By Kunle Obadina
Maritime resources are critical to maritime states because they harbour vital resources which include oil and gas, cobalt, manganese nodules among others. In this era of economic diversification drive in Nigeria, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) need not look too far. Nigeria’s maritime resources could serve as major source of foreign reserve if properly harnessed. However, in order to benefit from the huge maritime resources, the FGN need to improve its efforts at addressing the security threats confronting Nigeria’s maritime domain. Threats associated with maritime environment as have been witnessed in the Straits of Hormuz, Malacca, Singapore, Gulf of Guinea (GoG) among others include piracy, poaching, and even terrorism. Therefore protection of the maritime environment is vital if Nigeria is to exploit these abundant sea resources as part of the government diversification drive toward enhancing national development.
In Nigeria, the Nigerian Navy (NN) alongside other agencies such as the Customs, Immigration, the Nigerian Air force (NAF) and the Nigerian Army (NA), Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Nigerian Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), among others are statutorily tasked to protect Nigeria’s maritime environment. Existing form of cooperation among the various maritime security agencies in Nigeria used to be on ad hoc basis such as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NN and NIMASA. Some of the maritime security threats in Nigeria are piracy, sea robbery, smuggling of petroleum products and crude oil theft among others. The prevalence of these threats alongside the dangerous dimensions they are taking prompted the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to report that the undesirable state of maritime security in Nigeria was rapidly escalati Wng into a global security concern. Of particular concern to me is the fact that these security threats could be a major hindrance for the FGN’s economic diversification drive in the maritime sector. Hence, the purpose of this paper is to briefly discuss how inter-agency cooperation among the security agencies in the maritime sector could help in the protection of Nigeria’s maritime resources.
The UNCLOS III and in line with its provision gave Nigeria a Territorial Sea of 12nm from the base line, a Contiguous Zone of 24nm from the limit of the Territorial Sea and an EEZ of 200nm. There are enormous resources in this area and they need to be protected. Nigeria’s maritime environment is endowed with diversity of living resources which include fish, prawns and tuna among others. An estimated 600 tonnes of fish amounting to USD 1.5 billion are lost by countries in the Gulf of Guinea due to illegal fishing annually. Between 2014 and 2016, Nigeria losses about USD 80 million to illegal fishing. This quantum of economic potential is lost by not adequately protecting the maritime sea area from illegal activities. The non-living resources found within Nigeria’s maritime environment include oil and gas, manganese, cobalt and nodules among others. Nigeria’s oil reserved is put at about 36.2 billion barrels and proven gas reserve of 187 trillion cubic feet. The oil industry accounts for over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign earnings which translate to about 80 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The growing threats of pipeline vandals and illegal bunkering within the maritime environment will not encourage investors and by extension Nigeria may not be able to diversify in this very lucrative sector. Though the NN has improved its protection of the maritime domain through recent acquisition of appropriate platforms to patrol the maritime environment, but the inter agency collaboration among the Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies (MLEA) has created some gaps in the discharge of this all important role. However, the recent adoption of the Harmonized Standard Operating Procedures (HSOP) approved by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and endorsed by the Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral IE Ibas in 2016 gives high prospects to security and investment in Nigeria’s maritime environment.
The HSOP will go a long way to ensure security in Nigeria’s maritime environment. It will address the challenge of overlapping roles in the protection of Nigeria’s maritime resources. The coordination among the Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies (MLEA) will also improve. It is expected that these will eventually provide adequate security to protect commerce and illegal exploitation of resources in Nigeria’s maritime environment. The MLEAs operating in the Nigeria’s maritime environment include the NN, NIMASA, Customs, Immigration, Marine Police, NAF among others. The HSOP guiding the activities of MLEAs will provide the requisite direction and enable them operate within international best practices. Effective implementation of the HSOP is therefore imminent in order to ensure effective protection of Nigeria’s maritime resources.
However, conscious effort must be made by the MLEAs to domesticate the guidelines of the HSOP. The MLEA must invest in training their personnel to acquire requisite level of skills, knowledge and resources to effectively cope with the changing complexities of the threats statutorily placed under their purview. There is need for the MLEA to constantly pool resources, information sharing and joint training together. With this form of security in place, the maritime sector could become a better environment and attractive for investors. It could become Nigeria’s gold mine.
– Commodore Obadina wrote in from Abuja.