BY: OLUGBENGA LEKE OYEWOLE
Senior Special Assistant on Maritime Services to Fmr. President Goodluck Jonathan.
We definitely cannot continue to do the same things in the same way and expect a different outcome. Oil theft, revenue leakage and insecurity in our maritime domain now looks like insurmountable giants because our approach is wrong and the change, we crave is presently bereft of political will.
Three significant things must be in place for Nigeria and indeed nations in the Gulf of Guinea to optimize the potential in our coastal waters:
● Robust Maritime Domain Awareness
● Automated Inter-Agency Electronic Platform
● Adequate Patrol Platforms for the Navy.
A robust maritime domain awareness transcends having just coastal or satellite Automatic Identification System, AIS. It must encompass capability to track AIS, Radar, onboard VHF or UHF radio communication systems including EPIRB transmissions and high resolution imagery. This will make it almost impossible for a ship operating in the coast not to be tracked or monitored; and, that includes barges and those ships that deliberately switch off transponders to avoid been detected. It must embed the capability to independently geolocate ship position irrespective of the AIS transmitted position – this is to put an end to the fraud of ships not in Nigeria but transmitting on AIS that they are in Nigeria so that they can claim demurrage in due course. An acceptable domain awareness infrastructure must be able to geofence ports, terminals and maritime boundaries of Nigeria in order to alert agencies of government and relevant stakeholders of new entrants in the country, arrivals at anchorage or ports and the departures as the case may be. The domain awareness must contain intelligent analytics good enough to flag irregular ship movement, ships without prior notice of arrival, ships not nominated to be at a terminal, identify pollution whenever and wherever it occurs, provide ocean meteorology enroute ship voyages, make electronic coastal charts available and keep historical records among other things. We need to end indiscriminate purchase of maritime surveillance antennas. We can operate one robust system serving the Navy, NPA, NIMASA and the Customs on agency need basis. The National Space Research and Development Agency of Nigeria reserve these capabilities and should be tapped into by the relevant agencies.
Secondly, I suggest an encrypted, automated inter-agency electronic platform because going by my experience in office, there is real difficult getting agencies of government to work together. Most Chief Executives forget that the government is one, they serve one President and they work for the good of one nation. They are very territorial. In all cases, they are either retired or sacked leaving the office worse than they met it. Custom is cargo conscious, NPA is harbor inclined, NIMASA is desirous of 3% levy and carbotage fees, NNPC is the oil merchant while the Navy gets busy defending the territorial integrity of the country. The truth is that these agencies need one another. Maritime agencies must device a timely way of letting the Navy know of infractions against their constitutional responsibilities for the offender to be apprehended. If a ship secures its outward sailing clearance before a reason not to allow the ship leave the country arrives at the customs office, that’s bad enough. If the NNPC will send its list of nominated ships for loading a day after the ships have loaded or in an unusable hard copy, how will the Navy patrol team understand who is allowed at a facility and who is not. What about the quantities allowed?. Notice of arrival or advance bill of lading is crucial to NPA and Customs as well as NIMASA, these information should be appropriately shared to enhance efficiency and improve revenue generation. If CBN will let NPA and NIMASA know what quantity of cargo is forex sought for, the ship may not go to discharge part of the cargo in a neighboring country. Maritime criminals live on land and the proceeds on the crime are banked and spent on land. The Department of State Security, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should be involved. When Navy that witnessed a crime or arrested a criminal, because it lacked power to prosecute, hands over the criminal to the Police with lesser understanding of the crime and the evidence; probably unto a Judge that listens to fairy tale not properly put together, the criminal will most likely escape the arms justice and would soon be back to business with a better understanding of the loopholes in the justice system. Field officers that witnessed criminality first hand do not attend management meetings, Interagency memos are signed by the Chief Executives appointed few months or years ago from a non-maritime background, these memos cascade to the lower officers in the other agency to effect or execute the demands of the sister agency leaving behind trails of evidence. These and many more reasons have made it expedient that any nation that desires progress must engender Interagency collaboration. America recalibrated after 9/11 to foster a seamless flow of information amongst agencies of government for improved security and better governance system.
Fmr President Goodluck Jonathan on good advice convened a standing Interagency maritime operations coordinating committee. The committee broke grounds and unveiled diverse gaps that harboured criminalities. Cooperation among the agencies soon dwindled, Chief Executives recoiled and the progressive works of the committee got impeded. The need to re-strategize came to the fore. It became clear that the only way forward was to suggest a seamless, automated, encrypted Interagency electronic platform. Procedures and processes in the maritime agencies would be automated and fused on this platform. It would become possible to clear cargo online without appearing physically at the ports, utter transparency would have been emplaced in the maritime sector. Though President Jonathan wanted it like yesterday, the agencies didn’t have the same enthusiasm. Committees and meetings wasted valuable time in the name diligence. So, we struggled and trudged to emplace this platform until we lost the 2015 election.
Such platform stands to minimize human interface that bred corruption in the ports, it will make incident reports by field officers visible across agencies and agreed standard operating procedures will become sacrosanct – individuals will no longer unilaterally pervert justice; loading crude oil and importation of petroleum products will become more transparent while under-declaration, non-declaration of cargo quantities and round tripping would be forgotten; ship movements shall be more accountable and revenues will soar.
On a final note, inadequate patrol platform for the Navy has been a major challenge in the fight against piracy, sea robbery; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and other maritime crimes both in Nigeria and across the West African subregion. We are not short of men or good training but non-availability of patrol boats and uncoordinated stream of information to the Navy have limited their performance and reduced Naval operations to strikes by instinct, intuition or ‘wizardry’ if you like, as far as interdiction of maritime crimes are concerned. After all, proper correlation of available information and data is intelligence and, Intelligence is the bedrock of security. Our maritime agencies have not fed the Navy correctly. NIMASA must not be denied the deserved accolade, it seems to have the most extensive reach out to sister agencies especially in the time of Patrick Akpoblokemi. It has working relationships with the Navy, Customs, Air Force and the Army. This must be stepped up appropriately to draw down potential benefits.
It is adequate availability of patrol boats that will make establishing contacts with erring vessels possible and timely interdiction a reality.
At the regional level, the States in the Gulf of Guinea must establish Interagency collaboration within the states and structure interstate platform to reflect agreed maritime governance strategies for the subregion.