Ibok Ete-Ibas, NAVY, Oil theft, piracy:
Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas

By Evelyn Usman

When he assumed office as the 22nd Chief of the Naval Staff in 2015, with a charge to team up with his contemporaries in the Nigerian Army and the  Nigerian Airforce, as well as other stakeholders in the security corridor,  to address the worrisome dimension insecurity had assumed in the country, the expectations on him were high.

To set the ball rolling, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, came up with a vision to ‘ develop a credible naval power in fulfilment of the Nigerian Navy’s constitutional roles towards enhancing national prosperity and security’,  which was complemented with a mission statement to ‘deploy a naval force that is well trained, organised and highly motivated to discharge its constitutional roles professionally and efficiently for the defence of Nigeria in ensuring her economic prosperity.

In addition, the CNS, publicly declared his Strategic Directive 1, which focused on eight key priority areas to be achieved by the Nigerian Navy under his watch. These areas included:  operations, fleet renewal, logistics, infrastructural development and human resource development among others, including specific tasks to be accomplished by the Branches, Commands, Establishments and Units within the specified time frame.

In addition, the CNS, publicly declared his Strategic Directive 1, which focused on eight key priority areas to be achieved by the Nigerian Navy under his watch. These areas included:  operations, fleet renewal, logistics, infrastructural development and human resource development among others, including specific tasks to be accomplished by the Branches, Commands, Establishments and Units within the specified time frame.

 

One year later, he promulgated Strategic Directive 2 to consolidate on the achievements of Strategic Directive 1.

Having occupied the exalted office of the Navy for five years, It would therefore not be out of place to use the template of his strategic policy plan to analyse the extent to which he and his management team have gone in the journey towards realigning the Nigerian Navy to the President’s and citizens’ expectations of ensuring that operational efforts meet existing rules and regulations of international standard.

In this regard, Crime Guard, took a cursory look into Vice Admiral Ibas’s efforts, first, at addressing emerging security occurrences within the Nigerian Maritime domain, which stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities.

Their manifestations include attacks on ships, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft.

There are also various forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution, among other maritime crimes.

Operations

To secure the nation’s maritime space which has tremendous potentials due to its rich hydrocarbon deposits,  the Nigerian Navy, according to information at Crime Guard’s disposal, had conducted  38 operations between  2015 and August 2020, during which over 364 vessels alleged to have committed various infractions within the maritime domain were arrested. Out of these vessels, 13 of them have been forfeited to the Federal government and 224  handed over to prosecuting agencies.

Piracy reduced

In the last two decades, piracy and sea robbery within the Gulf of Guinea, GoG, have become a major point of discussion with the region ranked as one of the most troubled waterways. It is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the GoG region is over USD 2 billion.

To address this, the  CNS as gathered, directed an increased routine patrols. Within the last five years (2015- August 2020) Nigerian Navy ships have reportedly clocked annual average of 25,574hrs at sea, a move that reportedly led to an appreciable decrease in maritime-related criminal activities within its maritime domain.

Three dedicated NN operations: TSARE TEKU, CALM WATERS, RIVER SWEEP amongst others, have reportedly also reduced piracy incidences in Nigerian waters from 70 in 2016 to  11 attacks as at August 2020.

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A total of 116 pirates and rescue of numerous vessels from pirate attacks at sea were recorded during the Nigerian Navy, NN  anti-piracy operations in five years.

A recent joint rescue of a merchant tanker, MT TOMMI RITSCHER, by Nigerian and Benin Republic Navies in Benin Republic waters gave effect to the activation of the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E, among which member states are:  Benin, Togo, Nigeria and Niger Republic.

Anti smuggling

Statistics also showed that the NN  made considerable gains in its anti-smuggling operations within the period under review. These efforts according to sources in the Navy, redoubled in the past four years due to closer collaboration with other stakeholders under the auspices of Operation SWIFT RESPONSE.

So far,  a total of 89,166 bags of foreign rice valued at about N2 Billion have been seized.

This feat was attributed to the  Maritime Domain Awareness facilities made up of the Falcon Eye (established by the FGN – Office of the National Security Adviser) and Regional Maritime Awareness Capability, which enabled the Navy to conduct round the clock surveillance of the nation’s maritime space.

An investigation by Crime Guard revealed that criminals in Badagry area of Lagos, who are known for smuggling of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS siphoned from Atlas Cove, ventured into the smuggling of rice into the country.

In this axis which falls under the Western Naval Command, major interceptions and seizures of over 30,000 bags of smuggled rice and poultry products have reportedly been made within the period under review.

Crude oil theft

Statistics further revealed a  reduction in the national economic losses through crude oil theft, with Petroleum Oil and Lubricant, POL products estimated at N695 billion saved.

