The prevailing insecurity on Nigerian waters is a serious threat to the national economy and a major concern to the international shipping community. From the deep offshore to the inland waterways especially the creeks and rivers, all forms of criminal activities are going on with colossal loss of revenue to operators in the maritime sector.
In the major rivers and creeks; farmers, artisanal fishermen and traders incur huge losses as a result of the mindless onslaught on them by sea robbers who cart away their valuables with impunity.
Similarly, the deep sea industrial fishermen have had their boats damaged and crew killed or maimed by pirates who also steal their money and valuables at gun point.
Sadly, the industrial fishing sector operators have been relocating their activities to other West African nations, leaving Nigeria drained of revenue.
The situation in the offshore sector with huge investments is more dismal. Oil and gas exploration activities are frequently disrupted to the detriment of Nigeria’s economic interest. Also, oil pipelines are being destroyed, leading to unwanted pollution of the sea. Oil exploration companies at times close operations because they fear for the lives of their workers. These colossal losses are definitely too much for Nigeria – a nation aspiring to become one of the top 20 economies of the world in the next half decade.
Aside these, the high level of criminality on Nigerian waters dampen her external image and remain a disincentive to investors.
Responding to these challenges, the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Air Force some years ago signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to fight piracy to a standstill and make the waters safe for legitimate operations.
The management of NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy in the spirit of the MOU have been recording successes in the arrest of pirates and oil thieves with most of those arrested paraded and handed over to law enforcement agencies for prosecution. But what happens at this point? The result has been very disquieting because both the police and the law courts have woefully failed to play the roles expected of them thus creating a huge setback for the anti-piracy war.
Apart from the failure of the Police and the worrisome role of the judiciary in bringing suspected sea robbers and pirates to justice, lack of sufficient funds also remains a major concern in the fight against criminal activities on Nigeria’s waters.
The Director General of NIMASA, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, recently told maritime stakeholders that paucity of funds is an impediment to full security of Nigeria’s maritime zone. He stressed the need to protect the vast resources in the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone in order to protect the huge hydrocarbon deposits and fish resources that are critical to Nigeria’s economic interest.
To fully protect the waters, the MOU partners have to be very methodical in their operations but then with inadequate resources, their limitations will remain, paving way for the robbers to create more havoc in the waters unchallenged. It is on record that both the Navy and NIMASA do not have enough patrol boats and platforms that can boost their operational efficiency and cover the nation’s entire waterways. The Nigeria Air Force also lacks sufficient aircrafts to regularly carry out surveillance of the waters.
The challenge now is for the Federal Ministries of Defense and the Federal Ministry of Transport to dialogue with the Presidency to ensure adequate budgetary allocations for the Navy and the Air Force.
What is being advocated here is better security budgets for higher efficiency of the military in the fight against crime on our waters. More patrol boats, platforms and other modern facilities required for effective policing of the waters have to be procured.
Trade should be allowed to thrive on the waters for better economic advancement of Nigeria. The NIMASA/Navy/Air Force MOU must not crumble.