Lately, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Fathi Wali, out of appreciation was left with no option but to eulogize Nigeria for the first-ever successful prosecution of piracy in Africa. In fact, the UNODC boss lauded Nigeria’s leadership role and commitment to curbing maritime crimes.
Recall that in response to various criminalities being committed along the coast of Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), President Muhammadu Buhari had in June 2019, signed Anti-Piracy Bill, also known as, Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (POMO) Bill into law. The purpose of the Act is to prevent and curb piracy, armed robbery, kidnapping and other unlawful acts against a ship. With that development, Nigeria became the first country in the west and sub-central regions of Africa to ratify a law to specifically combat piracy.
It has been established that sea, land and air are the major transport systems in any country whose adequate care, maintenance and protection is very critical to ensuring national security. Indeed, Nigerian waters and the adjoining GoG have been designated as a ‘High Risk Area’ and one of the most troubled and dangerous global waterways.
This has unarguably led to a series of criminal activities including kidnap of oil workers, sea piracy, oil bunkering, ship hijacking, violence against crew and robbery among others. However, the Nigerian government in collaboration with concerned stakeholders has since risen against this challenge and a lot of success stories have been realized so far.
As of last year, reports released by the International Maritime Bureau (IBM) showed that for the first time in 27 years, piracy incidents along the GoG and the Nigerian waterways have dropped significantly. The drastic reduction was observed during the first 9 months of 2021.
While corroborating the report, the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said that sea piracy has declined drastically by 80 per cent on the nation’s territorial waters.
In his words, “We have recorded a drastic reduction in piracy and this is enough for us to beat our chest and that we are ready to return to the category ‘C’ of membership of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“However, the year 2021 has witnessed a significant turnaround under my leadership as insecurity on Nigerian waters has reduced by 80 per cent.”
According to him, the last time the country had a drop in piracy in the nation’s waterways was in 1994, adding that Nigerian waterways was one of the top 10 safest waters in the world.
Therefore, it is pertinent to understand that, the overall reduction of piracy and armed robbery incidents in the region bears testament to enhanced maritime security and response coordination measures adopted by regional and national authorities, IMB report stated.
Over the years, the government has been making giant strides towards ensuring the safety and security of the maritime industry in Nigeria. Apart from creating a legal and institutional framework for prosecuting maritime crimes, the Federal Government has also prioritized the provision of maritime intelligence facilities.
Notable among these is the commissioning of a state-of-the-art Falcon Eye Maritime Intelligence Facility at the Naval Headquarters in Abuja last year by President Muhammadu Buhari. Meanwhile, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), was fully involved in facilitating the set up and operationalization of the project.
This is, as part of its efforts to boost Nigeria’s overall maritime security architecture, in accordance with the National Security Strategy (NSS, 2019), under which kidnapping of oil workers, sea robbery/piracy, incessant problems of crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, hostage-taking and maritime terrorism are classified as national security threats.
Still on safeguarding the maritime industry, one of the organs of Nigerian Armed Forces, the Nigeria Navy had in October 2021 inaugurated four Semi-Ballistic Gunboats. The gunboats were constructed for the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, by the Naval Shipyard Limited in Port Harcourt, River State so as to further intensify surveillance within the coastal ways.
According to the Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor, the decision to provide armoured gunboats for operations was necessitated by the need to provide added protection to troops in the discharge of the Armed Forces of Nigeria’s responsibility of ensuring safety and security of the nation’s maritime environment at all times.
The Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo noted that, protection of Nigeria’s maritime environment remains a key mandate of the Nigerian Navy and thus, construction of the platforms and their subsequent induction into the maritime assets of the Operation Delta Safe would bolster the operational capacity of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta area.
With reference to the content of NSS 2019, it was mentioned that, maritime security requires measures that are potent and supported by a strong balanced naval fleet as well as an integral shore based maritime air power and this needs to be fully supported by an effective Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Infrastructure. And subsequently, the Nigerian Navy has responded to challenges in the maritime domain by strengthening its strategic and operational capabilities through inter-agency collaborations with other stakeholders in the industry, one of which is the NIMASA.
Therefore, Nigeria must, through sustained surveillance, continue to lead the fight against maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea and across the continent, especially in the areas of intelligence sharing and coordinated legal strategy. This is necessary, especially with the recent commendation by UNODC which has placed an enormous responsibility on the country to provide innovative efforts in discharging this vital task.