Quelling the growing threat of sea piracy in the Niger Delta

Since Nigeria is an oil dependent economy, it goes without saying that the nation should watch and tend the goose that lays the golden eggs – and for Nigeria, that goose is the Niger Delta.

Most of the money the government spends to pay salaries, build roads, pay pensions, import military hardware and dole out contracts come from the crude oil or black gold buried deep within the Niger Delta region.

The coming of Goodluck Jonathan into power ushered in an era of relative peace in what was formerly Nigeria’s most restive region. Violent militants hung their camouflage vests and adopted the genteel suit of the peaceful capitalist. They came out in droves from the mosquito infested creeks and bought plush houses in Port Harcourt, Warri, Asaba and Abuja, and the rest of the country heaved a huge sigh of relief: Gone were the days when the activities of these insurgents brought oil production to a virtual halt. Gone were the days when pipelines busted as a result of militant explosives.

But it is beginning to seem that the aforementioned sigh of relief was breathed too soon, for of recent, there have been rumblings anew in that part of the country.

The International Maritime Bureau reported some days ago that a total of 11 [sea] piracy incidents accounting for 10 crew kidnappings were recorded in Nigeria in the first half of 2015 alone.

The Bureau announced that, “In many incidents, pirates hijacked the vessels for several days and ransacked the vessels and stole cargo usually gas or oil.”

It went further to state that; “A number of crew members were also injured and kidnapped in past attacks. Generally, all waters in/off Nigeria remain risky. Vessels are advised to be vigilant, as many attacks may have gone unreported.”

This warning, just like others before it, calls for concern. It is disturbing to note that this jump in the frequency of pirate attacks in the country’s waters seems to have started soon after the May 29 elections, suggesting that the pirates want to use the election loss of former President Goodluck Jonathan who hails from the Niger Delta as a pretext and smokescreen to begin wholesale robberies dressed in the toga of resource control militancy.

It is comforting that the government is taking none of it and has already carried out some operations against the pirates; it is heartening to note that the police in collaboration with three states, the Navy, the Airforce and Department of State Security (DSS) is in the process of setting up a special taskforce to combat the scourge of sea piracy.

According to the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Henry Babalola, the Gulf Guinea is safe for business. But unless the task force swings into serious business sooner than later, those words will be taken as empty and not worth much.

The task force should not allow the allegations of lack of coordination that emanate from other theaters of low intensity conflict to be made here. The command should make sure that all moneys are spent on what they are meant for, which may include arms and ammunition, and personnel welfare expenditures.

The consequences of taking the growing threat of sea pirates in the Niger Delta with a pinch of salt could mean that the country slides into the kind of situation Somalia faced a few years ago, where gun totting outlaws become bold enough to take over large swathes of the waterways to the detriment of free maritime activities in or out of the country. If this is allowed to combine with the threat by some militants to resume pipeline explosions and other forms of militarized political protest, the country’s economy would then be sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Such a situation if allowed to combine with the currently abysmal oil prices and the currently unstable currency, will no doubt take us on a trip to assured socio-economic disaster. A word is enough for the government.

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