Increasing number of stowaways: How equipped is the Marine Police Command

The increasing number of Nigerian youths that want to leave the country by any means possible has become a cause for concern. The sad part is that most of them die in the process thereby bringing sorrow to the hearts of already emasculated families. Analysts believe that this is a sad commentary on a country that has relegated the welfare of its citizen to the background.
However while the number of unrepentant stowaways continue to soar, Nigerians acknowledge, albeit, with some reservations that the onus to stop them rests with the marine police.  Whether the police are necessarily equipped to carry out this mission is a matter for conjecture. Recently four Nigerians were captured while trying to stowaway via a Malaysian-bound vessel. The quartet had well-rehearsed plan to carry out their hidden agenda until luck ran out of them.  They were arrested by the Nigerian Marine Police Command. The Command got kudos for this feat.
Reports said the success was boosted by the Basic Marine Operation Course (BMOC) 39 which the officers underwent at the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Quorra recently. The BMOC was a joint collaboration which saw the police undertake trainings in counter maritime crimes like pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft and was targeted at developing capacity for marine and riverine operations for personnel of the police marine wing.
For twelve weeks, 14 assistant superintendents of police, 6 inspectors, four sergeants and 16 corporals were trained in areas of operations/jurisdiction in the internal waters best practices in seamanship, navigation and other specific areas of maritime operations.
So how did they track the law breakers? The tracking and arrest of the suspects, was done by the Marine Police Command of the Nigerian Police which was based on a tip off from the Amphibious Ambush Squad of the Marine Command. With the Officer-in-Charge of Marine Command, DSP Ben Ogungbure, under the leadership of the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Marine Police Command, Muhammed Katsina, the operatives began to track their movement, who were without proper documentation.
The action succeeded as the suspects were arrested and during initial interrogation, it was found out that the suspects are serial stowaways as they had in the past travelled to Brazil, South Africa and some even Canada before they were deported.
Katsina explaining the source of strength said “in my maiden speech upon assumption of office as AIG Maritime, I made a pledge to empower a wide range of security architecture to cover our maritime environment, the waterways and littoral communities. Now, we are gradually dominating the maritime environment through our network of intelligence, which is very active.
“In this matter, it’s a case of self human trafficking and stowaway of four young Nigerians who conspired with a criminal motive to travel out of the country without proper documentation. The suspects, all indigenes of Snake Island Village behind Tincan Island Port, Lagos, conspired with intent to commit felony. They stole a canoe under the cover of darkness and paddled to a Malaysian-bound cargo ship MV Maersk Casablanca.
“The vessel was berthed at Tincan Island Port and trespassed into the vessel. They dived into the water and sneaked through the propeller into the manhole, where they hid themselves in a small compartment. It happened that 23 hours after the ship had sailed out, my intelligence group from the Amphibious Ambush Squad (AAS) alerted me of the presence of some strange elements in the vessel.
“We quickly alerted our operatives at Onne Port, in collaboration with the men of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) who played a commendable role and they were found and arrested. One of them (Adewale) was bleeding profusely as a result of injury he sustained in the process while sneaking into the vessel.”
The AIG said upon interrogation of the suspects, it was discovered that the particular route they took was an easy corridor for human trafficking, drug peddling, gun running, piracy, smuggling and hostage taking. He said, “From the account of the suspects, this had been a recurring phenomenon in the maritime environment as most of them claimed to have previously gone through this process to South Africa, Spain, and Canada only to be deported.
He affirmed the resolve of the Command to “redesign the methodology of our operation by seating with the Nigerian Navy, NIS and other sister agencies to cover the maritime environment. So that whenever they want to use this corridor to commit crime, they will be arrested and prosecuted within the ambits of the law.”
The stowaways of course had reasons why they wanted to escape that way. In response to interrogation after arrest, 24-year-old Ahmed Azeez, from Kwara state said “I had no other option but to travel out of the country since I couldn’t make it in Nigeria. I didn’t want to steal so I decided to stowaway. Although I was in South Africa before I was deported, I decided to try France after some of my friends who had earlier stowed away to France called me to come over.”
Azeez and the three other culprits identified as 33-year-old Tunde Yagba and 33-year-old Ajose Kehinde, were paraded at the Marine Police Command, Lagos, and the fourth suspect, 25-year-old Adewale Sunday was later hospitalised following an ulcer wound.
In their confessions at the jetty of the Marine Police Command, Victoria Island, Lagos, the suspects said they had all travelled to other countries like France, South Africa and Brazil in the past, but they were caught after some months in the country and were deported. Not deterred by that, they bided their time and this time, their target was a Malaysian-bound cargo vessel, MV Maersk Casablanca where they also ran out of luck.
Media reports showed that their method of operation is to hijack a fisherman’s boat, wait till it was late in the night and then sail to the vessel and smuggle in through the manhole into the vessel, and join arrival at their country of choice, and as well leave same way and swim to the shore. Their food is gala, saw garri and satchet water.
Azeez said he had no other option but to smuggle out of the country since the other option, which was stealing, wasn’t a good alternative. According to him,
“Although I was in South Africa before I was deported, I decided to try France after some of my friends who had earlier stowed away to France called me to come over. We didn’t steal the boat. We paid a fisherman N500 to ferry us across to the vessel. We bought garri and gala to tide us over.”
The brain behind the group, Ajose, said he had in 2009 travelled to Brazil but was later deported, adding that he called the three others so that they can try again. He said, “We all met at the football field where we play football. So since I wanted to travel abroad, I told them of my desire and they all agreed to join me.
“We then bought some garri and gala with a bag of pure water. In the night, we paid a fisherman N500 each to carry us to the vessel and we entered through the manhole. I don’t know how they heard us; maybe it’s the people in the engine room that called the police.
“Because we were at the bottom of the ship, we didn’t know where we were going but all we noticed was that they kept turning. We didn’t know that the police had already alerted them.
“The crew came down to where we were and took us up to the bridge (the room from where the ship is controlled) and fed us some food because we were hungry. At that point, Adewale was already sick. His ulcer started disturbing him so after we were arrested; he was taken to the hospital.”
Yagba, an aspiring footballer said, “It was Ajose that called us together. I told my family but they told me to desist but I had nothing to do so I followed my friends. I regret my actions now because I have shamed by family.” His claims were later collaborated by his in-law, one Mr. Adebayo Onibayo who said, “He told me about his intending trip but I cautioned him. I thought he listened to me. It’s bad friends that caused his ill-fated act.”
NAVTRAC Flag Officer Commanding, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, said that   the recent graduation course was a milestone for the navy and the police. He also said that given that the maritime domain remains a strategic asset with enormous resources and potential, they are equally cognisant that the natural benefit has been persistently channelled by a myriad of threats that have impinged on Nigeria’s economic wellbeing and national security.
He noted that some of the major challenges in addressing these crimes have been inadequate trained manpower, procedural errors in arrest, improper evidence management and lack of diligent prosecution of the part of the security agencies, thus a holistic approach in the management of the maritime environment would therefore require a coordinated approach among the security agencies operating within the nation’s maritime domain.
Analysts think that  feat by the Marine Command is obviously commendable but urged for more proactive efforts to ensure the officers are not lacking in their duties. It goes without saying that government should live up to her responsibilities to avoid records of unrepentant stowaways.

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