Aside from the serious dent on the nation’s international image, shipowners, shippers and ship operators have been incurring huge financial losses including loss of human lives. More over, several business operators particularly Fishing Trawler Owners have been relocating to other West African States with safer navigable waters. This presents a serious challenge to the country.
Next to this, is the crude oil theft including unrestrained stealing of refined petroleum products. This twin problem has placed Nigerian authority and its security agencies in a dilemma. The inability of the government to contain this has resulted in staggering loss of revenue to the nation. Nigeria’s oil Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, crest fallen in a recent outing in the United Kingdom, did not mask her frustration on this national malaise.
Indeed, she was at pains telling her international audience that this criminal act erodes the economy and frustrates foreign investment. Further more, the Minister remarked that this also affects the security of the Gulf of Guinea where Nigeria has huge economic interest – oil.
Her outcry, contained in her keynote address at the just concluded Powerlist 2014 Programme in London is a testimony of the hapless situation oil theft has placed Nigeria. Her utterances raised some fundamental questions. First, is Nigeria capitulating in her fight against oil theft in her own territorial waters? Second, has the nation reached a cull-de-sac in her fight against this nefarious act? Do we need internation security outfits powered by the world’s economic powers to curb this criminality? Regrettably, our Honourabkle Minister did not tell her critical audience what Nigerian authorities are doing to curb this problem. Rather, she remarked that the international dimension to the problem makes it difficult for the country to surmount it.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s lamentation is an admission of failure. No qualms about it. It is sad that piracy and oil theft which are criminal acts, threatening the economy of Nigeria especially the oil industry that sustains the nation is going on without much frontal attack on it.
It is also embarrassing that Nigerian high seas are under siege. This is where we have the hub of the economy. Substantial quantities of oil are exploited there and most oil related activities are located offshore. Should we allow our economic hub to be threatened unchallenged? Why should we allow the threats to huge investments in this sector to be damaged. These and other questions remain a morale and political challenge to the Nigeria government.
Responding to this mind boggling issue, the management of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and safety Agency, signed Memorandum of understanding with the Nigerian Navy and the Air Force. The proximate reason for this was to protect the Sea for safe Shipping. In addition to this, NIMASA bought a surveillance helicopter to execute this important national assignment.
Notwithstanding this, Nigerian water ways are still subjected to unfettered piracy attacks and unprecedented sea robbery. Incidence of crude oil theft is still rising. All these point to one direction – the structural weakness of the MOU between the Navy, Air force and NIMASA. A national embarrassment.
The trio especially the Navy and NIMASA have been arresting crude oil thieves, but they complain that the judiciary and police have not come out with corresponding actions to make their efforts meaningful. This is another perturbing issue that needs special attention by the Federal Government because if the enforcement agencies – the police, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission and the judiciary fail to play their roles creditably, all efforts by NIMASA, Navy will continue to be worthless.
From the fore going account, it is obvious that the sea robbers have defied all measures put in place to curb them. This keeps the country’s maritime domain in peril, eroding the confidence of Nigerian trading partners.
This situation also keeps panting stakeholders doubting the efficacy of the MOU entered into by NIMASA with the Nigeria Navy and the Air Force.
The Federal Government and its relevant agencies should not allow this ugly situation to slide further. There is compelling need for them to protect Nigerian water and the huge offshore investments especially the country’s Economic Exclusive Zone.
The major step to extricate the Nigerian Maritime domain from this quandary is massive funding of NIMASA, Navy and the Airforce for the procurement of State-of-the-art facilities required for maritime security. This will lead to regular patrol of the high seas.
Also, the MOU should be strengthened by eliminating areas of role conflict among the parties. In this regard, the functions of the Navy and NIMASA should be well defined.
In addition to this, there must be unity of purpose among all the signatories to the MOU in discharging their duties towards total eradication of sea robbery.
The Air Force should also be fully equipped for regular arial surveillance of the Nigerian territorial waters.
The Anti-Piracy bill presented by NIMASA still pending in the National Assembly should be given a speedy passage into act. This will empower the agency and other law enforcement organs to prosecute and punish culprits engaged in sea robbery.
Official corruption which has rendered NIMASA and Navy in effectively dealing with sea marauders should be eliminated to achieve the desired results in containing these criminal acts on Nigerian waters. The police, EFCC and the judiciary must have a change of heart by fully cooperating with the Navy and NIMASA. Here, the nation demands undiluted patriotism from them. These are critical national issues that should not be bridled at. Enough of the agonizing foot dragging.