Nigerian Navy preparing for an exercise
For two days, stakeholders in the maritime sector gathered at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC) Jaji, near Kaduna to proffer solution to the security challenges in the maritime sector, John Shiklam writes
Despite the abundant maritime resources in the Gulf of Guinea, countries within the area have remained among the poorest in the world due to the pervasive activities of criminals which appears to continue unabated.
Thus, addressing the security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea has been a daunting task for the states within the Gulf because of several factors thereby depriving these countries, namely Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Ghana, Togo, Cote D’ivoire, and Benin Republic the economic benefits that come from the region.
It was because of the numerous security challenges hampering beneficial economic activities in the area and the need to proffer solution to it, that experts and stakeholders in the maritime sector within and outside the country gathered at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji near Kaduna to brainstorm on how best the security challenges could be best addressed.
The event was organised by the Department of Maritime Warfare of the AFCSC with the theme: “Improving National and Regional Cooperation for effective Maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea: A panacea for development”.
Many of those who spoke at occasion were unanimous on the fact that, for nations within the Gulf of Guinea, there was need for cooperation as well as deploying the required resources to tackle security challenges.
The Commandant of the AFCSC, AVM Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu in his welcome address did not mince words about the nature and complexity of contemporary maritime crimes such as piracy, terrorism and smuggling, which he noted have huge economic and security implications on most countries of the world.
Represented by the Deputy Commandant of the College, Rear Admiral Duke Osuofa, AVM Mu’azu, pointed out that it is impracticable for only one country to secure and protect the maritime environment due to the vastness of the sea, saying that focus must be shifted from a unilateral approach to a collaborative effort in securing maritime environment against common threat.
He charged countries in the Gulf of Guinea to pursue regional initiatives to achieve collective maritime security as well as solve maritime security problems.
In the same vein, the acting Minister of Defence, Dr. Mrs. Olusola Obada and her Liberian counterpart, Hon. Brownie Samukai (Jr) who spoke at the occasion called for pragmatic and closer collaboration among countries within the Gulf of Guinea to address the challenges in the region.
The minister who was represented by the Director of Navy in the Ministry of Defence, Mr Abiodun Salami, said the Gulf of Guinea was facing socio economic and environmental challenges that need to be tackled effectively. She maintained that the vast resources and potentials in the region were being undermined by multifaceted domestic, regional and international threats and vulnerabilities.
“Rather than contributing to stability and economic prosperity for the countries in the sub-region, pervasive insecurity in this resource laden maritime environment has resulted in more than $2 billion in annual financial losses, significantly constraining investment and economic prospect as well as growing crime and adverse political consequences.
“I am of the position that the security arrangements and paradigms of the past are no longer adequate. Today’s challenges are too diverse to be tackled alone; they require the capabilities and resources than any single nation can deliver.
In his submission, the Liberian Minister of National Defence Hon. Brownie Samukai maintained that countries within the Gulf of Guinea have hard choices to make if the situation in the region is to be brought under control. According to him, the development of maritime domain and protection of its natural endowment should not be relegated only to bureaucracy of national sovereignties.
“Successful regional cooperation is contingent on the political will of each country, when each country demonstrates consistent political will, regional efforts become easier and less bureaucratic.
“The way forward it now seems, makes it absolutely clear that countries in the region and elsewhere must develop the appropriate strategic imperatives that are clear, precise and achievable through cooperation.” he said.
Samukai stressed the need for each country to maximise its comparative advantage into synergies of capabilities, resources technology and information sharing as well as the establishment of adequate legal jurisprudence to ensure due process.
“Mechanism of cooperation should take steps to deliberately undermine those conditions and bureaucratic weaknesses that are exploited by vultures of our maritime environment” he added.
Also in his remarks, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime Services, Mr. Olugbenga Leke Oyewole, recalled that the current administration inherited a Maritime domain where violence against ships was near 70 per cent daily as the nation’s petroleum products came from neighbouring countries that neither produce nor export petroleum products.
Narrating Nigeria’s experience in the maritime sector, he said the country was rated next to Somalia in terms of insecurity; rampant crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism with its attendant negative economic impacts while foreign ships move in and out of the country at will without recourse to the national authorities
He attributed all these anomalies to poor inter-agency co-operation and collaboration as well as lack of synergy among Maritime agencies and rivalry among agencies of the same government.
“If the Armed Forces, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Maritime Administration And Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) will interconnect and jointly address on case by case basis, vessels within our territorial waters, their mission, operations and closely monitor arrivals and departures, we would have resolved insecurity and addressed economic challenges by over 65 per cent,” he added.
“Come to think of it, we often arrest people at our airports going out with hard drugs; we hardly arrest anybody coming in with the drugs. These drugs don’t grow in Nigeria and we do not have factories for them; how then do they come in? We have arrested a ship with 450kg of cocaine in our port. It was an extreme effrontery for the ship to bring such contraband as far as to the port” Oyewole said.
According to him, the situation in the maritime sector today, clearly underscores the fact that maritime security and national prosperity are inextricably linked together and called for tighter and formidable security in the nation’s maritime domain.
He said the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan in the Maritime Sector was targeted at emphasising policies and systems that naturally address the challenges, thereby minimizing dependence on human integrity which had been repeatedly engulfed and encrusted in the “business as usual” dynamics.
Also in a paper titled “Contemporary Maritime challenges in the Gulf of Guinea, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, Ambassador Martins Uhomoibhi noted that currently, the Gulf of Guinea faces several destabilizing factors and a challenging maritime security environment which include drug trafficking from South America, human trafficking of illegal aliens into Europe, irregular migrations, illegal fishing (Poaching) and pollution that threatens the coast and local food supply and piracy, all of which undermines the economies of the countries within the region
He recalled that at the height the Niger Delta militancy in Nigeria, more than 1000 deaths were recorded annually as well significant disruption of crude oil production and export, while numerous expatriate oil workers were being kidnapped and the entire Gulf of Guinea remains a major route for the trafficking of illegal drugs.
The International Maritime Bureau, he disclosed, listed the Gulf of Guinea as the second most violent coastline in the world after the Somali Coastline, principally because of its resource endowment and strategic importance as a shipping route.
He however lamented that the region currently lacks well articulated maritime security architecture, a situation which has impacted negatively on stability, human security and economic development.