“Pirates carry arms, so the man who doesn’t carry arms can’t face them”...Captain Ogah
Captian Abel Ogah retired in the Nigerian Navy in 2014. Until his retirement, he served in almost all the departments of the Navy and currently he is serving as a training facilitator in the Navy. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he talked about the difference between the Nigerian Navy and the Merchant Navy and some industry issues.
“There should be a policy guideline stipulating what each person should do in the maritime sector” While in service, where were the places of your assignment?I spent 31 years all together in the Nigerian Navy, starting as a cadet up till the time I retired as a Captain. And during the course of my service, I specialised in operations and I served as a Watch Keeping Officer. I served as a specialist in communication on board ships both ashore and a-float meaning serving both in the base and of course in ships. I equally commanded ship while serving Nigerian Navy. For administrative roles, I was a one-time director of operations; I was also a director ICT. I have also been a director at Command and Staff College at Jaji and I think that was one of the reasons why on leaving the Navy, they felt I could still contribute something in the training.Outside the Navy, I develop myself in the maritime sector through several trainings. I have a Post Degree in shipping. I was awarded Fellow of Institute of Shipping.
How has life been after service? To me life is all about what you take it to be and nobody can give you happiness unless you give it to yourself. One thing about me is that I am making myself happy after service.
Recently the Vice President; Prof Yemi Osibanjo gave an Executive Order on ease of doing business in the ports. Do you think the order is achievable?Presently like I tried to identify in the master mariners meeting we had recently there is no defined policy that will guide our mode of operation in the maritime sector. If there is a policy stipulating individual’s task, it means that we know who is supposed to be in the port and who is not supposed to be in the port. Like I mentioned, in other to move the country forward, there are two things that are required, what to do and what to say. In either of this, we must know who does what, when, why and how does the person do it. And if the person does not know how to do it, it means that the person will create more confusion than doing it right. And that starts with the area of the appointment of who controls these ports facilities, maritime activities and offices that relate to the maritime sector. We must have people who know what to do in other to move the maritime sector forward.
There have been so many clashes between Nigerian Navy and Merchant Navy as regards their duties and responsibilities. Can you throw more light on that?Yes, I think the Nigerian constitution is very clear on issues relating to individual responsibilities. Notwithstanding, there should be a policy guideline stipulating what each person should do. For the Nigerian Navy, there are constitutional roles of the Nigerian Navy and these roles include, enforcing and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all customs, immigrations fishery protection and pollution laws. Secondly, enforcement of all national and international maritime laws ascribed to by Nigeria. If you are talking about these laws, you talk about laws by IMO, international maritime laws and all that, making of chats and coordinating the nation’s hydro graphic surveys. It means that you cannot come to Nigeria water to carry out any survey without the Nigerian Navy. It also includes co-ordinating safety regulations in the territorial waters up to the Exclusive Economic Zones of Nigeria (EEZ) which is up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. Then policing and defending Nigerian maritime environment against internal attacks including illicit maritime activities such as piracy, sabotage, poaching, that means people who come to fish in our waters without license and also human trafficking. They are parts of the responsibilities of the Nigerian Nay to ensure that these things are properly carried out. So if these are the responsibilities of the Nigerian Navy, it means that the presence of the Nigerian Navy must be on water to ensure that these assigned tasks and responsibilities are executed. And Nigerian Navy cannot go to water unless they have the platforms to do that. Notwithstanding the roles also given to other agencies, I think what is required here is collaboration. There is no agency that works independently to achieve national interest. So everyone has a role, just like a case of who is in front and another person is at the back. For you to say that you are in front another person must be at your back otherwise you have no position if there is nobody behind you. So we are all partners in ensuring the safety and security of the maritime environment.However, security is not totally the same as safety. While safety is about prevention, security is about ensuring and enforcing that anything that comes up has a solution. But I have discovered that when the person who is supposed to provide the platform to prevent the activities does not do his work, then he becomes a police. Like I used to give example with what happens on our roads. A road safety man is not supposed to be arresting people for vehicles that were bought from the market. He is supposed to make the roads safe for the people who are plying on the road. And even if a vehicle was stolen, it is not his responsibility to arrest anybody who is driving a stolen vehicle; it is the responsibility of the Police. So the role of maritime safety for example is to ensure that the maritime environment is safe. And even in making the environment safe it requires the help of the Navy that can enforce, for them to ensure that the maritime environment is safe. It means that all of us need to work together to actualise that.The Merchant Navy is not a security outfit, it is an operator who is supposed to be secured and protected by a security outfit. It’s just a case where you are doing your business as a driver but someone is to make sure that the road you are driving is safe and secured for you and that is the responsibility of the police on the road. It is not the responsibility of the driver to make sure that the road is safe and secure but the police are supposed to be on the main road to ensure that the road is safe and secured. That is the different between Merchant Navy and the Nigerian Navy.
Which government agency do you think has the responsibility for the training and certification of seafarers?Presently, NIMASA is tasked with the responsibility of certification; there is what we call Standard Training Watch Certification for seafarers. Like IMO delegations and responsibilities, is NIMASA that can do that. For the Navy we have our own professional training as a Seaman or a Naval personnel by virtue of our training we don’t have to go through NIMASA because the type of platforms we need are different from the ones Merchant Navy will need. Our platform are men of war, which is the vessels that we will need, we were trained to handle them. In as much as we were trained to handle them, we can also handle merchant vessels but merchant navy cannot handle our own vessels. So that is why you find out that some people will leave the navy and they will go and join maritime sector and they will captain some ships. But you cannot leave the merchant navy and come to the navy to captain a navy ship, it is not possible.
What would you say are the roles of the Nigerian Navy in the fight against piracy and sea robbery?Their role is to ensure that the maritime environment is secured, that is by carrying out the continuous policing of the maritime environment and that requires the Navy. And that presence cannot be felt unless there are platforms. When I joined the navy, there were smaller vessels that we kept on going in and out of the sea and that vessels prevented pirates. But we have discovered that the navy does not have enough platforms to send their people to the sea. And when you are not at sea, you have given room for pirates, smugglers and all illicit activities to take place. So primarily what is required is the presence of the Nigerian navy in the waters. It’s just like were you build a house no matter how much you put burglary in the house when there is nobody present as security man, the thief will come and carry out his operations and go. So presence counts.
Are you satisfied with roles of NIMASA in the fight against piracy?NIMASA does not even have the responsibilities to fight piracy because they do not have platforms. Pirates operate on waters; it is the navy that has ships because it is an arm of the security force that can fight piracy. NIMASA is a civil sector because it is a civil agency and they are not allowed to carry arms. Pirates carry arms so the man who doesn’t carry arms cant face them.
What is your assessment of the MoU between NIMAASA and the Nigerian Navy in the fight against piracy and sea robbery? What NIMASA ordinary could have done for the Navy is to support to get the required platform for the Navy to use since the Navy cannot on its own acquire such platforms. NIMASA, NPA and Customs all make money for the government and whose operations are on the sea are the ones that are supposed to collaborate to ensure that people that provides security are well funded and provided with the required security to ensure that the water from where they generate these money is safe and secured.