NIGERIA’S SUCCESS STORY IN THE GULF OF GUINEA
Shiktra Shalangwa, Abuja
The Gulf of Guinea is a vast and diverse region stretching from Senegal to Angola, covering approximately six thousand kilometers of coastline. It is an important shipping zone for transporting oil and gas as well as other goods to and from central and southern Africa.
The region is one of the world’s richest and under exploited areas. It holds about thirty-five percent of the world’s total petroleum reserves and blessed with many minerals and other natural resources such as diamond , tin, bitumen, gold, uranium, gas, lead, zinc and many more.
The economic fortune of the region has, over the years, exposed it to various kinds of dangerous activities such as piracy, kidnapping, oil bunkering leading to high level of maritime crimes and insecurity. The Gulf of Guinea, on West Africa’s Southern coast is the world’s most pirate-infested sea.
The International Maritime Bureau, (IMB) reported over 40% increase piracy related cases and kidnappings in the first nine months of 2020, making it the world’s piracy hotspot. Seventy-eight pirate attacks were recorded in 2018, which increased to 121 in 2019, while the Maritime Agency reported 132 attacks during the third quarter of 2020.
The United Nations office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) also acknowledged that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea remains of great concern to West and Central African Nations.
Although some of the cases may reflect more comprehensive reporting, the Africa Risk compliance, a Security Consultancy group said piracy remains highly under-reported in the Gulf of Guinea Coastal Countries of Ghana, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola.
As a means of curbing the rising cases of maritime insecurity, the Nigerian government launched the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure code named Deep Blue Project in 2018.
The Deep Blue Project was designed to prevent illegal activities in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone, enforce maritime regulations and enhance safety of lives at sea, as well as prevent illegal activities in the inland waterways.
Nigeria’s intervention to secure the area through the Deep Blue Project made her the leading light as emphasized by its Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi that Nigeria now leads regional maritime security initiative with concrete plans and results-driven strategy.
In 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari came to office, Nigeria was the third in Regional Maritime Security with high level of insecurity which necessitated the deliberate policy changes that led to the Deep Blue Project.
Government saw the need to do something aimed at securing the maritime domain and ensure that the waterways are safe for businesses to thrive and impact positively on the economy of Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.
The Nigerian government also adopted the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), off the coast of Lagos State, South-west Nigeria, to the areas under the protection of the Deep Blue Project as a holistic solution driven initiative.
In 2021, the International Maritime Bureau (IBM) commended Nigeria’s efforts in combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea using the Deep Blue Project strategy.
In its 2021 second quarter report on the global reduction on piracy in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea region, the bureau acknowledged that kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea in the second quarter this year is the lowest since 2019.
The report also recognized that kidnapped crews in the region declined from 50 in the last quarter of 2020 to 10 in the second quarter of 2021.
To achieve this, the Deep Blue Project was designed in three categories to tackle Maritime Security issues on land, sea, and air. The land assets comprise of Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre also known as (C4I), for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armored vehicles for coastal patrol; and about 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as maritime security unit.
Now that more holistic approach in quelling the incidences of piracy in the region is yielding positive results, increased synergy and enhanced information sharing in the West and Central Africa sub-region are required to sustain the efforts and ensure lasting solution to piracy in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.
There is need for countries in the Gulf of Guinea region to work closely under the Gulf of Guinea Commission, the body responsible for building regional maritime security architecture with the United Nations office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and ECOWAS in counter-terrorism cooperation to reduce the growth of terrorists’ entities.
The Africa regional blocs should be able to adopt a strategy that will make them conduct bilateral or regional maritime patrols to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea and other flash points on the continent.
There need to strengthen law enforcement measures to arrest and prosecute pirates in relevant jurisdictions, in accordance with International law and National legal frameworks. It is also necessary for Coastal States to harmonize criminal penalties to ensure smooth and timely dispensation of justice.
With the successes so far recorded by the Nigerian government through the Deep Blue project, other member nations of the Gulf of Guinea should work towards straightening collaboration with major stakeholders and the International community to reduce piracy to the minimum level to ensure that businesses on water ways and crude oil exploration in member nations are carried out unhindered to improve economic growth and development of the areas.