Merchant Navy associations are kicking against their recent blanket categorization as illegal and subsequent clampdown and proscription by the Nigerian Navy.
Leading the protest is the Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNOWTSSA) which submitted that it is not part of those the Federal Government proscribed.
The body claimed that its creation is backed by law and cannot be proscribed. The Nigerian Navy listed the proscribed maritime outfits operating illegally in the nation to include: Nigerian Merchant Navy, Nigerian Merchant Navy Coastal Defence Force, Nigerian Coast Guard, Merchant Navy Maritime Academy, Nigerian Merchant Navy Coast Guard Security and Safety Corps, Maritime Security Agency as well as Nigerian Maritime Law Enforcement Agency, among others.
The President of NMNOWTSSA Engr Bob Yousuo in a chat with our correspondent stressed that his association is fully backed by law and cannot be proscribed.
Yousuo noted that the association has severally drawn the attention of the Government and public to the activities of illegal outfits and associations impersonating the Nigerian Merchant Navy to perpetuate illegalities.
Yousou stated that the Nigerian Merchant Navy is not a security outfit, but a body of Nigerian seafarers and sailors fully recognized by the Federal Government and affiliated with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Trade Union Congress (TUC).
“We are the Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association; this means that we are Nigerian sailors or seafarers. We are not a security outfit. We are concerned with the promotion and development of the welfare of Seafarers. We cannot be proscribed because we are backed by law. We are recognized by the Federal Government and fully affiliated and recognized by the ITF and TUC.
He however acknowledged that some unscrupulous groups claim to be merchant navy and have been impersonating the authentic merchant navy group.
“It is quite unfortunate that we have many illegal outfits and associations out there fronting the name Merchant Navy to perpetuate illegalities. Many schools and institutions are giving out uniforms to people to operate illegally. Unfortunately, Nigerians believe they can only succeed with the use of uniforms to harass people.
“We don’t have the power to arrest or detain. We have written several letters to the government, the Nigerian Navy and other relevant authorities about this misrepresentation and illegal activities of these fake institutions and associations. We have also had several press conferences to inform the public about their illegal activities.
“Some call themselves Merchant Navy, Coast Guard and the likes. What are they guarding? These are illegal outfits and they should be proscribed. Now that the Nigerian Navy is taking action against them, it is a welcome development. The NMNOWTSSA is not a security outfit. We are Nigerian sailors and we cannot be proscribed”, Yousuo declared.
On his part, the Secretary General of another body of seafarers; the Merchant Seafarers Association of Nigeria (MESAN), Captain Alfred Oniye blamed the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) for the proliferation of illegal maritime outfits in the country.
He stressed that there are requirements and conventions set out by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for maritime security, adding that the CAC needs to do some basic background checks before issuing licenses and certificates to these outfits.
“The Nigerian Navy is right to say ‘fake Merchant Navy’. We cannot deny the fact that we have fake Merchant and Sail Navy everywhere and we also cannot deny the fact that there are some Merchant Navy personnel who are carrying out fake maritime security jobs. We have fake security personnel everywhere. That is the same way we have fake Nigeria Navy too who carry arms, wear camouflage and do escort jobs, but the Nigerian Navy is not looking into that. Why are they poking their nose into Merchant Navy affairs instead of looking into their own affairs? The Nigerian Navy knows what to do. They have the right to arrest and charge them. It is like the Nigerian Navy is just waking up from their sleep.
“Some of these security outfits are even registered by CAC and the CAC which registered them doesn’t even know the rudiments of maritime. The CAC has also contributed to the problem on ground because they don’t have a deep understanding of the maritime sector”.
He admitted that “registering these organizations is like deceiving the public that there is another Navy apart from the Nigerian Navy and Merchant Navy”.
Reacting to the proliferation of different associations, Oniye said “the law permits you to have freedom of association, but that is not a license to breach the country’s security. Many people have pulled out of the Nigeria Merchant Navy Association which is normal. If their mandate is not in line with your vision, and they are not protecting your right, you have the right to opt-out, join any association or establish your own that can protect you. But what matters most is that everybody is operating within the scope of the law.
“The Nigeria Merchant Navy and Water Transport Senior Staff Association is not superior to anybody. They are established by the Trade Union Act which is still the home of many Merchant Navies, but it is not the Union that makes you a Merchant Navy, it is a professional body. The Nigeria Merchant Navy and Water Transport Senior Staff Association is a Union under Trade Union, but that is not what makes you a Merchant Navy. You become a Merchant Navy once you are trained, certified and recognized by IMO because it is a professional field”, Oniye argued.
Also speaking, the immediate past President of NMNOWTSSA, Engr. Matthew Alalade opined that the Nigerian Navy is aware of the location and activities of these miscreants. He alleged that some of the retired officials in the security agencies are the ones backing them up.
Alalade urged the Navy and other security agencies to employ their intelligence and go after illegal maritime outfits to prevent them from defrauding unsuspecting people.