•Thousands of tons of harzadous wastes dumped in Africa’s waters – Researchers
•How to fight criminality on the seas and secure our maritime assets – CNS Ibas
By Kingsley Omonobi – Abuja
Sometime ago, the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, told visiting members of the Senate Committee on Nigerian Navy, that the shortage of ships, platforms and inadequate funding for the service were hindering efforts to secure Nigeria’s maritime assets from illegal oil bunkerers, sea pirates and militants, among others.
The revelation came after reports claimed that the Federal Government had deployed five warships, 100 gunboats and fighter jets to the creeks to stop Niger Delta Avengers and other groups in the Niger Delta blowing up oil pipelines, loading points and even production facilities.
Of course the militant activities negatively impacted on oil receipts since over 80 per cent of the country’s revenue came from crude with the navy being the primary security agency saddled with the sea protection of the maritime assets, including export loading terminals.
Outlining the handicap of the navy in this onerous task, Ibas explained that the number and mix of platforms in its inventory is grossly inadequate to cover the vast maritime assets and support the air force and the amphibious units of the army during joint operations.
These platforms include seaward defence boats, inshore patrol crafts with capacity to penetrate the creeks and shallow waters through which militants carry out their sabotage efforts, unserviceable and inadequate aircraft for surveillance activities particularly navy helicopters and inadequate modern maritime communication and seaward tracking devices.
He added that many old naval capital ships are not operational and require a lot of resources to maintain, noting that deployment of the few available operational ships was also becoming financially challenging even as he listed challenges facing the navy to also include limited maritime domain awareness capability, inadequate and dilapidated jetties, dilapidated logistics support facilities, weak hydrographic survey capability and shortage of barracks accommodation.
Emphasizing that these challenges have persisted because of inadequate funding of the navy over the years and that the trend indicates that while the proposed overhead is increasing annually, the amounts appropriated and released are decreasing, the CNS said, “This has impinged on Nigeria Navy’s ability to optimally maintain her fleet for sustained presence at sea among others.
“This same situation applies for capital expenditure, such that the Nigeria Navy’s ability to acquire adequate platforms and other hardware necessary to optimally police Nigeria’s maritime environment has been severely restricted”.
For instance, the CNS was pointed out that N25, 646,409,841 was appropriated as capital expenditure in the 2016 budget for the navy while less than 20 per cent of the money had been released despite the glaring need for the navy to have either its grounded platforms retrofitted and returned or acquire new ones for the daunting challenges.
He explained that only N3, 479,967,632 was appropriated as overhead expenditure which, according to him, is inadequate to enable the navy perform its duties satisfactorily.
However, a look at the consequences of these policies on the Nigerian Navy and sister navies in the Africa, as they are linked to the same apron string, showed that Nigeria and others are suffering on several fronts as a fallout.
The consequences of Nigeria and Africa’s inability to control its seas from illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is estimated to cost the region’s approximately US$1 billion a year in lost revenue, with Somalia-based piracy alone costing an estimated US$7 billion in 2011.
Research has shown that sea power of both naval kind and the softer kind that involves trade and exploitation of the ocean’s resources is as vital as ever with majority of world’s commerce, physical goods still overwhelmingly moving through the sea, and this is estimated at a whopping 90% of global trade by weight and volume not to speak of the abundant marine resources that could be derived there from.
Consequently, the Nigerian government, in conjunction with other African countries, need to make policies and take actions to make its people look seaward and not turn their backs against it as this is costing Nigeria and other African countries dearly in terms of lost revenue and security.
Of Africa’s 54 states, 38 are either coastal or island nations. However, Africa’s colonial legacy forced countries on the continent to look inward and neglect their coastlines of more than 26, 000 nautical miles (47 000km).
Nigeria and countries in Africa continue to remain the continent that suffers most from illegal and unregulated fishing, maritime terrorism, piracy and armed robbery at sea. Others are poor regulatory maritime regimes, illegal drugs, arms and human trafficking; a lack of effective communication and other technological maritime requirements and unsuitable ships and ports.
It is estimated for instance by researchers that 50-60 tons of cocaine move through West Africa to Europe annually while thousands of tons of hazardous wastes are dumped in African waters. Africa has more than 100 ports, many operating below capacity and African-owned ships account for barely less than 1.2% of the world‘s shipping.
Like the rest of the world, more than 90 percent of Nigeria and Africa’s imports and exports are carried by sea. According to a policy brief, it is estimated that with the inclusion of the illegal market in military arms and logged forest products, Africa has a maritime economy estimated at US$1 trillion a year, representing 90 percent of its overall commerce.
Story of stolen resources
Some 70 percent of the continent’s rapidly growing population of which Nigeria is the largest populated black nation, which currently stands at over one billion people – depend on fish, both inland and coastal, for protein, highlighting the importance of policing and managing the territorial waters countries involved.
Rather, the seas of Nigerian and sister nations which should contribute to economic and environmental security are often a story of stolen resources, drowning refugees and missed opportunities. Piracy remains a threat, while drug smuggling and illegal fishing are increasing.
Given that maritime threats are transnational; collective action is therefore essential; because neither Nigeria nor any single country can secure its maritime domain on its own. Nigeria leading the way, must show political will, identify priorities and start upgrading and empowering its navy while perfecting workable maritime strategies to pre-empt ant-economic and sabotaging challenges seeking to run nations to bankruptcy.
Nigeria in particular need to develop a national maritime strategy if our dear country is not to be left behind in this new dispensation of enhanced maritime domain awareness (MDA) and the obvious benefits accruable therein by sharing mechanisms with the navies/maritime regulatory agencies of Togo, Djibouti, Sao Tome and Principe, Cameroon, Ghana, Gabon, Benin and Equatorial Guinea who are linked one way or the other through the Gulf of Guinea corridor.
Towards this end, and given the lack of resources in countries of the continent, as many sectors continue to jostle for the few that is available, Nigeria and Africa must look both inwards and also outwards for funding and support to ensure successful implementation of these policies, since building and strengthening maritime partnerships have become even more critical especially in this era of ‘African Seas and Oceans’.