Towards an Enhanced, Secure Maritime Environment

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Chiemelie Ezeobi, who reviewed the five year scorecard of the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, reports that amidst daunting challenges, the service has lived up to the strategic mandate it emplaced on fleet renewal, infrastructural development, as well as human resource management towards a secure maritime environment for enhanced national prosperity

Although 70 per cent of Nigeria’s economic growth lies on the waterways, the maritime domain is often fraught with the challenges of maritime illegalities ranging from piracy, sea robbery, smuggling, illegal fishing to crude oil theft and others.

Asides protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity, the NN also contributes its quota at the regional level, by patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, which is a vast expanse of water stretching almost 6,000km from Senegal to Angola.

To tackle this, the Nigerian Navy has had to patrol the endless miles of waterways despite some major challenges like shortage of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), budget constraints, inadequate local ship building capacity for constructing naval vessels and inadequate surveillance.

But today, some of these challenges are gradually becoming a thing of the past especially when it comes to fleet acquisition, surveillance and ship building capacity.

This is because fleet renewal, infrastructural development and human resource management and administration towards a secure maritime environment for enhanced national prosperity have been the thrust of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, who has in the last five years placed premium

in transforming the navy into a service well equipped to tackle contemporary challenges.

Mandate at Decoration

At the decoration ceremony of the CNS and other service chiefs in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had charged them with a strategic mandate to brace up and continuously team up with other stakeholders to come up with a well-coordinated joint effort to address the insurgency and insecurity.

He further urged them to ensure judicious use of resources and treat the welfare of troops and professionalism as uppermost priority. Accordingly, they were to ensure that operational efforts meet existing rules and regulations of international standard.

They were also to take all measures to ensure the safety and protection of innocent civilians in theatres of conflict as well as respect for the rights of captured combatants to earn the support of local communities and the respect of allies and the international community.

The beggars the question- How far has the navy under the leadership of the present CNS fared? Will history judge him fairly? These questions get an emphatic yes from the Director of Naval Information (DINFO), Commodore Suleman Dahun. According to him, the ethos and policy thrust of the CNS has always been to place high premium on operational availability of ships and platforms, training and motivation of personnel, a pledge he has over time fulfilled.

Vision and Mission

Following the strategic mandate of the president, an assessment of the maritime security situation indicated that there was a compelling need for the Nigerian Navy to evolve new approaches to combating the spate of insecurity in the maritime environment.

Hence, the CNS articulated his vision ‘To develop a credible naval power in fulfillment of the Nigerian Navy’s constitutional roles towards enhancing national prosperity and security’.

He further went on to complement this with a mission statement which is ‘To deploy a naval force that is well trained, organised and highly motivated to discharge its constitutional roles professionally and efficiently for the defence of Nigeria in ensuring her economic prosperity’.

Strategic Directives

Drawing from the president’s strategic mandate, the CNS promulgated his Strategic Directive 1 which focused on eight key priority areas to be achieved by the Nigerian Navy under his command.

This covered directives in areas of operations, fleet renewal, logistics, infrastructural development and human resource development among others, including specific tasks to be accomplished by the branches, commands, establishments and units within specified time frame.

Given the success of the Strategic Directive 1, the CNS afterwards promulgated Strategic Directive 2 in 2016.

Achievements

Having set targets and baselines for the realisation of the CNS’ vision and mission for the service, in line with the president’s strategic directives, the navy has attained significant achievements in identified key areas.

Thus, the navy has in the last five years made giant strides as evidenced in the increased number of arrested vessels engaged in various maritime illegalities. Also, the reduction in piracy incidences from 70 in 2016 to 11 in August 2020, which was achieved through navy’s sustained presence as well as various operations conducted, further demonstrates the capability of the NN to secure Nigeria’s maritime area of interest.

Furthermore, the seizure of 89,166 bags of foreign rice valued at about N2 billion is in line with the federal government’s effort to stem rice smuggling in the country in order to encourage local production.

Additionally, the anti-crude oil theft/illegal bunkering operations of the NN as at August 2020 successfully immobilised 5,019 illegal refineries, saving the nation over N695 billion worth of crude oil. According to the DINFO, the NN was able to achieve these milestones with an annual average of 25,574 hours of maritime patrol as well as conduct of over 38 major maritime operations.

Aside these operations, the navy is also involved in Defence Headquarters-led operations such as Operations LAFIYA DOLE, HADARIN DAJI, WHIRL STROKE, DELTA SAFE and most recently OperationACCORD, amongst others towards addressing various security challenges in the nation.

The service has recently recorded notable milestones through capacity building in indigenous navigational chart production with the production of two indigenous navigational charts covering parts of Nigerian waters as well as operational charts covering the entire Niger Delta region.

