Nigeria: Insecurity on the high seas troubles ECOWAS nations

If there is one thing the managers of Nigeria’s Maritime Security would want the world to believe, it is the fact that they have been up to their charge in combating acts of terrorism in the high seas and coast lines, but Foreign Affairs Editor .Hugo Odiogor, argues that security personnel are also part of the security breaches on the West African high seas.

The Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Dele J. Ezeoba may have set for him set a target to accomplish the presidential directives to contain the acts of piracy, armed robbery in the high seas, stealing and shipping away of crude oil and illegal shipment of arms within the country’s territorial waters, but the big questions remains unanswered.

First, there is the question of transparency in the entire process of enforcement of laws and punishment of offenders who are apprehended for crimes in the Maritime domain.

Secondly, there is the question of how funds earmarked as security votes are utilised.

According to the Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ezeoba, there have been growing cases of arrest of ships involved in acts of crude oil theft.

Most of the arrested ships are destroyed by the Navy, the owners of the vessels are let off the hook and the entire process is recycled. The reason being that act of piracy, sea robbery, oil theft are high profile and sophisticated crimes that can only be perpetrated by experts, well connected and wealthy people who want to be shielded from facing the law.

MT African pride

We could recall the case of MT African pride which was arrested with crude oil, which was suspected to be stolen products, some senior Naval officers were implicated for releasing the vessel and its consignment. They were arrested and faced court martial. Sources told Sunday Vanguard that  highly Nigerian, especially from security outfits are  involved in acts of security breaches in our maritime domain”. It is Nigerian militants that attacked the Presidential mansion in Malabor, Equatorial Guniea and the constitute the bulk of those violating the security of the region.

The question therefore is:How has public office holders at local, state and federal government level of government been spending the huge sums of money appropriately yearly as security vote? Given the plethoral of security challenges buffeting Nigeria, can our elected chief executive at the three tiers of government truly justify their usage of their security votes. Conversly, can Nigerians claim that they have gotten value for money from the way security votes have been appropriated and utilised. With the secrecy that surrounds the issue of security votes, the huge embarrassment that has hit the government at all levels, it is obvious that Nigerians have been serially swindled by their leaders.

The issue of national and regional security have dominated the greater part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency and the management approach that has been adopted by the government to handle it has been abysmal to put it mildly.

British High Commissioner to Nigeria Dr. Andrew J. Pocock was among the distinguished guests at the Chattam House/ Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos organised conference on Maritime Security and Development in Lagos where issues of coastal security management implementation of the United Nations Law of Sea (UNCLOS), piracy, armed robbery, smuggling of small arms, oil theft, illegal and unreported fishing and other related issues were exhaustively deliberated on. US Consul General Jeffery Hawkins, his French counterpart Mr. Francois Sastouine,  Sir, Alex Vines (OBE), Head Africa programme, Chattam House, Prof. Bola A. Akinterinwa, D.G. NIIA, Rear Admiral Ombo and Vice Admiral Dele J. Ezeoba, were in the House were the multifaceted issues confronting the safe sailing of Ocean going vessels, legal passage persons and goods, utilisation of marine resources in the Gulf of Guinea and Nigeria’s Coastal region dominated discussions at the one day conference which marked the arrival of HMS Argyle to the Gulf of Guinea.

British Envoy Dr. Pocock was exasperated with the culture of endless analysis the problems,without concrete actions to tackle the problems

The High Commissioner said what is required is action at three different levels namely: The strategic level, tactical level, and governance level.

According to the Envoy, “Nigeria and indeed West African countries do not need new institutions, to deal with the problems of insecurity afflicting their various countries and the region as a whole”

Dr. Pocock said “national governments in the region need to support the existing regional organisations such as the Economic Community of Central African States, the Cult of Guinea Commission and the Econonoc Community of West African States (ECOWAS) while the International Community will support African capacity by advising, training, equipping local security forces and by promoting regional and international capacity building efforts”.

For Pocock, there is the need for the existing institutional at national and regional levels to work together effectively.

At the strategic level Dr. Pocock spoke of the need to harmonise planning and training for security personnel in the region as well as harmonise the level of political, legal and judicial co-operation. At the tactical level, the High Commissioner spoke of the need for joint exercises among the security forces in the region, cor-ordinated patrolling and mutual assistance whenever possible.

