Armstringing the Navy

The federal government is making the fight against piracy and other criminal activities on the nation’s territorial waters and in the Gulf of Guinea extremely difficult. This is evident in government’s consistent deprivation of the Nigerian Navy – the focal security agency in the anti-piracy war – of much needed funds especially for the execution of its capital projects and acquisition of much needed platforms.

One of the major handicaps faced by the Nigerian Navy in the fight against pirates is the non-availability of sea-borne crafts and platforms to execute its brief.

In 2013 for instance, N14 billion was appropriated for Navy’s capital projects but by December of that year, only N8 billion representing 55.8 per cent had been released. Curiously, this was far below the average figures for other ministries, departments and agencies of government.

The entire N14 billion, in my opinion, is insufficient to equip the Navy for that year but releasing only a little more than half of it by the end of the year exposed government as lacking in commitment to the restoration of law and order on the waterways.

The Navy’s capital budget in 2013 covered the acquisition of two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for N10 billion; development of jetties at the cost of N1.9 billion; purchase of ship spare parts for N116 million; helicopter spare parts for N292 million; procurement of Augusta Helicopter for N1 billion; and kitting of naval personnel for N226 million.

Fund was not released in good time to acquire the OPVs and the Augusta helicopter.

It is hypocritical on the part of the federal government to complain of the failure to tackle piracy and oil theft while denying Navy of funds needed to procure the tools required to do the job.

I align with the views of the Chairman, Senate Committee on Defense, Chris Anyanwu, that government was deliberately arm stringing Navy.

Recently, Anyanwu could not help but retort: “You are not giving them the resources, and you are not funding their projects. If they don’t have the vessels, they can’t work on water, if they don’t have the money to even put fuel in existing vessels, they cannot do miracles. So we have to see the ripple effect of the tardiness in releasing their funds. What it comes up to is that at the end of the day you are making it impossible for them to do the work, and there is no need complaining. So, this is what it is.

“I really don’t understand what is going on. Every time all I get is that navy is not doing this, navy is not fighting piracy, navy is not fighting oil theft, and we are losing enormous resources through this means and yet navy is like tied down, you are not releasing funds to accelerate the acquisition of the right platforms, you are not doing that.”

With about two weeks to the end of the first quarter of 2014, the story is that Navy is still owed N4.5 billion on its 2013 capital projects. This is amazing to say the least.

It is manifestly hopeless to even start talking about release of funds for 2014 projects.

The new Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin, had to go on bended knees last Wednesday to plead with the federal government to release the money which is desperately needed to pay the balance on the two OPVs which are due for delivery in May.

Failure to complete payment may stall the delivery of the two patrol boats and even lead to forfeiture of about N5.5 billion earlier committed to their construction.

I really don’t think our security operatives should be made to beg for money to acquire the tools and equipment they require to do their jobs.

Piracy, or sea robbery in Nigeria, has assumed a worrisome dimension. While the number of pirate attacks worldwide was down to a six-year low last year, thanks to a significant fall in incidents off Somalia, the number of Nigerian piracy attacks increased to their highest level since 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

With 31 pirate attacks recorded, Nigeria was second to Indonesia, which saw the most attacks last year with 106.

The IMB’s annual global piracy report, which was released recently, stated that “Nigerian pirates were particularly violent, killing one crew member and kidnapping 36 people to hold onshore for ransom.”

According to the report, incidents off West Africa now account for almost one fifth of the worldwide total. In total, there were 264 attacks on ships last year, a 40 percent drop from 2011 when Somalia piracy was at its peak and 237 attacks occurred in that region alone.

Some 300 people were taken hostage last year with 12 ships hijacked, 202 boarded and 22 fired upon, while there were a further 28 attempted hijackings, the maritime bureau said.

West Africa accounted for 19 percent of all attacks in 2013.

“Nigerian pirates and armed robbers accounted for 31 of the region’s 51 attacks, taking 49 people hostage and kidnapping 36, more than in any year since 2008. Nigerian pirates ventured far into waters off Gabon, Ivory Coast and Togo, where they were linked with at least five of the region’s seven reported vessel hijackings,” according to the piracy reporting centre.

You therefore spare no resources to fight the type of pirates and sea robbers described above.

Government should show its sincerity in the anti-piracy war by promptly releasing the outstanding funds to the Nigerian Navy. It should also support the Navy to acquire more OPVs and other military platforms to fight the menace.

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