Captain Jacob Ovweghre, Director General of Maritime Security Agency, in this interview with DANIEL ABIA and JOE ASOMIJI, drew the attention of the National Assembly on the need to establish maritime security to protect Nigeria’s territorial waters. Excerpts:
What informed your decision to sponsor the Maritime Security Agency, MASECA, Bill at the National Assembly?
There were many reasons, but I will mention only three. Firstly, Maritime security is of utmost importance today with more than 80% of water trade goods and more than 70% of the nation income from crude oil exploration, which are transported by sea. Any nation that controls the maritime security tends to gain from the maritime trade.
As a maritime security expert, it is my duty to contribute my quota to upholding the good things our predecessors bequeathed to us, and that must not fail.
As shipping traffic grows, the pressure on the security of the nation territorial waters, Gulf of Guinea is increasing. Not only is there more likelihood of accidents and associated environmental damage, shipping traffic is also increasingly the target of piracy, organised crime and terrorism.
Moreover, illegal maritime activities such as illegal fishing, drug trafficking, weapon movement and proliferation coupled with illegal immigration are constantly on the rise.
Maritime activities are also expanding into the Arctic regions with growing traffic in the icy waters of the Northeast and Northwest Passages, and oil and gas platforms set up to exploit the huge reservoirs of resources in the Arctic. These activities rely on detailed and timely ice information to support safe and effective operations.
All these activities increase the pressure on the marine environment and the demand to be proactive, have early-warning capabilities and reliable monitoring services to boost maritime security, create massive employment and generate monies for the nation that is beleaguered by insecurity in the maritime Sector. Secondly, to help revamp the business activities in Nigeria territorial waters, eastern ports and to complement the efforts of the relevant maritime security agencies and build world standard maritime security architecture for Nigeria to reduce death of sea farers & other maritime workers from attacks of maritime criminals.
Thirdly, Nigeria is on the verge of getting it right in securing her maritime environments involving seafarers in security such as ECOMOG, Folk Island War and other conflict resolution mechanism. “Seafarers got tired since 2008, of the kidnap and loss of lives of their colleagues at almost every attack on vessels at sea by pirates and decided to pursue a Bill for the establishment of MASECA and volunteered to put their lives even in harm’s way to guarantee the security of the nation’s maritime environment from the territorial seas in conjunction with the Navy. It also helps the backwaters including the creeks, rivers, inland waterways and the Lake Chad basin and the provision of employment and human capital development for millions of seafarers and other able bodied Nigerians worthy of undertaking such dangerous responsibility.
All the above must be spearheaded by somebody, hence my sponsorship of the MASECA Bill.
What is the hope of the bill considering the delay processes and politics at the National Assembly?
The hope is very high and bright. The bill is not political; rather it is set to midwife and reshape the maritime industry for the betterment of the economy. Because we are losing out, we control almost 80 per cent of the cargoes within the sub region, and we have lost up to 60 per cent of the cargoes to neighbouring countries.
We have lost all our freight components to our neighbouring countries and the result is that Nigerians are losing out to all these countries.
As at today you cannot compare Nigeria’s tonnage to that of Cote D’Ivoir, and Togo despite our population.
Nigeria is losing out in a very serious way and this is very serious issues because the freight components, which create employments, are being diverted to other countries. Once a ship diverts, it goes with the freight components and you come back with the cargoes.
The freight components are those charges that are supposed to be for Nigerians. For instance, if a cargo which is supposed to be for Lagos is diverted to Togo, the charges the shipping company is supposed to charge, the service the terminal operators are supposed to charge and the charges the licensed custom agent is supposed to charge and the transporters will all be charged in Togo.
Don’t you think that it will be a duplication of function when the bill is passed into law?
No, it will not duplicate any other agency’s function rather it will close the missing links.
MASECA will be a panacea to the unbridled reckless attacks in the nation’s oil and gas facilities, both at off shore and on-shore, through intelligence report and surveillance.
The personnel will be on ground to provide rescue operation through constant patrols of installation with tracking device using multi-dimensional Approach of Military and community-based synergy.
To compliment Nigeria Navy and Nigeria Army amphibious in providing effective security to the coast, creeks, territorial sea and Gulf of Guinea as civilian JTF Marines, similar to Civilian JTF of the north East and inland water ways.
It will assist the maritime Police in providing effective security escort through the escort of people, goods and patrols in the inland water ways from the Sea and river ports.
For example we have Maritime Security Agencies in other nations. Countries such as US has (Marines and Coast Guard), Pakistan ( Maritime Security Agency), Argentina (Directorate of Maritime Protection.), Chile (Department of Maritime Security Operators), Ghana (Maritime Security Council) to mention but, a few aside their Administrative agency and the Navy among others are maximizing their profits accruing to them via the activities within the water environment with limited activities of the pirates and sea robbers. So, the Bill will be an added advantage to maritime security in Nigeria and Gulf of Guinea in general.
What are your prayers and what are merits of MESACA bill?
