BY ATIKU ABUBAKAR
Two weeks ago the International Maritime Bureau and other counter-piracy watchdog groups published a report labelling the waters off of West Africa the most dangerous in the world, underscoring the dire importance of establishing an effective and robust counter-piracy policy stemming from the meeting of the Gulf of the GGC, ECOWAS, and ECCAS in Cameroon. I have oft called for a multilateral counter-piracy strategy composed of the littoral states of the Gulf of Guinea as well as major oil consumers who rely on the secure export of Nigerian oil. I am encouraged by the recent discussions, and remain optimistic that the GGC, ECOWAS and ECCAS will create provisions for a collective maritime security protocol that would have the authority to enforce and prosecute pirates with the goal of eradicating piracy in the region once and for all.
In a recent and tremendously damning report by Mark Doyle of the BBC, Nigeria was found culpable of the drastic increase in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea as a result of “peculiarities of the Nigerian economy and widespread corruption.” Furthermore, experts attending an April 20th conference on piracy at Nigeria’s Institute of International Affairs indicated that maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea stems largely from an increase in violence, insurgency and instability in Nigeria. As a result, the entirety of West Africa is losing roughly two billion USD per year, and Nigeria’s large oil exports coupled with corrupted governing structures are at the core of regional insecurity.
Eradicating piracy and reclaiming the economies of the Gulf of Guinea will require Nigeria’s dedication to a two-pronged approach. Firstly, Nigeria must work in conjunction with regional and international allies to create a counter-piracy security force and code of conduct, while simultaneously adhering to international counter-piracy protocols. Secondly, Nigeria must look inwards, recognizing the dire security situation as a direct result of structural inefficiencies. We must boldly admit inadequacies in governance and regulation, and work to reform the governing bodies that have been charged with guarding the security and welfare of the Nigerian people in order to combat the rising insecurity in our region.
There has to be a better way. We have a duty to our neighbours and economic partners just as we have a duty to the Nigerian people to establish a multilateral security apparatus that is capable of stamping out piracy, reinvigorating economies lost to piracy and maritime crime, and holding our officials accountable.
As a key component of a multilateral counter-piracy protocol, members of the GGC, ECOWAS and ECCAS must work to provide training facilities equipped with modern technologies in surveillance. The United States, the United Kingdom and France have all offered to help train and equip counter piracy efforts. Brazil, Spain and Belgium have offered additional training services. To not accept these offers of assistance from our international partners would be a fatal mistake for Nigeria and the region.
As part of the second prong, Nigeria will need to create key legislation that would protect international vessels entering Nigerian waters during counter-piracy missions. Additionally, federal officials will need to make a concerted effort to mitigate corruption while simultaneously building an infrastructure that will reintegrate deviant populations by creating opportunities for education, vocational training and employment. Many of the so-called pirates that are attacking ships and stealing cargo are disenfranchised people who, due to a shortage of stable economic opportunities are left to work outside of the social establishment to survive.
Abubakar is a former vice president of Nigeria