Recently, the Nigerian Association of Master Mariner (NAMM) organised a talk show on safety on the nation’s waters. The forum was obviously, the association’s contribution to the sustained quest for safety within Nigeria’s territorial waters. Prior to these, there had been such for a by different stakeholders on the same topic.
Surprisingly, all the talks have not reduced the menace called sea robbery and piracy as almost on weekly basis, seafarers and water crafts owners tell tales of woes in the hands of daredevil gangsters.
We however congratulate the master mariners for joining the list of organisations and individuals that have raised a voice about the obvious lackadaisical attitude of the government and its agencies that are supposed to be responsible for anti-sea robbery activities. We dare say that these agencies include: Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigeria Navy.
We will like to recall that the duo of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had put together a standing committee on piracy in the past. They have also organised an international conference on piracy and armed robbery at sea. Suffice it to acknowledge that the conference drew participants from all stakeholders; it was attended by both local and international bodies.
Months after the NIMASA and Navy conference, participants at the recent master mariners’ forum still lamented that “armed robbery attacks on Nigerian territorial waters have long reached an alarming proportion. Nigeria is known to have the unenviable status of battling for the top position with “lawless” Somalia in the global records of piracy attacks”.
Recently and apparently in response to repeated outcry by stakeholders, the Nigerian chief of defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike inaugurated an 11-member inter agency task force to tackle unrests, militancy and sea robbery on Nigerian waters.
Membership of the committee which is headed by head of training at the defence headquarters was drawn from the armed forces, Customs, Police, Nigerian Ports Authourity, NIMASA as well as ministries of transport, interiors and the State Security Service (SSS).
We sincerely doubt what this committee can do; it can not stop these sea robbers and pirates whose superior fire power has once been attested to by the military and owners of fishing trawlers. Little wonder that the committee has only succeeded in harassing hapless owners of private jetties and tank farms in Lagos.
For all her self acclaimed efforts through its enforcement agencies Nigeria still maintains an embarrassing second position; only to notorious Somalia. Painful however is the fact that, while the ‘gangsterism’ in Somalia can be hinged on the fact that it is a failed state (with no acceptable government and no democracy), the same can not be said about Nigeria; a democratic nation with a democratically elected government.
The issue of sea robbery in Nigeria has however transcended to a dangerous level as at least three dreaded Niger Delta militant groups have been identified as the arrowheads of these attacks. They are: Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDVF), Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) as well as the Niger Delta Strike Force (NDSF).
To further underscore the terrible security state of our waters, the International Maritime Bureau has already identified Nigeria as one of the world’s most dangerous piracy hotspots alerting that the country is ill- equipped to combat pirates who plied the seas in speed boats, modern machine guns and radios; targeting tankers, trawlers, barges and oil industry support vessels.
Participants at the master mariners conference also thought in the same manner. They had lamented that “while the pirates in Somalia take ransom with no reports of killings yet, Nigeria’s maritime domain is replete with killings”. This is very true and if anyone wants to contest that, the person should be ready for a ‘war’ with the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA) which loses crew, catches, expensive on-board equipment and sometimes, the trawlers as well.
We agree with the organisers of the forum that maritime security should achieve the assurance of freedom and secure use of the seas as well as facilitate freedom of navigation and commerce and also promote prosperity.
We join our voice with those who have called for the creation of an inter agency coast guard that will be responsible for ensuring security on Nigerian waters.
In other climes where coast guards exist, they are not under the maritime administration agency, neither are they under any single arm of the security agency. They are a creation of the government; not reporting to any minister or lesser powers, but with specific mandate of ensuring security of all maritime, oil and gas interests.
Stakeholders have spoken a lot, government agencies have organised conferences, seminar and fora a lot. The federal government should be more responsive; especially since it is now obvious that neither NIMASA nor the Nigerian Navy can effectively protect the nation’s aquatic interests.