1h) carry out air and coastal surveillance; and Section 22 Part 5 The powers of the Agency are embracing and highly sufficient.
      2. Merchant Shipping Act, 2007(MSA) ( Part XII – Safety of life at Sea Section216d-International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979 (SAR); and Section 217- Regulations 1 (1) .The minister may make such regulations as he deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this part of this Act
  • …MSA (Part XVI, Section 279. Search and rescue regulations ‘The Minister may make regulations for search and rescue procedures to be followed by all Nigerian vessels and organisation AND FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RESCUE CO-ORDINATION CENTRES.’


  1. NIMASA administration is in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy by the secondment of a Navy Command unit termed, Maritime Guard Command (MGC). MGC is over 1000 serving naval personnel. The objectives of the collaboration are related to the SAR function of the Agency.
  2. NIMASA is also an IMO nominated regional coordinating centre for Search and Rescue in accordance with the provision of the international Convention on Search and Rescue (SAR), 1979

.NIMASA, in realization of this obligation established;

  1. Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in 2008, this centre is equipped with patrol boats, installed with Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) sensitive coastline surveillance equipment and radio manned by retired Navy commissioned officer and a helicopter for its services. The centre was commissioned by the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization because it also serves the nation’s regional obligations on Search and Rescue. The centre has over 24 dedicated trained staff.
  2. Joint Rescue Coordinating Centre (JRCC) in collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) was also commissioned in 2008 at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
  3. Regional SAR Centres (RSCs) expected to be at six locations along the coast in order to have a good coverage of its coastal waters, but two are located in Oron and Lokoja, manned by trained staff of the agency and keeping 24 hours radio watch keep.

,NIMASA Deep Blue Project:

The recent deep blue project of NIMASA launched by the president has high-profile equipment and facilities principally for security activities – It is a significant response to the international pressure on the nation’s maritime security challenges. However the consequential benefits of the project will significantly enhance coastal and territorial safety, search  and rescue services of the nation. Some of these include:

  1. Special mission vessels,
  2. 17 fast interceptor boats.
  3. Special mission aircrafts, unmanned air vehicles and special mission helicopters.
  4. Land assets: 16 armoured vehicles, 340 personnel intervention team; and
  5. Command and control centre with computer communication and intelligence surveillance equipment;
  6. Various relevant training programmes

 Other organs and safety support in the maritime domain of Nigeria;

Federal Ministry of Transport Agencies are structured to give obligatory support for safety of life and in particular search and rescue services along with their core functions. The efficient performance of their functions and optimal utilization of facilities will inadvertently provide search and rescue services.

According to the Police Act, one of the responsibilities and duties of the Nigerian Police is to provide safety of life and property and also to carry out such military functions as may be authorised. Check the web site

National Inland Waterway Authority (NIWA) administration is in collaboration with the Nigerian Police Force. A police unit command is seconded and working with the Authority. The operation, services and presence of NIWA covers the territorial waters, estuaries and all navigable rivers of the country.

Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) administration is in collaboration with a police unit command on secondment. The authority is empowered to operate and own the landed areas of coastline of Nigeria within a defined baseline. Although the authority is not designated to provide search and rescue services, it has an obligation to render these services to any person at sight in distress or imminent danger.

Some of the nation’s organs operating with owned vessels for their core statutory functions but that are statutory obliged to assist persons at site in distress and provide aid in any waterways and coast of Nigeria, include:

  • The Nigerian Navy
  • Nigerian Marine Police Force
  • The Nigeria Customs services
  • The Nigerian Immigration Service
  • The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency
  • The State Security Service
  • Fishing vessels in Nigeria Territorial and Economic Zone


There is no justification for progressing with this bill. The effective implementation of the provision of search and rescue (SAR) services should be the subject of discussion. This can be addressed by inviting the primary executing agency to provide implementation plan for the function and perhaps discussions with the other secondary agencies concerned listed above. The scope of the plan should include the nation municipal needs,

  1. Coast guards and lifeguards for the coast and navigable estuaries and rivers banks;
  2. Coordinating centres and sub centres;
  3. Jurisdiction mapping;
  4. Manning and volunteer participation (state and local government collaboration);
  5. Incentives, training, codes of conduct (rights and privileges);
  6. Seminars and awareness campaign;
  7. Facilities;
  8. Investigation and reporting;
  9. Regulations, gazetting and notices.

A well articulated plan will not only provide for safety of life and wellbeing of the citizens but also provide a sustainable foundation for maritime security provided it is executed by competent staff. The high profile approach for the implementation of this function has put in jeopardy the necessary municipal structure for a more effective Search and Rescue services.

As for the other mandates the bill seeks to provide, the various organs in the maritime domain already have those mandates. If any do not appear to be effective, the Assembly should take the necessary steps to perform their oversight and audit function.  Laws made to drive a policy should be followed up by those who made the law to ensure that the policy is delivered and sustained. Let us put away and forget this obnoxious bill for the sake of good order.

Engr.I. Olu. Akinsoji – M.Sc., FNSE: Master’s degree in Maritime Safety Administration, WMU1984/85; Former DG-Government Inspector of shipping; APR-IMO

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