By Dakuku Peterside
WITH each passing day as a nation, it becomes more apparent that we have too much on our plate. The challenge of unemployment, poverty, widespread insecurity, COVID-19-induced economic recession and ethnic agitation fuelled by feelings of marginalisation are evident.
All these challenges are peculiar, correlated and cyclical. The conundrum is that all these challenges are biting hard and at the same time. And each is leading to the other, and collectively they are reifying themselves.
As a nation, we need to put on our thinking caps, gather our best brains, prioritise the challenges, work out our detailed strategy, engage partners who share our pains and can assist us in focusing on how to tackle these challenges. Rather than doing the above, our experience so far is that we are giving emotional knee jerk reactions to rock-solid challenges that need grit, courage and creative leadership and actions to tackle.
Last week, Nigeria citizens had cause to celebrate two areas where government has put on innovative thinking cap and proffered tangible solutions to the challenge of rail transport and maritime insecurity.
Building a world-class rail infrastructure and flagging off the DEEP BLUE project is the identifying and enduring legacy of this administration. The president physically commissioned these projects sending a clear signal that his administration attaches great significance to these milestone projects.
The “Deep Blue” is a code name for integrated national surveillance and waterways protection infrastructure project implemented by NIMASA. It has four key components: enhanced maritime domain awareness (intelligence), acquisition of assets to strengthen response capability, training and retraining of special forces and strengthening maritime governance/collaboration.
The Deep Blue project is based on the unique predictive maritime analytics system, providing comprehensive monitoring of the entire, exclusive economic zone. The project will enable both the protection of the country from illegal and piracy activities and the protection of the country’s natural resources and assets within our exclusive economic zone.
Past attempts to plug the hole of piracy and maritime criminality have been piecemeal. Deep Blue is the most comprehensive fix. Statistics show that Nigeria has some of the worst records of maritime insecurity in the world. For example, in 2020 alone, it recorded 22 separate incidents, and about 130 seafarers were kidnapped or killed.
In the book, STRATEGIC TURNAROUND, the story of a government agency, I discussed the extent of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea and within Nigerian territorial waters in the recent past that made Nigeria a laughingstock globally.
The reputational and financial implications of maritime insecurity are enormous. For instance, the cost of maritime insurance for Nigeria-bound vessels was at an all-time high, recently estimated at $2.74b. The cost of freight in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world.
Unfortunately, these costs are transferred to prices of goods, causing unwarranted inflation borne solely by Nigerian consumers. Additionally, we have lost lives due to activities of coastal pirates and riverine criminals who specialise in sea robbery. Part of the negative economic impact is the enormous value of goods stolen on the high sea, crude oil thieving and diversions (we estimate that Nigeria loses 150,000 barrels of crude oil every day to oil thieves, which amounts to about N2.5 billion daily, over N900 billion annually).
There are monies paid as ransom for kidnapped seafarers and other victims , and monies lost because of lack of direct foreign investment in Nigeria as a result of negative international perception of Nigeria.
The impact of the Deep Blue project will reverberate across Nigeria and the entire Gulf of Guinea. It will enhance our profile in the comity of maritime nations. Deep Blue will ameliorate, if not wholly eradicate maritime insecurity (piracy and robbery) in the Gulf of Guinea.
In my book cited above , I articulated the dream and benefits of the Deep Blue as thus: “Our dream was that as we address capacity gaps in intelligence gathering, assets acquisition, strategic assets deployment, human capacity development and enhance interagency coordination, we would better protect our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, put a stop to maritime crime and safeguard free flow of commerce at sea and sustainable exploitation of mineral resources. With the passage of anti-piracy law and formulation of a national maritime security strategy, we were sure that the necessary multisectoral synergy would be in place to deliver maritime security within Nigerian territorial waters”.
Securing the country’s coastal waters is expected to give Nigerians more leverage to harness the enormous resources of their vast maritime environment and assist the drive towards the diversification of the economy.
Among the assets that Nigeria will be deploying are 16 armoured vehicles for coastline patrol, two ’special’ mission vessels, 17 fast interceptor boats, two ‘special’ mission aircraft for surveillance of the country’s exclusive economic zone, EEZ; three special mission helicopters for search and rescue operations, and four unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Maritime Security Unit has 600 specially trained troops comprising personnel from the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police, and Department of State Services. A central command and control centre based in NIMASA, Lagos will oversee a network of integrated assets providing 24/7 cover for the region. These will complement the Yaoundé ICC structure offering the actual capability to both Nigeria and the sub-region.