The navy has also commenced work on the production of electronic versions of these charts to facilitate their formal validation internationally and eventual release. This proficiency has enhanced operational activities across the nation’s l maritime environment, particularly within the backwaters.

Bolstered by this capacity, the Nigerian Navy is currently on the verge of formalising arrangement with the National Inland Waterways Authority for the dredging and charting of the nation’s inland waters, as facilitated by NEXIM Bank.

In addition to various tangible achievements over the last five years, there have been numerous intangible attainments, particularly in the areas of NN concepts and organisation. The introduction of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Maritime Criminals has been a real game changer in enhancing cooperation among maritime law enforcement agencies under the leadership of the NN.

Maritime jurisdiction has been further boosted by the president’s assent of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, 2019. This is the first legal instrument in the entire West African region and it is already being put to test with the recent successful conviction of three out of nine suspected pirates that hijacked an Equatorial Guinea flagged vessel, MV ELOBEY VI by a Federal High Court Port Harcourt.

The navy has also recorded successes in fleet renewal, infrastructural development and human resource management and administration towards a secure maritime environment for enhanced national prosperity within the period under review.

But the CNS would rather not take the glory for these achievements. He would rather make it known that these successes would not have been possible without the untiring support of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Operations

In terms of operations, the NN has conducted a total of 38 operations from 2015 to August 2020, which have substantially improved security in Nigeria’s waters. These operations led to the arrest of over 364 vessels suspected of committing various infractions within the maritime domain with 13 of these vessels already forfeited to the FGN and 224 vessels handed over to prosecuting agencies.

Three dedicated NN operations, TSARE TEKU, CALM WATERS, RIVER SWEEP amongst others have reduced piracy incidences in Nigerian waters from 70 in 2016 to only 11 attacks as at August 2020.

The NN anti-piracy operations led to the arrest of a total of 116 pirates and rescue of numerous vessels from pirate attack at sea. However, landmark opposed boarding of MT MAXIMUS in 2016, MSC GRACE in January 2020, MV MSC FLORIANA in April 2020 and MV HAILUFENG II recently in May 2020 have reinforced the pre-eminent position of the NN and Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea.

Notably, the recent joint rescue of a merchant tanker, MT TOMMI RITSCHER, by Nigerian and Benin Republic Navies in Benin Republic waters gave effect to the activation of the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E, among member states Benin, Togo, Nigeria and Niger Republic.

The NN also increased routine patrols within the last 5 years. From 2015 to August 2020, Nigerian Navy ships have clocked annual average of 25,574hrs at sea. This has led to appreciable decrease in maritime related criminal activities within the maritime domain.

The Nigerian Navy has made considerable gains in its anti-smuggling operations within the period under review. These efforts redoubled in the past 4 years due to closer collaboration with other stakeholders under the auspices of Operation SWIFT RESPONSE. In support of national effort against the illegal importation of foreign rice, a total of 89,166 bags of foreign rice valued at about N2 billion have been arrested so far.

The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities made up of the Falcon Eye (established by the FGN – Office of the National Security Adviser) and Regional Maritime Awareness Capability have greatly improved the navy’s surveillance capacity while serving as force multipliers.

Presently, the service carries out round the clock surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime space using surface vessels, helicopters and the robust MDA infrastructure. This has increasingly assisted the navy’s patrol efforts particularly quick response capability and effective tracking and arrest of many vessels involved in maritime related crimes.

The navy has also performed creditably well in the fight against crude oil theft and illegal bunkering. On the whole, the value of POL products the Nigerian Navy saved from being stolen from 2015 to August 2020 is estimated at N695 Billion.

The navy has effectively checked the incursion of illegal fishing within the five nautical miles of the nation’s maritime environment to protect artisanal fishermen. There has also been progressive increase in fishing from 2016 after years of decline due to insecurity at sea.

Fleet Renewal

Under the Buhari Administration, the Nigerian Navy witnessed extensive procurement of platforms of different types and mix. The government funded the procurement of 267 flat bottomed, assault, rigid hull, riverine patrol and whaler boats. Importantly, about 170 of these riverine patrol boats were built in-country, thus complementing indigenous shipbuilding capacity, employment generation and skills acquisition.

Following the successful commissioning of a second locally built Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) NNS KARADUWA in 2016, local-shipbuilding is being further enhanced through the indigenous construction of a 43m SDB and two logistic supply vessels which are programmed to join the service later this year 2020.

The navy has also deployed 12 Naval Security Stations along the nation’s coastline in areas prone to illegalities under the Choke Point Regime and Control operations.

Additionally, this administration facilitated the procurement of 25 fast attack craft, seaward defence boats and inshore patrol craft. Furthermore, one survey ship, one offshore patrol vessel and one landing ship tank are being expected to join the Nigerian Navy fleet soon while one AW 139 Leonardo helicopter has already been delivered.

