“Most of the Sea Robbers on Nigerian waters are certified seafarers” ----Capt Alfred Oniye

"The same security contract the Federal Government gave out to foreigners, seafarers are telling you that they can do the job at no cost"

Capt Alfred Oluwasegun Oniye is a maritime security expert trained by the United States Navy; he is currently the Secretary of the Merchant Navy Directorate. In this interview with Shipping Position Daily Correspondent;  Dapo Olawuni, he highlighted some of the lapses in Nigerian Maritime security and offered solutions to tackle   the menace of sea piracy. He also spoke on the essence of establishing the directorate, even as he said that a maritime outfit; Merchant Detectives and Security Agency Incorporated, has been set up to assist the government in the area   of maritime security.   

"Secure Anchorage Area is a waste of peoples’ money; it's another way of diverting public funds"


  What is your assessment of the level of piracy on our waterways?Last year, the attack we recorded in this industry was 79, this is the one we know and we have the fact and the records, these are the ones they reported, what about the ones that they didn't report. Most of these seafarers are being threatened not to report attacks, so definitely we have more than 79 attacks, but these are the ones we recorded with facts on our hands. If anybody tells you that the attacks we had last year was 34, it means they are lying, they are doing that to cover their mess and weakness because they have failed. But, I would not blame them, on the territorial waters, Nigerian Navy could only cover 5%, we have the records, on the contiguous one they could only cover 1%, on the inland waterways, they could only cover 36 creeks out of 6,000. This year alone, we have recorded 15 attacks, we have the record with evidence, we are able to gather all these data because we are certified intelligence officers. Sometimes, international agencies do call on us to get some of this information, sometimes some of them even get the information before us, they are current more than us. My question now is that, what does the Nigerian Navy or NIMASA want to gain by covering up these mess , because it is when you make people to understand your challenges, that is when they can come to your aid, covering it up is as good as you killing the country.  How do you suggest we tackle the menace of attacks on ships?

The Federal Government has signed a security contract with a foreign firm, but this alone cannot solve our problems because our problem is in-house, maritime crime is being committed by maritime professionals, anybody that doesn't understand that water can not go there, and these robbers cannot carry out their operations successfully without the collaboration of some security personnel, the security officials have been compromised.

The way forward is to look in-house and ask; who are the people committing these crimes, who are the people we have trained professionally but they have no job, and I keep telling you that most of the sea robbers on Nigerian waters are certified seafarers, I don't call them terrorists, because if you look at the way they attack, they don't kill, they would kidnap, you would pay them and they would release you, this is pure survival, they just want to work.

Let me be blunt with you, if NIMASA does not do something about the unemployed seafarers, a time is coming that they would begin to kidnap NIMASA staff, NIMASA directors are already exposed to that, the game is going to shift from seafarers and foreigners, it would shift to NIMASA directors that some of them would not be able to enter their office again, they are the cancer that is killing the industry, they know the problem, they are the ones collecting money from these boys to regulate their certificates, and after they give the certificate there is no job, do you know how much they pay for certificate endorsement?

And the same certificate they offer them here cannot be used outside Nigeria, even Ghana certificate is preferable on Nigerian waters, there are some Nigerian vessels that would not even accept Nigerian certificate. We are not saying all these because we are trying to pamper criminality, these boys are survivors, we have been there and we know what happens.  I sail these creeks and I know the corners, I understand the game there and that is why nobody can tell me any story about this industry. If anybody comes out to say they are doing their best in tackling maritime security, they should ask that person what he knows about the insecurity on the waters, if the Minister of Transportation (Rotimi Amaechi) is there and things are getting worst under his nose, somebody should be able to ask Amaechi what he knows about the insecurity on these waters, they should be able to ask Dakuku Peterside (NIMASA DG) what he knows about the insecurity on these waters, they should be able to ask the Chief of Naval Staff what he knows about the insecurity in these waters, because these are the people who are supposed to secure life and property on the waters,  but they are failing in their responsibilities, are they telling us that they don't know what to do?

 Have you seen any effect of the security contract on our waters?

There is no foreign security firm that can secure our waters, because when you say you are signing any contract with a foreign security firm, you are indirectly saying that our Nigerian Navy are not competent, Nigerian Navy are trying their best, but professionally as a maritime security expert, I know that Nigerian Navy cannot secure this water alone, Nigeria has a very wide coast, statutorily, Nigerian Navy are supposed to be on our territorial waters, but they have abandoned the territorial waters and are now back on the inland waters because there is no agency covering the inland waters, navy could only cover 5% of the territorial waters, so they came back to the inland waters to defend, if you check most of the attacks, they happen between territorial, contiguous and the Exclusive Economic Zones. You will hear 20naut, 25naut, and 60naut,; these are the places Navy are supposed to cover but they are not there, so they have tried their best in their own capacity, but I am telling you professionally that they alone cannot do the job, it is necessary and compulsory for us to have a Coast Guard that would take care of the inland waters, so that Nigerian Navy can focus on the territorial waters, even the international laws allow them to cover some level at the contiguous zone. But somebody who has not finished protecting his own house, how do you expect him to protect another man’s house? If you ask me, in their last recruitment, how many did they recruit? They don't have enough personnel not to talk of equipment, the same security contract the Federal Government gave out to foreigners, seafarers are telling you that they can do the job at no cost to the government, and this job would create not less than 50,000 jobs for the unemployed seafarers, the job there belong to professionals, it is not just to carry guns, maritime security is not  just about gun, in maritime security you don't need to step out of your office to know what is happening in your water, it’s just to plot my radar and I will tell you what is happening on the waters, once I notice a threat, it becomes my responsibility to call the coordinate, the Air Force, the gun boats to go to the longitude, nautical miles or the latitude where there is a threat, this is the only time that a gunboat can move.

