At a time like this when the global energy situation is in a flux, fluctuating prices of crude oil, and the growing demand for and use of alternative energy sources have necessitated a careful reassessment by countries like ours who depend on crude oil for a huge percentage of foreign exchange earnings. Faith in fossil fuels continues to decline globally. With the concomitant decreasing revenue, crude oil dependent countries must now try as a matter of necessity to augment any projected revenue shortfalls by thinking outside the box. This is more so if we in Nigeria must still pursue the kind of aggressive infrastructural development that President Muhammadu Buhari promised upon his election. The whole idea of thinking beyond oil meant that government had to deliberately invest in the development of other sectors of our economy like the maritime and agricultural sectors that have potentials of contributing as much revenue as crude oil to our economy -if not more.
The figures speak for themselves. With a coastline of 853 km, an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf of 47,934 square kilometres, it is no news that Nigeria is one of the African countries endowed with substantial marine resources. According to data from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), fish represented 28 percent of the protein content of average Nigerian diet in 2004. The catch profile includes croakers, soles, groupers, snappers, barracudas, elephant snouts, trunk fish and shellfish, such as shrimps, crabs, periwinkles and oysters. Our country is one of the 15 countries that make up the Gulf of Guinea which stretches from Gabon to Liberia. As at today, about 70 percent of Africa’s oil production comes from the Gulf of Guinea and with possibilities of more discoveries of offshore hydrocarbon deposits, these numbers are likely going to rise. The current estimate of oil production in the gulf stand at 5.4 million barrels per day. However, it is a well-known fact that maritime security remains a key to maintaining the flow of revenue from oil and gas sector. Besides, maritime resources like fish remain an important source of protein that contributes to diet as well as livelihood of many of us in Africa.
The centrality of security in the Gulf of Guinea to geopolitics and geo-economics of Africa cannot therefore be overemphasized. The Gulf remains an important transit hub for much of the region’s estimated $253 billion of commerce—most notably petroleum products. Yet, in recent years, it has also become a hotbed of piracy, overshadowing the Gulf of Aden. In 2014, there were just 11 incidents in the latter compared to 41 in the Gulf of Guinea. The theft of crude oil especially but not exclusively along our coastal waters is a huge source of haemorrhage of national revenue. It has become so intense and widespread that it has now been cynically referred to as an epidemic. Several figures on the volume of Nigeria’s crude oil stolen everyday exist. However official figures still hover around 200,000 to 400,000 barrels per day. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) recently announced that Nigeria lost about 15.9 billion US dollars to oil thieves between the period of 2011 and 2014.
Available statistics indicate that between 2015 and 2017, the number of ships on illegal bunkering mission rose from 23 in 2015 to 50 in 2017 including 77 reported attacks on vessels in Nigerian territorial waters in 2016 alone. Within the same year, nine shipping vessels on illegal fishing were also arrested. In addition, the Gulf of Guinea is said to be a key route for arms and drug smuggling to Western and Northern Africa.
Such magnitude of challenge requires trans-national effort and international cooperation to manage them effectively. It will require intelligence gathering, information sharing and building cutting edge technological capabilities. It also requires sincerity of purpose on the part of all concerned stakeholders especially international partners. A situation where organised criminal networks continue to brazenly steal oil and cargo from vessels transiting any part of the world is an indictment on all devotees of international cooperation. It does not make any one of us look good. After all, the markets for all these stolen items are flourishing because there are those who keep buying them. For something as sophisticated as oil theft to take place as frequently as it does in our region leaves more questions than answers. I am told the barges of different sizes are used to transport these illicit products before they are conveyed to waiting vessels on the high sea. Who buys them? That such levels of complicated transactions are concluded without detection has a lot to say about the level of commitment of countries especially those that are signatories to relevant maritime conventions. But we cannot continue to complain, it is a time to act within the limits of sovereignty and provisions of international law.
I must admit that security challenges we face on our territorial waters within the Gulf of Guinea are quite complex although not insoluble. However, the economic implications are so huge that they can no longer be ignored. Therefore, countries must find ways to courageously confront this persistent pestilence once and for all. I am not saying that it will be easy or it will be instant but I know that it is possible only if we can frame it as a common threat that it is.
In pursuit of this objective, President Buhari visited Malabo in Equatorial Guinea last year, where the two countries signed an agreement on the establishment of combined Maritime Policing and Security Patrol committee to enhance the security of the Gulf of Guinea and help curb maritime crimes like piracy, crude oil theft and smuggling. Part of it will entail deploying appropriate technology for extensive surveillance, training of relevant law enforcement officers to build their maritime law enforcement capabilities. Already the Nigerian Maritime Administrative and Security Agency(NIMASA) is implementing a comprehensive maritime strategy in collaboration with partners. In this regard, it has already established a Command and Control Centre for enhanced situation awareness, response capability, law enforcement and regional cooperation.
This comprehensive strategy envisions maritime security using both top-bottom and bottom-up approaches. Looking at maritime security from the top through deploying technology infrastructure, reduction of criminality and improving policing capabilities are useful yet incomplete. We often overlook a very important component which has to do with the communities. Overlooking the interest of communities have often led to disruptions as intervention could raise livelihood and sustainability questions which could linger for a while. NIMASA therefore took time to look at maritime security from bottom by seeking to understand and mainstream the perspectives inhabitants of coastal communities in a holistic manner. The strategy is also part of a domestic response to the call by the African Union Commission (AUC) for the articulation of the 2050, Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) in 2009 and the adoption of AU Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in 2016.
Recently, the Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council approved the Deep Blue Project whose key objective is the provision of an Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure to enhance the country’s response capabilities to criminal activities, implement a robust intelligence gathering system and regional integration in collaboration with other countries.
Moreover, our country also supported the Durban Resolution on Maritime Safety, Maritime Security and Protection of Marine Environment in Africa. The resolution encouraged member-states to harmonize and review maritime, port and inland water way legislations to let them conform to international norms. Nigeria is also working with other countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to implement the Code of Conduct on Repression of Piracy and other illicit Activities as well as the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy under the Zone E Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre Mechanism.
It is important to emphasize here that we also recognise that any effort that will improve maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea will entail a convergence of views of other national maritime agencies in a strategic alliance to pursue unified objectives. It is an important key to unlock the economic diversity and progress that is most needed in our continent at the moment. Therefore, countries within the region must come together as never, if we hope to subdue this common and costly threat of insecurity.