Similarly, the NN built two self-propelled barges, three tug boats and acquired a total of 168 outboard engines with their spares. Cumulatively, the fleet renewal effort of the navy under the Buhari administration has led to the procurement of well over 300 platforms of various types and mix.

Infrastructural Development

As part of efforts to enhance its capacity to effectively deliver on her mandate to protect the nation’s maritime environment and motivate her personnel for improved output, the service embarked on numerous infrastructural, administrative and welfare projects.

Notably, over 400 construction and related projects have been undertaken from 2015 -August 2020 with over 80 per cent of these projects completed and others are at various stages of completion. A key infrastructural project is the reconstruction of NNS BEECROFT Jetty Apapa, Lagos, which provides berthing facility for the bulk of Nigerian Navy ships within the Western Naval Command area of responsibility.

Jetties at Naval Shipyard Limited Port Harcourt, Under Water Warfare School Ojo, NOP KOLUAMA and other Forward Operating Bases are at various stages of completion. The activation of Joint Venture between the Nigerian Navy and China Ship Building and Offshore International Limited for the construction of an integrated workshop at Nigerian Naval Shipyard and provision of floating dock has further boosted the navy’s infrastructural capacity to build and maintain its platforms.

In terms of housing and barracks accommodation, the navy has also within the period under review engaged in the extensive housing development for personnel accommodation and other welfare projects. These include the construction of over 2,500 housing units across the country, several of which have been completed and commissioned.

Some completed projects include hundreds of Compressed Earth Bricks buildings at Atimbo Barracks in Calabar, Kuje Barracks in Abuja and NNS LUGARD in Lokoja. Others include various units of accommodation for officers and ratings at Kubwa, Navy Town Asokoro Abuja and Navy Town Lagos. Institutional houses are also under construction for Commanders and Chief Boatswain Mates of operational commands as well as armouries, sports centres and worship centres at most Nigerian Navy bases, Forward Operating Bases and Nigerian Navy schools.​

Human Resource Management and Administration

In contributing to human resource development in Nigeria, the navy has established the Admiralty University of Nigeria (ADUN) Ibusa, Delta State, the Naval War College in Calabar and the Nigerian Navy Military School Ikot Ituen, in Akwa Ibom State. Nigerian Navy Primary and Secondary Schools have also been established in Kaduna, Bauchi, Rivers, Sokoto and Bayelsa States.

The navy also commissioned the Naval Base in Lokoja and a 150 units barracks in Banda, Lokoja, Kogi State, just as the president commissioned an ultramodern Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital in Calabar in 2018, after 40 years of neglect. This includes the installation of Endoscope Suite at the Hospital to attend to critical surgical needs using 21st Century equipment that ensure minimal access/invasive procedure. The service also constructed an Imaging Centre at Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital Ojo, Lagos and upgraded Nigerian Navy hospitals inWarri and Port Harcourt with modern diagnostic equipment.

The navy has also established a COVID-19 Treatment and Isolation Centre on June 1, 20 in Lagos to cater for NN personnel infected with the virus, in support of the national effort.

Prospects

Not done with transforming the navy, the CNS is poised to effectively address emerging challenges for improved operational efficiency, through articulation of new perspectives taking cognisance of past experiences, current operational realities and the contemporary strategic security environment.

Accordingly, with due consciousness of the limited resource allocation in the face of other compelling national needs, navy’s future policy direction will seek to optimise technology, broaden its partnership and funding base for effective delivery of maritime security. Some of these future prospects include further investing MDA as a force multiplier towards enhanced operational efficiency and improved surveillance capacity, which will thus save the huge cost associated with prolonged presence at sea.

The navy also intends to develop hydrographic survey capacity beyond mere surveys to the production of relevant charts to incorporating data relevant to the blue economy and national security.

Despite the current gains in fleet renewal, the navy plans to re-position the Nigerian Navy Air Arm to better support the navy’s operations. Going forward, the navy also seeks to strengthen ongoing discussions with Original Equipment Manufacturers to commence local shipbuilding within the country as a sustainable means of guaranteeing fleet availability and readiness.

In the future, the navy will also continue to strengthen existing collaboration with regional and global navies, Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies and the organised private sector.

This partnership, it is hoped, would strengthen maritime governance, Maritime Law Enforcement, and enhance capacity building in operations, burden sharing and exchange of intelligence to ensure improved security in the Gulf of Guinea in Nigeria’s national interest.

From the performance of the Nigerian Navy in the past five years, it is evident that the strategic mandate has largely been accomplished but the navy can achieve more with enhanced resource allocation given the increasing complexities of maritime threats within the nation’s maritime area of interest.