So, maritime security job is a professional job, it is not about carrying guns, does Amaechi want to gain by wasting the country's resources and giving out maritime security to outsiders when the same job can be done by the indigenes, he wants to bring foreigners into our country so that they can know the secret of our security, because once they begin to secure, they will begin to see everything and that means we are no longer secure.

In terms of ISPS Code implementation, would you say that we have performed well?

I heard they said we are now 90% -compliant in ISPS Code implementation, this is a big lie, I must tell you that if they give us 20%, it is just a pass mark because ISPS failed in Nigeria, our problem is implementation, the ISPS Code you are talking about only covers international ships and some areas in the port, it has nothing to do with the inland waters, so what about vessels that are moving on the inland waterways and they are international vessels.  I can tell you that we have over 4,000 vessels in our waters that NIMASA does not even have their records, the vessel that you don't have their records, how do you want to enforce ISPS Code on them, so where did NIMASA get its 90% compliance from? And whosoever is claiming 90% implementation, we at Merchant Navy Directorate are challenging him, let him come and give us the statistics. Shipping companies are folding up almost every day because our waters are not secure for them. 

What is your assessment of the security provided at Lagos Secure Anchorage Area?

Has anybody ever bothered to ask who owns that contract and which account they pay money into, where their office is? You concession maritime security just like when you lease your land and say that vessels who need to be safe should come and hide there and pay and yet they are telling us that we don't need another agency to secure the inland waterways, the money being paid to Secured Anchorage is more than if we have an agency in charge, this money goes into private pockets. Recently, there was an attack at the Secure Anchorage Area, this is to tell you that they don't even have what it takes to secure the water, security is not display of arms, what the secure anchorage company is doing is referred to as acrobatic display of arms under maritime security job, the gunboat they put there cannot stop any attack, this is why you see attacks occurring there several times, I don't  need to carry guns and wear bullet-proof  vest for you to know that I am a security man, if I do this, I am exposing myself to more danger. They should stop collecting peoples’ money and let's make this country work, Secure Anchorage Area is a waste of peoples’ money, it's another way of diverting public funds and not making the industry to work, how many people have they provided jobs for, it is supposedly owned by private interests, but it is still the Nigerian Navy doing the job, the gun boats there, is it owned by Secure Anchorage? The Nigerian Navy officers who are supposed to be carrying out their constitutional duty are there working for a private firm, private maritime security job is like a cancer to the Nigerian Navy.

The Maritime Security Agency which you are pushing for, are they going to carry out new recruitment or use Nigerian Navy?

They would have to recruit the existing seafarers because this job requires navigators, engineers, ship managers, it requires a lot, you cannot do maritime security if you don't know how to plot chart.

In securing the waters, you need force, do the seafarers have this?

It is necessary to train them to carry arms, so this is the least of it, at most, they would get training for three months, there is a difference between training and torture, in Nigeria we don't train, we only torture, but here we are talking about training, accurate shooting, I am an Anti-Piracy Security Service (APSS) So, I handle shooting at the highest level, we are talking about accurate shooting, ask most of the Nigerian Navy officers, when was the last time they had shot a gun, it is not just to waste bullets, you cannot afford to waste bullets when it comes to maritime security, there is nothing special in training these boys in arms carrying, some of them are already exposed to it.

Another thing is that we still have some retired navy officers who are ‘useless’ on the streets, they are supposed to serve as naval reserve, this country still needs them, they should be brought back to form the Coast Guard, I met a retired Commodore in Abuja selling Pampers, there are Rear Admirals who would beg to put food on their table, these men are loaded but the country is wasting them, what is the future of those officers serving now by the time they retire? The Coast Guard is supposed to be their next place when they retire to take up another national function. 

What is the essence of setting up this directorate?

The major reason we set up the Merchant Navy Directorate is to revamp Nigerian economy through the maritime industry. We also want to give our support to the existing security agencies where they need it, it is at no cost to them, because of this, we have set up Merchant Detectives and Security Agency Incorporated (MDSA), it is basically into intelligence gathering, because we know that intelligence in this country is at a zero level, we came together with some Generals and the US Navy SEAL to form this agency

Our responsibility is to assist the government at no cost, we would strengthen their weak points to save this country, we wrote the EFCC, NIMASA, Nigerian Police, the Lagos State Government, we are yet to get response from them, this is to tell you that the insecurity in our waters is political, we are yet to get positive response from even NIMASA and the Nigerian Police, we are open to collaboration.