UNODC collaborates with Nigeria to counter piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

Abuja, Nigeria - The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in collaboration with Interpol and US AFRICOM, is revving up cooperation with the Nigerian Government to ensure early passage of the Anti-Piracy Bill currently before the National Assembly; even as a mock trial was simulated as part of capacity building support for national partners. The bill, which was prepared by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, is designed to involve all the stakeholders in efforts to stave off piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Piracy has intensified in the Gulf of Guinea in 2018; not only in numbers but also in its approach. For instance, 22 cases of piracy attacks, including an attack that occurred to a 300,000 metric tons vessel were recorded in the first quarter of 2018. This means that the tactics, approaches and equipment used in piracy are advancing, making more ships vulnerable. In West Africa, piracy attacks take primarily the form of "oil bunkering", which differ from the typical piracy attacks of the Horn of Africa that mostly involve armed attacks on commercial vessels. The UNODC's experience in maritime capacity building and regional coordination, plus the lessons learned from the East Africa piracy experience makes the Maritime Crime Programme uniquely placed to assist States to face the challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. 

In light of the project 'Strengthening the Transnational Response to Smuggling of Migrants and Maritime Crime in West, North and East Africa', a piracy case mock trial was held in Abuja, Nigeria from the 27 th to the 30 th of June 2018 and led by the Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP). A mock trial consists imitation of public court hearings that prepares a group of practitioners to address piracy cases under a specific legal system. The case took place in front of the Federal High Court. The case was taken by the Federal prosecutor before the Federal Judges. The mock trial was constituted of five young federal prosecutors, of whom two were women and three were men. Their role was to argue against a team of six colleagues, all women, acting as defence counsel, and five judges, out of the two were women.

The Marine Police and Navy officers were examined as witnesses, and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) officers were observers during the trial. The UNODC, in collaboration with Interpol and US AFRICOM, is revving up cooperation with the Nigerian Government to ensure early passage of the anti-piracy bill before the National Assembly. This new Anti-Piracy Bill before the National Assembly was used as the basic text for the prosecution of the mock trial. The bill defines the acts that are considered as piracy. It also elaborates on the application of the Act, the trial of offences and the bases for assuming jurisdiction. Additionally, it explains the process of seizure of Vessels and Aircraft used in Maritime Crime and the process of arrest, custody and preliminary inquiry into the facts of the offences.

To build this mock trial case, UNODC, jointly with INTERPOL and the United States Africa Command (US AFRICOM), planned and conducted sea and land exercises. During the sea exercise named Obangame 2018, a team of maritime law enforcement officers, trained and supported by INTERPOL, boarded a French Navy vessel named Premier-Maître L'Her from the Nigerian Navy Vessel NNS UNITY, to play the role of a pirated vessel. During the exercise, evidence was collected in pictures and statements were drafted within the supervision of INTERPOL. 

The sea and land exercises are part of a hands-on approach that promotes the active participation of the prosecutors, which provides them with an understanding of the structure of the criminal networks and their modus operandi. With this approach, the participants are able to apply the concepts learned and understand how advanced investigation techniques can be used to detect, examine and prosecute perpetrators of maritime crime. It is also an opportunity for the judiciary officials and law-enforcement agencies to experience many of the issues and evidential arguments that could arise in a genuine case.

After that, INTERPOL handed the results and evidence of the exercise to UNODC, which then set up the mock trial at the Federal High Court of Abuja, Nigeria, in cooperation with the Nigerian Ministry of Justice. 

The UNODC mentor embedded in the Nigerian Federal Department of Public Prosecution arranged all the details for the trial.