Much ado about maritime security in Nigeria

Nigeria owes the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA) a great deal of gratitude for the attention that has now been turned to the menace called piracy and sea robbery within Nigeria’s territorial waters.It was the association that first blew the whistle about seven years ago on what has now become a means of livelihood for hoodlums, miscreants and militants across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region and Lagos.Local and international statistics are scary enough to underscore the economic and social dangers that are faced by victims of piracy or sea robbery.The figures are indeed scary, more so now that the menace is no longer targeted at fishing  trawlers, but on ships laden with  refined and crude oil as well as dry cargo ships.Truth is, Nigeria is now ranked next to lawless Somalia in piracy. She holds an unenviable record of being a giant in piracy activities in the Gulf of Guinea.A lot has been said about the various options that we have as a nation. These options range from the NIMASA/Navy alliance, the Coast Guard option and the controversial Maritime Security Agency (MASECA) option. We recall that the NIMASA/ Navy Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) gave birth to the Maritime Guard Command which is domiciled in NIMASA. It is this command that is largely responsible for the increasing rate of arrests of sea robbers and pirates in recent times.Without boring anyone with statistics that are already in public domain, the current rating and the alarm that was raised by the International Maritime Bureau about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is enough reason to reappraise our approach.It is shocking that while piracy is reducing in the Gulf of Aden where Somali pirates are gods, it is escalating in the Gulf of Guinea, and Nigerian pirates are being fingered for contributing immensely to it.It is against these shocking realities and the monumental exposures that we want to commend the collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy.Recently, the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside said the agency is pushing for the passage of a dedicated anti-piracy Bill. According to him, after the passage, Nigeria will be the first African country to have a dedicated anti-piracy law.“We have raised the bar on surveillance and intelligence in Nigerian waters, we have the satellite surveillance system in place and maritime domain awareness assets”, he stressed.As much as we agree that the alliance between the Navy and NIMASA is producing results, we are still of the opinion that it is not a most acceptable way of tackling the menace. It is a model that can not be cited outside of our shores.The same applies to the now defunct NIMASA/ Global West marriage which involved the engagement of the later to supply platforms for anti-piracy operations. It was also a Nigerian creation that is not tenable in the comity of nations.The most reasonable model appears to be Coast Guard, which is already a tested global model in the fight against piracy and all forms of vices associated with seafaring. The question is : if the Coast Guard apparatus has been tested and adjudged adequate in other maritime domains, what do we have against it in Nigeria.It is even more curious that the same forces that were against the establishment of Coast Guard were those that are also worked against the establishment of a Maritime Security Agency (MASECA).We stress it again that  it is the statutory responsibility of  NIMASA to ensure a safe and  secure  water for ships, crew and cargo, the ad hoc arrangement with Navy or any institutions for that matter is just what it is – purely, ad hoc.If NIMASA can not do it alone, then, we are in support of the creation of a Coast Guard or let there be separate agency to handle as it obtains in other climes.For this not to be, NIMASA has to do things differently, it has to demonstrate capability to fulfill its mandate, which include safety and security.