By Abosede Musari
EXPERTS in peace and conflict resolution in Nigeria have raised the consciousness of the West African governments to the possibility of a take over of the Gulf of Guinea by terrorists, if the nations concerned do not ensure security of the area; and quickly too.
The experts claim that since the area is not governed by any authority, it is easy for terrorists to occupy it because of the economic attraction it offers; a fact evident by current activities of pirates in the area.
Director General of Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Prof. Oshita Oshita, told journalists recently in Abuja, that the Gulf of Guinea has been identified as one of the ungoverned places worldwide where security challenges will keep growing until something is done. “And if nothing is done, it is likely to be one of those top spots that can be a kind of domicile, an area where criminals of all kinds, including terrorists, would find refuge because it has a number of isolated islands that are not properly supervised by any authority, any organised authority. And in recent times, piracy has been very high in the Gulf of Guinea and of course, we trace part of the piracy there to activities within Nigeria’s territorial waters”, he said.
Calling on Nigeria to lead other nations to put in place proper security in the area, Prof. Oshita also called for the cooperation of the other nations in the West Africa region.
According to him, it is difficult for a single country to handle the situation in the area.
For Nigeria, the Gulf of Guinea portends greater danger since the country already faces insurgency from the north-east. If it does not ensure that the Gulf of Guinea is safe, the country stands a worse chance with another insurgency coming from the south.
For this reason, the IPCR held a national workshop in Abuja, to raise the consciousness of West Africa nations and the regional bodies to the risk of leaving the area insecure and ungoverned. According to experts, who spoke at the workshop, other issues such as money laundering, kidnapping, human and drug trafficking, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, piracy and terrorism financing are other factors that contribute to transnational organised crimes, and must all be tackled as well.
According to Prof. Oshita, the Gulf of Guinea is attractive to pirates because of its geographical location, which makes it an important maritime route for commercial shipping from Europe and America to West, Central and Southern Africa. Also is its proximity to Europe and North America for the transportation of the low-sulphur crude oil from the region, which further raises its importance in the global supply of energy.
The area is a major source of hydrocarbon resources, producing about 5.4 million barrels of crude oil per day. The United States sources 15 per cent of its supplies from the Gulf of Guinea, and China and Japan depend on it for a substantial amount of their oil and gas. It also continues to supply France and other countries of Europe.
These economic reasons are the same reasons it can be an attraction to terrorist groups as it is already for pirates. And if the nations concerned do not take a quick action, the result may not be good.
According to Prof. Oshita, when one considers the role that resources play in the conflicts across the world, it would then be appreciated how strategic the Gulf of Guinea is to the security and political stability of Nigeria, the littoral states and the international maritime community; hence the need to be fast about ensuring security in this area in order to prevent a situation where it will be hijacked by terrorists.
A Director at the IPCR, Dr. Bakut Bakut, identified small arms and light weapons as a major threat to democracy in Nigeria, adding that conflicts, which emanate from the tensions resulting from politics and elections, the rise of armed groups, oil, ethnicity and religion, and poverty have been executed with the use of small arms.
He put the number of small arms in Nigeria at between two and five million.
“While the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) is the legal producer of arms and ammunitions for the security agents, The IPCR pilot baseline study of local arms manufacturing, revealed the capacity of local artisans to replicate and produce categories of SALW and other weaponry such as swords, machetes, axes, poisonous spears/arrows and cudgels, which are equally deadly and contribute to the mortality in violent conflicts. But considering the endemic nature of corruption in the country, there is the high suspicion that such products could be sold illegally to the civilian population or even criminal gangs”, Bakut said.
Noting that Nigeria has weak laws in terms of control of small arms, Bakut suggested government acquisition, installation and operation of modern security infrastructure such as ground and air surveillance to contain the problem of porous borders and associated security challenges.
Another scholar, who spoke on the need to tackle the source of financing for terrorist activities, Prof. Kaminu Fage of the Political Science Department, Bayero University, Kano, added that dealing with drug trafficking, money laundering and other sources of terrorism financing would help the region of West Africa to deal permanently with the issue of terrorism and insurgency.
The Gulf of Guinea is a vast expanse of water, stretching almost 6,000km from Senegal to Angola. The Gulf of Guinea States are Benin, Cameroun, Equitorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Togo. It is an area with weak surveillance and uncoordinated security patrols.
The over-concentration on land security by the GoG member-nations in the region over a long period of time is blamed to have left the littoral states with no capacity to patrol the maritime domain, leaving them ungoverned and vulnerable.
It would be recalled that Chatam House, a United Kingdom based organisation in a publication in 2013, had drawn the attention of West Africa to this emerging threat when it called the regional organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) to take charge and have a greater integration and coordination of maritime initiatives.