OP Water Guard: The Nigerian Navy’s Resolute Move to Stamp out Cross Border Smuggling

In a resolute move to primarily stamp out cross border smuggling as well as piracy, oil theft, and other illicit activities plaguing the maritime space, the Western Naval Command, WNC, of the Nigerian Navy, NN, last week Thursday launched Operation WATER GUARD at the Badagry area of responsibility. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that it’s already yielding results with the arrest of three boats laden with 25,000 litres of stolen crude 

“We launched Operation Water Guard just last Thursday, November 9, 2023 and we have already arrested about three boats around 2.35 am on Friday,  November 10, 2023.”

Those were the words of the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command (WNC), Rear Admiral Mustapha Hassan, after operatives deployed for the newly inaugurated Operation WATER GUARD (OP WG) arrested and seized three boats laden with 25,000 litres of stolen crude last Friday. 

Flag off of Operation WATER GUARD

But what led to the arrest? The previous day being Thursday, November 9, 2023, the Nigerian Navy (NN) launched and deployed warships, aircrafts, gunboats to stamp out maritime smuggling.

According to the FOC, it was part of the  resolute move by the NN to primarily stamp out smuggling, piracy, oil theft, and other illicit activities plaguing the maritime space.

Deployed for the operation were four capital ships – Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) KADA, KANO, ABA and NGURU, as well as DB Vessel. Also, three NN Helicopters, four NN  Interceptor Boats, quad bikes, were deployed, all showcasing the navy’s robust capabilities in safeguarding Nigeria’s maritime space and the Gulf of Guinea

Prominent features of the operation include interdiction, beach patrols, VBSS, cordon and search, all geared towards sustained presence at sea to eliminate other maritime crimes, he posited.

Flagged off by the FOC at Ashipa Beach, Badagry axis of Lagos State, THISDAY gathered that it was in response to  escalating maritime threats in that area of responsibility (AOR).

According to Hassan, OP WG is a strategic initiative aligned with the NN’s   mandate to ensure the safety of Nigeria’s maritime environment, adding that the operation specifically targets the Badagry water and land axis around Ashipa, a border community to Benin Republic.

Already, the NN personnel of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Badagry, under the command of Captain Aiwuyor Adams-Aliu has arrested contraband goods particularly Premium Motor Spirit, drugs and foreign parboiled rice worth billions of naira from smugglers across the border. 

Given the increasing capacity of smuggled petroleum products, the FOC said these could have affected availability of petroleum products as well as jeopardise efforts of small and medium scale enterprises.  

Also, he added that the hard drugs in particular could have further affected health and stability of the citizens, thus, he said eradicating these menace prompted the operation, which covers the maritime environment and adjoining land areas. 

Fielding questions after the flag off, Rear Admiral Hassan further stated that the operation would ensure the nation’s maritime domain would be conducive during the yuletide period and beyond.

Soliciting for support, especially from the host communities, he further mentioned that the operation would not add to already established check points along the road but intelligence led checks would complement the sustained presence at sea. 

Apart from the fact that it is economic sabotage, he said it also poses treats of fire with consequences on life and property, which the NN remains resolute  to abate.  

He said: “Operation WATER GUARD stands as a testament to the Nigerian Navy’s  unwavering commitment to maritime security, under the leadership of the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla,  marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to protect the nation’s waters and ensure a safer maritime environment.”

Also speaking, the Commander NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Kolawole Oguntuga, said the deployment of troops and platforms will be sustained until the smuggling cartel is smoked out and stamped out.

Already, he said intelligence facilities deployed by Navy has already revealed perpetrators’ hideouts, showcasing images and videos capturing jerrycans stored in houses.  

He further noted that beyond intelligence-led patrol, the operation will rely on the Falcon Eye’s Maritime Domain Awareness to cover all areas at sea. 

Not dismissing the role of middle men and buyers in the smuggling syndicate, he said the navy will also go after them, as that will quickly fizzle out the racket of the smugglers. 

Giving the data of successes recorded from March 2023 to October under review, CO FOB Badagry, Captain Adams-Aliu said they had effected seven arrests, seized 59, 640 litres of PMS, 98 bags of foreign rice, and 40 bags of Cannabis Sativa also known as Marijuana, all valued at N81,267,400.

Other senior officers at the flag off were the Fleet Commander, WNC, Commodore Victor Choji and Commodore NS Lakan, the Command Operations Officer. 

Real Time Arrest

Commending the speed at which the newly launched OP WG has yielded considerable results barely a day after its inauguration, the FOC said the operation which was targeted at smuggling across the borders, saw the arrest and seizure of three boats laden with stolen petroleum products.

He said: “The vandals or saboteurs decided to tweak their plan a bit. Since we are dominating the Badagry area, they decided to go seawards to circumvent the Badagry forces, but the quick reactions team planted all around the Badagry coast to Epe axis, as well as an eye at sea using electro-optical devices and air assets, yielded results. 

“We have over 500 50 litre jerry cans arrested which was about 25,000 litres. We have made our arrests and we will not relent until they see that we are serious. We will continue to arrest. Once they know that we are dominating, they might want to explore other avenues perhaps the land borders. I have spoken to the General Officer Commanding 81 Division about that possibility and we will still take action against them.”

Also, Rear Admiral Hassan said they are harnessing all available intelligence to get to the kingpins, suppliers, middlemen and buyers of the smuggled products. 

The Menace of Smuggling 

The menace of smuggling has become a huge global phenomenon which has continued to impact on the fortunes of locally manufactured goods. Some of the most smuggled products in Nigeria include gold, fuel, rice, poultry products, amongst others. 

For petroleum products, the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) recently revealed that smuggling of fuel cost the country billions of naira yearly. In fact, in 2019, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) confirmed that the nation’s economy loses N2 billion daily to fuel smuggling.

As at 2021, an estimated 15.64 million gallons of petroleum products were smuggled out of Nigeria daily, according to Chapel Hill Denham in a document titled “Dangote Refinery can provide the needed breather for Nigeria’s public finances”. 

Impact on Economy 

So how does smuggling affect the Nigerian economy? Often times, the major impact is loss of revenue given that smuggling is an act of tax evasion which deprives government of revenue for public expenditure. This loss of revenue also affects provision of social services and amenities by the government. 

Smuggling also distorts market prices because smuggled goods are often sold cheaper. Also, smuggling encourages the importation of expired and fake, just as it paralyses our local industries. Essentially, smuggling is a drain on the foreign earnings of the nation.

Beyond Arrests 

But beyond arrests by the military and other appropriate stakeholders, experts have posited that the government  should promulgate a clearer smuggling policy where offenders should be heavily punished.

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