NIGERIA recorded yet another negative when it was recently named the hub of piracy. This is coming on the heels of the damning revelation, recently too, that the country has the largest population of absolutely poor persons in the world. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) quarter one (Q1) 2018 report, out of the 45 piracy attacks on vessels on waterways across the world, 23 happened on Nigeria’s territorial waters, followed by Indonesia that had nine attacks within the same period. This means that Nigeria’s waters are very dangerous and are the worst in the world. And the outlook is less than cheery as there are indications that the country may retain the unenviable position by the time the next IMB report is ready. This is very sad and unfortunate. The report shows that Nigeria is worse than Somalia in piracy. In other words, the country’s waters are less secure than Somalia’s as it has a poorer record than Somalia on its waters. This is the same Somalia that every one sees as a poster thing for lawlessness, where nobody is in charge of anything.
The question is, how can a country with a functional government be worse than a failed state? This can only mean that the country’s maritime security architecture is fundamentally flawed and ineffective. It would appear that the sector accommodates significant ineptitude that borders on sabotage. In fact, the report says that the volume of crude oil theft is now at a record high. This is rather shocking and very unsettling because the theft of crude oil, the mainstay of the country’s economy, was one of the alleged inadequacies of the previous admnistration which the current one promised to correct. It is a shame that the level of insecurity on some urban streets and villages across the land is being replicated on the waters.
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We believe that the appaling security situation is down to the government’s misuse of the security agencies. The deployment of security agencies and determination of their priorities have been less than professional. For instance, in the immediate period leading to and shortly after the last governorship electioon in Ekiti State, most commercial banks had to close early (11a.m) because their police guards were withdrawn for the election. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who sent 30,000 policemen to Ekiti State for the election, did not do so because he had enough men or because the number of policemen in the country has increased. He withdrew them from their posts.
It is reasonable to assume that the country’s security gets worse largely because of the inappropriate use or misuse of the available security personnel across the services. The Nigeria Navy which should lead the security initiatives on the country’s territorial waters has not stood up to be counted in part because of the inadequacy of the requisite equipment that can enable it to police the waters effectively. It would appear that the Navy is being deliberately incapacitated to prevent it from performing its constitutional roles. Indeed, there was a reported case of a multimillion dollar security contract signed by the government which allegedly subordinated the Navy to a foreign contractor. That was clearly anomalous.
Though the contract has been cancelled by President Mohammadu Buhari and the $50 million upfront payment to the contractor is to be refunded following public outcry, nothing has since then been done to improve the combat readiness of the navy by way of adequate supply of equipment such as patrol boats. The implication is that the marauders on the country’s waters will continue to have a field day and the waterways will continue to be regarded and treated as dangerous. The consequences include a negative image that limits the flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and increases the costs of freight and insurance premium on cargoes coming to Nigeria. For an import-dependent country, these are veritable sources of ineficiency which aggravates when the cost of infrastructure deficits within the domestic economy is taken into account.
Curiously, it is believed in official circles that the IMB report exaggerates the security situation on Nigeria’s waters. Officials claim that it was an international conspiracy to increase the costs of freight and insurance. For instance, they claim IMB reported 23 piracy attacks for Q1 2018 while the figure per their own record was 13. Assuming but not conceding that the number was 13 and not 23, the admitted figure is still higher than the nine attacks recorded in Indonesia that has the second most dangerous waters in the world. Rather than living in denial, therefore, the authorities should get down to brass tacks, rejig the country’s maritime security architecture and equip the security agencies, especially the Nigerian Navy, to carry out their statutory function of securing the country’s waterways.