BY EMMA UNA
IT was the largest gathering of naval officers in Africa in recent time with special focus on the Gulf of Guinea. The heads of navies from Nigeria, Cameroun, Ghana, South Africa, Benin Republic, Niger, Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, with the backing of the United States and United Kingdom navies, descended on Calabar, Cross River State to find solution to the insecurity challenge plaguing Africa’s territorial waters.
Endowed with vast sea resources to meet the requirements of the three regions in sub-Sahara Africa: South Africa, West Africa, and East Africa, the need to address the dire security challenges of the area was of utmost imperative to the naval chiefs.
Described as the most insecure in the world with criminal gangs of all sorts freely operating in the vast waters and imposing a climate of constant threat there, the seriousness of the issues discussed underplayed the severity of the problems in the territorial waters.
That accounts for the attendance of the heads of navies of nearly all African countries at the three -day conference, tagged, Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC), from July 29.”Vice Admiral Joseph Ezeoba, Nigeria’s Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), who addressed the gathering, harped on the high state of insecurity in the territorial waters and emphasised that they would continue to be a safe haven for criminals unless there was collaboration and synergy among security agencies of the various countries through which the gulf runs in intelligence gathering, information sharing and coordinated activity.
“This conference is targeted at putting in place building blocks that will raise the templates for a sustained regional co-operation towards security in the Gulf of Guinea,” he said”Ezeoba added that the conference was facilitated by Nigeria in cooperation with the US Navy to find ways of ensuring a strategic maritime environment for the landlocked states that the Gulf of Guinea runs through.”The Gulf of Guinea is a strategic maritime environment with enormous potentials that has been constantly plagued with a myriad of threats directed mainly at economic lifelines of its littoral landlocked states”.
He said those threats have become very worrisome not only to the regional governments but also impinge on international security and listed those threats to include piracy, sea robbery, drug and human trafficking, pipeline vandalisation, crude oil theft, illegal and unregulated fishing. “More worrisome is the proliferation of small arms, light weapons, and environmental degradation though oil flaring of petroleum products into the sea,” the CNS said, adding that the threats are not insurmountable and that, that was why the conference was being called for the heads of navies of the”African states to meet to seek ways to gather intelligence, carry out surveillance and share information since no single state can stand aloof and claim that the threats by criminals”in the regional waters have no effect on its economic life and state”security.
“We can eliminate the threats through sincerity of purpose, strength of character, and willingness to cooperate with one another”.”Dr. Erelu Olusola Obada, the Minister of State for Defense, said the presence of the heads of navies at the conference was an expression of their willingness to share ideas,technology, and human resources to ensure that the waters are not only safe for the region but also the whole world since water boundaries do not exist like land boundaries.
“Maritime technology recognises collaborative efforts for effective policing of the waterways and since water boundaries are not definable as land boundaries, nowhere can be said to be exempted from the activities of sea criminals; therefore there is need to cooperate among African navies”.”She said the African heads of government in a security meeting in 2006 recognised the lapses and started the need for regional capability integration to monitor the gulf and ensure safe water for the countries that have anything to do with the area.
“Senator Imoke, Cross River State governor, said the deliberation was significant since most parts of the state are bordered by water. “We were strong advocate for regional integration and cooperation which is the key for development of our continent which is endowed with enormous resources both on land and in the water,” Imoke said.
Several papers on how to ensure maritime security domain were presented and, at the end of the talk shop far reaching decisions were taken. The first was the call on governments of the sub regions to facilitate the establishment of a legal regime for the enforcement of maritime law.
Enforcement of the law, the naval chiefs argued, was one sure way of reducing crime in the region, ensure that the waterways are safe and thus improve the economy of member-states.
And for the law to be effective, it was agreed that basic capacity for maritime domain awareness should be developed in each member-state, and that member-states “initiate the integration of maritime domain awareness efforts through equipment and procedural interoperability by December 2013”.
Governments in the region were advised to “collaborate on the development of capability for effective response and capacity for maritime domain awareness coverage within individual and common sea areas of member-states in the GoG”.
They also resolved to facilitate the establishment and activation of a common maritime information sharing mechanism through the establishment of inter-regional coordination centre by March 2014 even as centres of excellence should be established on capacity building for maritime domain awareness in the GoG.
The naval chiefs recognized that crime and illicit activities in the GoG constitute a threat to the individual and common maritime security of members.
Consequently, there’s need to develop effective capacity for Maritime Domain Awareness and response capability among member-state navies and coast guards just as effective and collaborative surveillance of the maritime areas of the GoG was necessary.
Implementation of the common maritime information sharing mechanism amongst navies and coast guards and other relevant agencies should be pursuant to the agreement reached at the summit of Heads of Government of ECOWAS, ECCAS and GoG Commission in Yaounde, Cameroun from June 24 to 25, 2013.
They emphasized the need to sustain the RMAC on a periodic basis while the Nigerian CNS made a strong case for the implementation of the resolutions taken so that the conference will not be seen as a mere talk-shop.
He said experience had shown that each time they met, resolutions agreed on end up in file cabinets gathering dust, hence there should be a difference this time.