The recent wake of insecurity in Nigeria both on land and Nigerian waters is of grave concern to business stakeholders and industrial players alike. Of particular note is the high rate of piracy and armed attacks on vessels either trading within or calling to Nigeria. Unfortunately, the relevant security agencies seem to be overwhelmed with the challenges as the problem appears to foster rather than diminish.
This has prompted stakeholders to look inwards to deal with the menace by providing security outfits which would collaborate with the law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem. The reason for this is not far-fetched; as private outfits, have the finance and the needed funding required to arrange for necessary logistics and manpower. This has seen the emergence of various private security companies in recent times.
As foreign investment is a large contributor to the Nigerian economy, foreign assets such as vessels either trading in Nigerian territorial waters or calling at Nigerian ports have not been spared in the attacks. It is therefore not out of place for stakeholders, having seemed to lost confidence in the relevant law enforcement agencies to consider setting up private security companies who would partner with the relevant security agency in order to adequately protect their interests. For instance, for stakeholders in the maritime world, the practice that has become popular in recent times is for vessels interests to engage the services of private security companies who would partner with the Nigerian Navy under a private arrangement. The private security companies will provide the needed logistics such as patrol boats, feeding expenses etc for Navy personnel to patrol and secure their interests.
The constitutional viability of this arrangement however has been a subject of debate among certain quarters. This is because both the Naval Act and the Nigerian constitution does not recognize such arrangement and therefore, many have tagged it as an illegal arrangement. On the flip side though, there is the argument that the Nigerian Navy reserves the exclusive right of securing Nigerian territorial waters and since Naval personnel are deployed for such purpose, its establishing Act technically recognizes it. There is presently yet to be an official pronouncement, judicial or otherwise on the issue as at the time of writing this article.
At the foreign front however, in order to curb piracy generally particularly in the West African coast of Africa, the international Maritime Organization has come up with initiatives such having armed guard escorts on board trading vessels. Unfortunately, this arrangement seems not to have been welcome by the Nigerian government as it has frowned at it. No fewer than twenty vessels have been detained by the government agencies on account of having foreign guards on board armed or unarmed therefore making vessels to be vulnerable to attacks on the waters.
The question whether foreigners with investments such as vessels either trading in Nigerian territorial waters or calling at Nigerian ports can also participate or operate private security outfits has emerged in recent times. The Private Guards Companies Act No. 2 of 2003 as amended by Act No. 6 0f 2007 (Act) makes provisions for individuals to operate private security companies upon obtaining the relevant statutory licences. With these licences, private companies are able to partner with the relevant law enforcement agency. Section 13 of the Act specifically restricts the grant of licence to certain individuals including foreigners. The Private Guards Companies Regulations 2018 reinforces this provision in Regulation 29 thereof. The probable reason for this could be that matters of security of a Nation are delicate and highly sensitive matters which any sovereign nation would be careful about placing in the hands of foreigners.
It can be reasonably argued that this may tend to discourage foreign participation in maritime sector however, until the laws are amended to accommodate the involvement of foreigners in private security companies, as evidently the above provisions clearly exclude foreigners from operating private security companies, it would be unlawful for any foreigner to operate a private security company.