Nigerians, at the weekend, hailed the termination of the controversial $195 million security contract to an Israeli company, HSLi, perceived as a ploy to cede Nigeria’s territorial waters to a foreign security outfit.
In the memo to the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari, directing the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to revoke the contract, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the National Security Adviser and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) to investigate how the contractor obtained security clearance for the job without an end-user certificate.
The president also ordered that the contractor should be made to supply items equivalent to the $50 million upfront payment which it received recently.
The deal which was the brainchild of the Minister of Transportation, Mr Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, attracted a torrent of criticisms from Nigerians who saw some underhand dealings in it.
The contract, signed off by the Federal Executive Council in December 2017, would have seen the contractor, HSLi, net $195 million in exchange for an undisclosed number of special mission aircraft, special mission helicopters and 12 fast intervention vessels for the Nigerian Navy.
Reports said that the contract would see Nigeria acquire three helicopters, three aircraft, three big battle-ready ships, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious cars to secure Nigerian waters.
Many saw the whole contract as a scam directed at accumulating fund for purposes not known to many Nigerians.
It was against this backdrop that the National Assembly and other stakeholders queried the rationale behind a contract which did not get the approval of the National Assembly nor passed through the Head of Service.
The wrong intention in the business, therefore, justified Nigerians’ strong disapproval of the covenant which the minister entered into with the Israeli firm.
But the former Rivers State Governor, had argued, while signing the deal that the three-year contract would see the firm train the Nigerian military personnel on water security, saying the intervention will save the nation a huge security cost. The likes of Mearsk line Shipping firm, he said, spend between $15 million and $18 million annually on escorts
“Security is a major challenge globally especially in the Gulf of Guinea. There have been major concerns and developments to address the issues of maritime security along the Gulf of Guinea. Various initiatives, actions, programmes and centres/organisations have been developed and established to counter this insecurity. This administration has seen the need for all relevant maritime agencies to synergise to improve efficiency in our ports.” he said.
No sooner than he finish speaking than the House of Representatives and other stakeholders asked him to produce the documents of the contract.
The failure to produce the contract documents became an issue in the maritime industry until last week when the contract was revoked.
According to the chairman of International Freight Forwarders Association (IFFA, Apapa), Dr Patrick Chukwu, the termination of the contract was in the best interest of Nigerians.
“It is the best thing so far the government has done. Ceding our territorial waters to a foreign country is not the best. It is like leaving our country bare to another country” he said.
Also, President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Comrade Lucky Amiwero said that while the termination is good news for the country, the Federal Government has to redesign the maritime safety architecture.
“We have to redesign our maritime safety properly in line with what we have in America. In America you have the Coast Guard. But here we don’t have the Coast Guard. What we have is NIMASA and the Navy. There is need for us to rejig our laws and bring them back into international best practice. If you look at that contract, it was geared towards a political contract.
“Cancelling it is better but the government must look into how those facilities can be provided within that area to accommodate some of the changes that are not there because if actually the navy has all those instruments they will perform. They can work on the sea; the army can work on the land.
What they (navy) have is the sea and the air. So, there must be some air surveillance which the navy has capability for. Those things are best when they are a national asset.
“So, if they are political assets, they are not too good. I think the navy should be incorporated into security and see how it will serve the national interest instead of bringing an Israeli company and all the rest. There is need to rejig our laws and see what is happening in America and see how we can implement the work of Coast Guard and how we can implement it in Nigeria.
“NIMASA also has enforcement right. But the right they have is a civilian enforcement right. So, we need a military enforcement right so that it can protect Nigerian territorial integrity like wother countries. There is need for us to look at what is happening all over the world and see how we can implement that in Nigeria. We should see what they have provided there and see how they can be provided to go into our national asset so that they can be controlled by the navy” he submitted.
In her remarks, a stakeholder who preferred anonymity submitted that although it is good to terminate the contract, the government should not throw away the baby with the bathwater. There are other good aspects of the contract such as training and equipment which the navy lacks.
She argued that the Israelis brought in some innovations into the security machinery of the government which should not be neglected. She advised the government to see how it can incorporate these innovations into the navy and other security agents.