The successes of the NN’s anti-crude oil theft operations as gathered, were partly due to sustained intelligence-led operations of the Bases, which led to the destruction of several illegal refineries/illegally refined products as well as seizures of barges, wooden boats and vessels used for conveying stolen crude oil.

By extension, the Navy has  effectively checked the incursion of illegal fishing within the five nautical miles of the nation’s maritime environment to protect artisanal fishermen, which record showed a significant   increase  in fishing  from 2016, after years of decline due to insecurity at sea

Fleet Renewal

Under the President  Buhari-led administration, the Nigerian Navy reportedly witnessed extensive procurement of platforms of different types and mix, to enable it extend its reach in support of regional effort to secure the common seas, as well as attend to her domestic policing roles.

So far, 267 flat bottomed, assault, rigid hull, riverine patrol and whaler boats, have been procured by the Federal Government, to address maritime crimes.

About  170 of these riverine patrol boats were built in-country, thus complementing indigenous shipbuilding capacity, employment generation and skills acquisition.

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The Buhari- led administration, as gathered, also facilitated the procurement of 25 fast attack craft, seaward defence boats and inshore patrol craft.

In addition to these were: one survey ship, one offshore patrol vessel and one landing ship tank which are expected to join the Nigerian Navy fleet soon, while one  AW 139 Leonardo helicopter has already been delivered to the Service.

Similarly, the NN built two self-propelled barges, three tug boats and acquired 168 outboard engines with their spares. Cumulatively, the fleet renewal effort of the Nigerian Navy under the Buhari administration has led to the procurement of over 300 platforms of various types and mix.

The Nigerian Navy has also deployed 12 Naval Security Stations along the nation’s coastline in areas prone to illegalities under the Choke Point Regime and Control operations.

Infrastructural development

In a bid to enhance its capacity to effectively deliver on her mandate to protect the nation’s maritime environment and motivate her personnel for improved output,  record showed that the Service embarked on numerous infrastructural, administrative and welfare projects during the period under review.

Over 400 construction and related projects have reportedly  been undertaken from 2015 – August 2020, with over 80 per cent of these projects completed and others still at various stages of completion

A key infrastructural project is the reconstruction of NNS BEECROFT Jetty Apapa, Lagos which provides berthing facility for the bulk of Nigerian Navy ships within the Western Naval Command area of responsibility.

Jetties at Naval Shipyard Limited Port Harcourt, Under Water Warfare School Ojo, NOP KOLUAMA and other Forward Operating Bases are at various stages of completion.
Barracks accommodation

The last five years also witnessed an extensive housing development for personnel, with over 2,500 housing units across the country, as revealed in the statistics at Crime Guard’s disposal.

Record showed that the Nigerian Navy within the period under review, established the Admiralty University of Nigeria, in Ibusa Delta State, the Naval War College in Calabar and the Nigerian Navy Military School Ikot Ituen, in Akwa Ibom State, among other institutions of learning.

Worthy of mention was the establishment of a COVID-19 Treatment and Isolation Centre on  June 1, 2020, in Lagos, to cater for its personnel infected with the virus.

Another notable milestone was recorded through capacity building of indigenous navigational chart production with the production of two indigenous navigational charts covering parts of Nigerian waters as well as operational charts covering the entire Niger Delta region.

The Service also commenced work on the production of electronic versions of these charts to facilitate their formal validation internationally and eventual release.

This proficiency has enhanced operational activities across the Nation’s maritime environment, particularly within the backwaters.

The introduction of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Maritime Criminals was a  real game-changer in enhancing cooperation among maritime law enforcement agencies under the CNS’s watch.

Maritime jurisdiction has been further boosted by Mr President’s assent of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, 2019.

Interestingly, this is the first legal instrument in the entire West African region and it is already being put to test with the recent successful conviction of three out of nine suspected pirates that hijacked an Equatorial Guinea flagged vessel, MV ELOBEY VI by a Federal High Court Port Harcourt.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the Nigerian Navy has recorded laudable achievements in the last five years.

However,  with the emerging challenges, there is need for more proactive actions and improved operational efficiency, through the articulation of new perspectives, taking cognizance of past experiences, current operational realities and the contemporary strategic security environment.

Accordingly, with due consciousness of the limited resource allocation in the face of other compelling national needs, the Nigerian Navy future policy direction should seek to optimise technology, broaden its partnership and funding base for effective delivery of maritime security, by deploying appropriate platforms in identified areas prone to piracy/sea robbery in other to drastically reduce the rate of attacks on shipping within Nigeria’s maritime domain.

Vanguard News Nigeria.

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