My prayer is for the Nigerian masses, National Assembly and the security community to support the Bill as its Public Hearing is coming soonest in the House of Representatives. The merits are numerous. They cut across maritime crimes such as Piracy, illegal fishing, illegal bunkering; proliferation of small arms will be reduced drastically in Nigeria.
Secondly, it will create massive employment for millions of people directly and indirectly the agency will provide direct employment to over 50,000 Nigerians ranging from youths to law abiding youth leaders from black spots and crime prone areas, maritime Security experts and repented militants with marine experience and qualifications, and 3million indirect jobs through Nigeria fishing industries and trawling business. It will increase water border patrols, port security and shipping security to increase trade, commerce and boost revenue generation through the ports.
It will also reinforce efforts of security personnel in the maritime and petroleum sectors. Not only that, it will engender corporate generation of engineering activities through skills conferment using electricity sources from DC component. Increase aqua -culture and commercial fishing.
It will provide opportunity for direct escort of Nigerian trawlers, ships and other watercrafts within Nigeria territorial waters and inland waterways.
Moreover, it will increase extensive participation in the production of agro-allied products through the technical and engineering units.
The unemployment rate in Nigeria is growing geometrically against arithmetical progression to people employed. The National Bureau of Statistics revealed that between January and September 2017, a total number of 4.07 million Nigerians became unemployed.
The bureau in the report, said that the number of Nigerians that became unemployed rose from 11.92 million in the first quarter of 2017 to 13.58 million and 15.99 million in the second and third quarters respectively. iii). It will generate billions of Naira for Nigeria at no cost of Federal Government. It means FG will not fund the Agency for its operation. Instead, it will generate money and block most of the licking holes where Billions of Naira are missing, for the Federal Government. Are you surprise? The Agency will be self-sustained. We want to give to Nigeria and Nigerians and not what we will get from Nigeria. Our generation of fund will not discomfort any Agency or business operation in Nigeria.
What will be the core functions of the MASECA when passed into law?
The core function is intelligence gathering, loss prevention, enforcement and strict monitoring of activities in the territorial sea, coastal land, inland waterways and the backwaters to the limit of the Lake Chad with aggressive patrol. Other functions are complimenting Navy, NIMASA, Nigerian Police Maritime Command and other security Agencies in the territorial sea, coastal land, inland waterways and backwaters through effective surveillance and rescue operation.
This will revamp the blue economy that is drastically taking a nosedive. It will cover the coastal land security, reduce if not eradicate the resilience of coastal and riverine populace by improving human security which has been ravaged by sea robbery, kidnapping and dreaded maritime criminals.
This has made the maritime environment and sector sleep walk into national disaster, which in various occasions bleed our economy and peace to near death.
What is your staff strength and what has been your achievement since the existence of the group?
We are 26,000 direct staff and 300,000 indirect staff. But we are aiming at 55,000 direct staff and three Million indirect staff.
Nigeria, with the presence of insufficient maritime personnel, Navy and NIMASA has continued to lose money to sea pirates and robbers and on installation too, therefore the need to give legal backing to MASECA in order to assist the Navy and other security agencies tighten the loopholes within littoral zones can never be overemphasised.
Nigeria will gain a lot from the experience of the USA and Israeli trained officers and reformed militants who are coming together if the bill is pass to law to keep contributing their quota to the development of the country by providing security to the coastal areas, inland and water ways.
Our achievements are on voluntary intelligence gathering for the existing security agencies and social responsibilities. For example, we were in Maiduguri, Bama and Biu to work with VGN and Civilian JTF sector 4 in March, 2015.
We also organised Peace Seminar in 218 communities and 8 Town- Hall meetings in Niger Delta between May to June 2016.
This was the turning point that spurs those aggrieved Militants to embrace peaceful discussion with Niger Delta Minister, Minister of state for Petroleum Resources, Elder E. K Clark-led stakeholders meetings and other groups.
Where did other security agencies in the maritime sector get it wrong that you think your group will succeed when given opportunity?
The other security agencies are using only the up-down and military or para-military inclusive approach which excluded the masses in the security.
Secondly, they are using too much military enforcement approach thereby infringing on some civilian rights which makes the citizens see them as unfriendly in this democratic dispensation.
We of MASECA shall use up-down, down-up and military-civilian approach which is holistic and exclusive approach for total security. Everybody is carried along from the youths, community leaders, paramount rulers to the local vigilante. In fact, everybody is involved in the operation of “See Something Say Something”.
This method gave us breakthrough against Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.
What approach will your organisation adopt to boost revenue to the Federal Government?
MASECA is going to be a para-military organisation that will train and armed its officers sufficiently to meet the asymmetric threats of the pirates or sea robbers they will confront within the nation’s maritime environment.
It must work and co-train in sync with the Navy, be placed under the Ministry of Defence, because of its peculiar role and calibre of weapons, and the fact that in times of crises the Agency will become an integral part of the Navy. “When passed into law, seafarers who are the crux of the manpower, and who currently work and live within our creeks and waterways, and are primarily naval – Merchant and retired Nigerian Navy personnel, are poised to come together to pull their experiences and knowledge together to serve the country rather than allowing Nigeria to become a laughing stock in the comity of maritime nations.