There should be action on land as well as at sea to tackle the menace of piracy or armed robbery at sea.

Finally, the issue of governance security and economic opportunities deserve more tokenist attention from political leaders as security issues plaguing the national governments in the regional Vice Admiral Ezeoba was of the view that the issues raised by the British High Commissioner Dr. Pocock are germane to promoting peace and development in the region but most West African.

On his part, the UN Consul General Mr. Jeffery Hawkins listed the economic opportunities and security challenges of the cult of Guinea. According to Hawkins, the Gulf of Guinea is characterised by tremendous opportunities for enhanced economic growth for Nigeria in areas of shipping and commercial fishing industries. “It presents opportunities for increased and badly needed employments in ports, on board ships, and in companies that provide goods and services  needed  by those industries.

Above all, it presents opportunities for foreign investors who look at this massive natural resource endowed country with strong macro-economic fundamentals and rapidly growing population on 170 million people.

According to Hawkins, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) recently formed a maritime development task force with the objective of encouraging the transfer of knowledge gained elsewhere in combating Maritime Security and it has published its recommendation which can be implemented by commercial shipping companies, governments and military leaders in the war against Maritime crime, but the recommendation will not be effective without action.

Part of the IMO’s recommendation is that vessel owners should engage private companies whose personnel could carry arms or board of vessels, to deal with armed robbery and piracy on the high seas.

The IMO agreed on a combination of four factors namely international naval patrols in the area affected by piracy and armed robbery, to protect merchant shipping and to apprehend pirates.


Armed Guards

Presence of armed guards aboard ocean vessels.

Implementation of Best Management Practices by the shipping industries. This entails detailed guidelines on how to protect ocean vessels from attacks. For example, vessels are expected to travel faster at high risk area, increased method of vigilance and placement of barbed wires around the vessels. These measures have been used to reduce cases of piracy in the Aden and Indian Ocean especially Somalia pirates.

Over the years, the attitude of government in Europe and the US towards armed guards on vessels in the Indian Ocean has changed, many of these countries have become amenable to the presence of private Maritime Security companies on board commercial vessels.

According to Mohammed, many of Gulf of Guinea states have expressed concern over the presence of the private Maritime Security guards in their territorial waters. There are no legally binding document on the conduct of private maritime companies deploying personnel aboard commercial vessels.

According to a Chattam House Research Associate Adjoa Anyimadu, it would be useful for West African countries to take a united stance on the issue of armed guards aboard commercial vessels. The knotty issues centres on the differing positions of littoral states on whether private weaponry is allowed on shore or within territorial waters which could increase incidence of holding weaponry. According to the UN, there are 18 floating weaponry in the Red sea. The presence of armourries of the West coast of Africa, where significant drilling activity take place would be a great risk.

But West African countries have not agreed on the use of these guidelines in the cult of Guinea. ECOWAS Maritime Security Officer Commander Tukur Toro Mohammed said member states of ECOWAS do not share a common position on whether ocean vessels travelling under their international flags, should be allowed to employ armed guards many governments do not share have no stand on the issue at all.

But the Maritime Security officer in ECOWAS Commander Toro Mohammed informed the audience that member countries of ECOWAS have not deliberated on the IMO proposal. His counterpart from the Central Africa Economic Community (ECCAS) Commander Loic Moudouma from Gabon  attributes the problems in the territorial waters to lack of maritime culture in West Africa and poor appreciation of the wealth in the maritime environment, by those in government. According to him, this is the reason behind the poor funding of maritine security agencies and maritime activities by the government of most West African countries.


Lack of Action

According to Mr. Olujimi Oladimeji who retired from the Navy, the issues being discussed have been discussed over 30 years ago, same old problems, no new solutions. Oladimeji finds that a budgeted for security have never being used for such purposes, the Navy, the Airforce and the Army had been left underfunded for years. The same story had been the lot of other security agencies, the Directorate of State Services (DSS), the Nigeria Police, the Customs and Immigration services. Put mildly, the funds that are allocated for national security have ended up in the bank account of public officers and their collaborators in the private sector.

For instance all maritime security agencies are located in different ministries and those who manage the funds are merely concerned with conserving their  budget at the expense of collaborating with other agencies to tackle common security challenges.


Original Article