By Izuchukwu Ozoemena in Abuja
The imperatives of the Maritime Seminar for Judges dwell on the basic and contemporary skills and knowledge of the complex and dynamic subject of Admiralty Law and Practice as it affects the administration of justice. The adjudicatory duties of a judicial officer can only be performed optimally when he remains up-to-date with emerging trends in jurisprudence pertaining to this specialized area of the law.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute, Mr Justice Walter Onnoghen stated this as the guest of honour at the opening ceremonies of the 15th international maritime seminar for judges holding in Abuja. He disclosed that for centuries, activities in the maritime sector have been driven by diverse bodies of laws.
“The several respectable international conventions and treaties on the subject make the sector always evolving. The domestication of some of the principles of International Admiralty Laws into Nigerian legal framework as contained in the United Nations Convention on Carriage of Goods by Sea (Ratification and Enforcement Act), Merchant Shipping Act, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria Act, among others, are significant milestones towards ground-breaking legal practice in this sector in Nigeria”.
He said the inclusion of the Draft Convention on Recognition of Foreign Judicial Sale of Ships as part of the discussions was imperative taking into account the need to effectively secure maritime claims and enforce foreign judgments and arbitration awards or other enforceable documents against ship owners.
In his address, the Attorney- General and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, stated that the bi-annual Maritime Seminar for Judges has proved to be a very successful initiative within the context of the efforts by the National Judicial Council and other stakeholders to encourage the training of Nigerian judges and legal practitioners in specialized fields of legal practice such as Maritime Law.
Nigeria must continue to develop the requisite human capacity, he pointed out, to take advantage of opportunities in the maritime sector in view of the fundamental role the sector plays in facilitating the conduct of global trade and commerce in which the country is a key participant.
“If our judges lack the requisite training and competence to adjudicate in maritime disputes in a fair and effective manner, it will, no doubt, lead to a loss of confidence in the Nigerian business environment with negative consequences for the citizens and the government.”
He praised the Nigerian Shippers’ Council for interpreting her statutory role in a broad manner that recognizes the role the judiciary can play to ensure a safe maritime sector that is regulated in a fair manner. The Nigerian maritime space, he said, continues to play a significant role in the economic development of Nigeria and in the daily welfare of her people.
“In the light of our reliance on the oil and gas industry as well as our increasing focus on non-oil exports which are all activities which require a safe and predictable maritime landscape, all agencies and institutions charged with the diverse facets of the responsibility for maintaining the sanctity of our national maritime space must play their roles diligently and patriotically to ensure our national survival.”
The Attorney General referred to daunting challenges which manifest in situations such as piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, oil theft and illegal bunkering, smuggling of diverse goods using the water channels, undeclared and under-declared revenues that should ordinarily accrue to the public treasury from users of ports and Nigeria’s sea routes.
“Unlicensed and unregulated fishing within our waters by foreign interests, gun-running and trafficking in persons, among others, are challenges which need to be tackled through the appropriate synergy between the regulatory and security agencies on ground and the judiciary which wields the ultimate baton of sanctions over persons who are prosecuted for such offences.” He said all must work hard to improve the litigation turnaround time in maritime disputes against the backdrop of extensive resources which may be lost by affected parties when litigation or arbitration drags on for too long.