Paul Obi writes on the daunting challenges before the Nigerian Navy in curtailing threats to the country.
As strategic as the Gulf of Guinea is to the Nigerian economy, insecurity across the water ways, maritime zone and the nation's territorial waters remains a great challenge to Nigeria and its survival. Stretching across the coastal lines in the Niger Delta, Lagos in the West, the bedrock of Nigeria's economy has constantly been under attacks and threats. In many instances, militancy in the Delta has truncated Nigeria's oil production, exposing the country's mono-economy to great shock and even near-collapse.
From militancy, oil theft, illegal oil bunkering, restiveness to international piracy, smuggling, illegal import of arms and poor maritime security, problems confronting the country's maritime economy are legion. Though, the task to safeguard Nigeria's territorial waters lies primarily with the Nigerian Navy, increase in maritime crime wave has led to some daunting challenges, that push the Navy sometimes to the edge. Given the growing cases of maritime criminal activities going on, it is obvious, the Navy and other security agencies within the maritime coastline brace up, or Nigerian economy will continue to sneeze and nosedive.
The precarious situation and the prevalence of several threats within the coastal line recently prompted the United States (U.S.) Government to warn Nigeria of the impending danger to the nation's economy. According to the U.S., Nigerian economy remains under great threat as long as territorial waters remain insecure and unsafe. United States Naval Forces Commander in charge of Europe and Africa, Admiral Michelle Howard in her recent visit to Nigeria, cautioned that the high cases of maritime crimes, terrorism and militancy portend a great threat to the Nigerian economy.
In Howard's view, Nigerian economy is likely to grow five times its current size in the same period making Nigeria a regional engine for growth. She said: "The growth does not come without challenges," stating that, "the maritime environment and threats to stability are crucial. Oil extraction and production accounts for 75 per cent of Nigeria's revenue with the vast majority of oil infrastructure existing off shore or really close inshore. So terrorism, criminal networks, illegal bunkering with damages of oil pipeline directly threatens Nigeria economy.
"That is where navies come in. I, as a commander I regard the NN as a key regional partner in securing the Gulf of Guinea and I seek to strengthen our relationship assisting you in providing protection to Nigeria's future for economic security and enhancing regional stability once again," she said.
Admittedly, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, gave further insights on the level of criminality that has taken hold of Nigeria's maritime territory.. "The maritime environment has these spate of piracy attacks, robbery, last year especially, also had some elements of resource theft, including illegal fishing in our waters, we saw some elements of human trafficking, arms trafficking as well as drug trafficking, not to mention waste dumping and environmental concerns."
Ibas added that "for the threats in the Niger Delta, one thing I want to assure you is that so long as human beings exist, there will always be conflicts, and once there are conflicts, there would always be ways of resolving those conflicts. For the Nigerian Navy, we will continue to build our capacity and capabilities to enable us contain such threats."
On securing Nigeria's maritime territory, the CNS explained that "if Nigeria is the main concern to look at in the sub-region, Nigeria therefore becomes an important country for those who have interest in this region, to come and have conversation to see how they can enhance the maritime law enforcement agencies, in this case, the Nigerian Navy in particular to see how we can make the maritime environment secured and promote trade and prosperity in the region.
"The seas do not belong to any particular individual, they are global commons, and transnational crimes that occur, means that from one country to the other, your security can be compromised if the sea space is not properly governed. And I think it stands for Nigeria also, where we have to ensure that the Gulf of Guinea is secured, including the security of neighbouring states are well and properly managed," Ibas maintained.
In view of the increase in piracy and theft of natural resources within the maritime economy, the Navy had attempted to shore up its operations in the Niger Delta. This include launching Operation Tsare Teku among others.
According to the Navy's Director of Information, Captain Sulieman Dahun, "a total of six NN ships, NNS Okpabana, NNS Unity, NNS Nwamba, NNS Obula and NNS Sagbama have been assigned for the operation. Some of the objectives of the operation include containing militant activities, sustaining maritime interdiction operations and blockade to deter pirates and robbers and militants.
"Since the commencement of Operation Tsare Teku, there has been a marked reduction in pirate attacks in Nigerian waters. In the first half of 2016, 53 pirate attacks on shipping were recorded with 36 successful. However, in the corresponding period in 2017, only four successful attacks occurred out of a total of 17 attempted attacks. This is attributed to the effectiveness of this dedicated anti-piracy operation and enhanced patrols at sea by Nigerian Navy ships," the director stated.
He further said, "there are still many grey areas in the fight against economic crimes in the maritime economy and territorial waters of the country. Though, there have been collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in prosecuting criminals in the Gulf of Guinea, the procedures and sustainability have not been holistic. Beyond occasional surveillance and operations, it is doubtful if the Nigerian Navy has made regular and continuous security in the territorial waters of Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea a permanent venture.
More so, the Navy's level of engagement with communities and stakeholders in the Niger Delta cannot be said to be integral, as cases of oil theft would have been reduced to its barest minimum. For when such a collaboration is in place, chances are that the communities would work in harmony with the Navy in securing the nation's maritime economy far better than what is obtainable now. That is a path authorities at the Naval Headquarters should also consider.
But with the new drive and resolve to position the Nigerian Navy as a 21st Century force, more needed to be done in assisting to curtail the pilfering of Nigeria's economic resources. The pursuit of such agenda is only sustainable through adoption of military and civil strategies. One is to adopt military approach to tame criminality in the region; the other is to engage stakeholders as critical component in safeguarding the nation's maritime economy.
Even as sustainability of oil as Nigeria's economic mainstay remains shaky, securing the industry and fighting other forms of criminality should be topmost. With poor economic indicators staring the country in the face, Nigeria can least afford a takeover of her maritime territory and the economy by criminals. The onus to prevent such dangerous trends lies squarely with the Nigerian Navy.