Maritime transport itself is necessary for the stability of Nigeria’s economy. Sea transportation sustains the world economy as 80% of goods are transported through the waters. According to experts, marine transportation represents around 93,000 merchant vessels, 1.25 million seafarers and almost six billion tonnes of cargo annually. And the country is a coastal and import- oriented state that depends primarily on international shipping for revenue from natural resources, mainly crude oil. Also, the activities of pirates on the country’s coastal waters have resulted in economic sabotage that is already affecting the country’s image on the international scene.
Most industry experts are excited that government could recognise the issue as far back as 2017 when the strategy was articulated and put these measures in place. They opine that the Deep Blue project becoming operational represents a significant opportunity to extend law and order at sea in cooperation with international stakeholders in the area. It is a tangible demonstration that the tide has turned against the scourge of piracy. And this is a game-changer in the fight against piracy and maritime criminality in the Gulf of Guinea.
Furthermore, the project marks a milestone of delivering state-of-the-art, multi-faceted maritime capability and can significantly contribute to seafarers being once again able to carry out their duties without fear for their safety. Therefore, with the Deep Blue project, the country has taken a giant leap in protecting its coastal waters, which will lead to more safety and economic prosperity.
It demonstrates what we can achieve when we think creatively, provided leadership and resources are well deployed and harnessed for the greater good. Though it is still early days in terms of the Deep Blue project permanently euthanising piracy and maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, we can learn many lessons from the project vis-a-vis the acute insecurity that pervades the entire country, nudging her towards catastrophic disintegration.
Firstly, the sum of $195m deployed for equipment for the project is a considerable sum of money. However, the sophisticated equipment could be seen and appreciated. The country has spent dollars in procuring equipment for the military in the prosecution of the war against insurgents, bandits, and other criminal elements, but most times, we hear stories about the whereabout of the funds. It is common to hear about our soldiers allegedly using antiquated and ineffective weapons to fight the terrorists and bandits, and some claim not to receive due allowances.
So, there is a need to ensure that whenever government deploys scarce resources to procure equipment to tackle our various security challenges, we should judiciously use them. It is time we pushed for greater transparency and accountability in procurement of arms and take measures to close all loopholes that lead to mismanagement of fund meant for the fight against criminality.
Secondly, for adequate security, there should be a greater collaboration by different arms and organs of government. The Deep Blue Project comprises the Ministry of Transportation, NIMASA, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police, and Department of State Services. The seamless military, paramilitary and civilian cooperation is commendable.
In most cases, unnecessary squabbles amongst different arms and organs of government hamper our attempt to solve problems. For progress to be made and our security challenges effectively tackled, everyone had to be patriotic, subsume individual ambitions and interests, and focus on the overall national interest.
The Deep Blue Project is successful so far because we kept politics at a minimum despite several attempts to derail it. It is evident that we can achieve more when we do not politicise security, which creates the atmosphere for economic development. The project also demonstrates Federal Government’s commitment to tackling insecurity in the country.
Most times, there have been insinuations that the government of President Buhari does not do enough to address rising and heightened security challenges in the country. The incumbent administration can do more to gain the confidence of Nigerians around security – the Deep Blue project shows that the government is listening.
Nigeria has to contend with more challenges and wars. We must declare war on poverty, unemployment, corruption, ethnic bigotry, insecurity, poor infrastructure, income inequality, poor healthcare delivery, low standard of education, and collapse of morality and ethical values within society. We must not create more war fronts than we have already. Just as maritime insecurity, each of these wars requires innovative, outside the box, strategic intervention to make meaningful progress.
The Deep Blue project and the novel rail transport infrastructure have taught us that if we put our minds to it and provide leadership, we can develop efficient and effective solutions to Nigeria myriads of challenges. We have argued earlier that these challenges are linked and cyclical.
Therefore, if we can find the weakest link and break the circle, then tackle the problems that will create much impact and a ripple effect on other challenges; we will be on the pathway to building a united, developed and egalitarian society. We must resist ‘ostrichism’ and path-dependency – doing the same things that have not worked.