The Senate yesterday raised the alarm over a contract by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to an Israeli security firm, HSLI, to police the nation’s waterways at a total cost of $198million.
The senators queried Rear Admiral Tariworio Dick, who represented the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas, at a joint investigative hearing on the activities of the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) which hitherto provided security services at the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) at the Lagos Port.
The OMSL had been providing security at the SAA to international oil companies’ vessels before their service was suspended by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
A member of the committee, Senator Tolu Odebiyi, had said that Nigerians are aware that a foreign firm has been imported into the country to carry out security services for some of Nigerian government agencies, notwithstanding the position of the Navy that only indigenous companies are allowed to render security services in the seas around Nigeria.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Senator George Sekibo, who also chaired the joint committee – comprising the Senate committees on Finance and Marine Transport – however put the question more pungently in his follow up.
Sekibo said: “Are you aware that NIMASA has given a contract called Deep Blue Sea to an Israeli company, HLSI, to the tune of $195.3million for promoting security of the riverine areas? I have the contract number here. Are you aware
Dick said: “I am aware that there is a contract like that ongoing and that facilities are being provided. I am aware.”
When asked if the firm is to secure Nigerian waterways or provide platforms for the Nigerian Navy, Dick said: “For me, the aspect I have seen is that they are providing some platforms for the Nigerian Navy which we are going to use.”
When further asked by Sekibo whether the Israeli company is going to provide security for Nigeria or to carry arms, Dick said: “The vessels they are providing for us have not arrived Nigeria, but there will be weapons on these vessels.”
When asked who will man the vessels by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Solomon Adeola, the Naval Chief said: “The vessels will be manned by Nigerian Navy personnel. As I speak, one of the vessels is on the way. We have nine of our personnel on board that vessel.”
“You have informed us that there are ammunitions on board on that vessel which does not belong to the Nigerian Navy? Adeola further queried.
“What I said is that I am aware that it exists. I am aware that the vessel is on the way. I am aware that the vessel will be armed. I didn’t tell you where the arms are now…,” Dick said.
Senator Francis Alimikhena sought to know whether contracting a foreign firm to provide maritime security will not be a breach on the national security of the country.
On her part, Senator Betty Apiafi remarked that “The Navy has told us that internationally, foreign merchants are not allowed. Then why are they allowing this?”
At this point, the Chairman of the Committee, Sekibo, intervened; saying some of the questions being asked by Senators would be better addressed during the Committee’s meeting.
Sekibo said: “Dear colleagues, we have heard enough from the Navy. Please, when we go into our meeting, we will download these ones from our brains, and then address them. We can’t address them here as if we are attacking the Navy and I am chairing this committee.”