In this interview with the Director of Information (DINFO), Nigerian Naval Headquarters, Commodore Edotun Ayo-Won, EMMANUEL ONANI, economic saboteurs deprived of funds for service to ensure freedom of action, technology deployment and security in the Gulf To speak on the ongoing operations. in the country’s maritime sector, among other issues
How much support is the Nigerian Navy getting from the government given the enormous challenges of piracy, crude oil piracy and illegal fishing, among other acts of economic sabotage?
The Accounts and Budget Branch will, perhaps, be the figures. But I can say that given this knowledge and the fact that resources are scarce, the support is huge. There has been huge support from the President for the Navy. Fleet recapitalization continues through international and local means. As we speak, the Nigerian Navy is building the fourth and fifth locally/indigenously built Marine Value Defense Boat. We have manufactured defense boat 1, 2, 3 worthy of the sea. So, to improve shipbuilding capability, we are building 4 and 5, and this was flagged off by Mr. President. And it is being funded to meet the contract period.
As we speak, the offshore patrol vessel is in Turkey. They have started construction; It costs resources and taxpayers money. So, what is the need of service to do the work at our hand; If you look at the resources in the marine environment, which is said to be the future for most of the maritime nations – the blue economy.
He is exploiting the resources under the sea for the betterment of the nation. Resources on land are depleting, but fishing is taking place; Opportunity at sea. The Navy needs no less than 150 ships for non-traditional and conventional uses of the sea but we are not there yet. However, we are seeing positive efforts on the part of the government to ensure that the fleet recapitalization effort is sustained and the older vessels are maintained. So, the support has been huge.
Are there existing tools that encourage cooperation and synergy between the countries that make up the Gulf of Guinea?
there is. In fact, I wanted to go back in history a bit; Yaoundé Architecture and when it was founded. The first summit that brought about the enactment of Yaonde Architecture was in 2012 or earlier, I’m not quite sure. So far, there have been several meetings between the navies in the sub-region by their respective chiefs. As we speak, we have two regional bodies that are cardinal for the supervision of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. We have Chresmac and Chresmau. The names are in French, but I can interpret it in English.
Chresmac is the Sub-Regional Center for Maritime Security for West Africa in Abidjan, Cte d’Ivoire, while the Regional Center for Security in Central Africa is in Gabon. Those two bodies are part of the outcome of the African Integrated Maritime Strategy, which is also related to Yaonde architecture. Yaoundé Architecture recognizes that threats in the maritime realm affect us all.
Therefore, the resources need to be pulled together; Coastal states need to be zoned. The Nigeria Pilot Maritime Zone is echoed, which is in the hinterland of Nigeria, Benin and Niger. So, the three of us have to work together to patrol together. Most of the times, when these things come up, you find it difficult to organize people and all of them, but there is a general awareness of the need to collaborate. Our maritime sector has facilitated cooperation through our Deputy Defense Advisor in Malabo. So, across the region, the chiefs of the navy, they know themselves, they met in Ghana.
They met this year in Nigeria on the sidelines of our 66th anniversary and the International Maritime Conference and came up with the Port Harcourt Agreement. This is what he called the paper and it will be ratified by the African Union after the African leaders summit as the agreement to set up the ECOWAS Maritime Task Force is to further ensure security in our waters. There is also a maritime presence coordinated by European Union (EU) states.
A coordinated maritime presence by EU states is the deployment of an EU vessel. Be it the Netherlands or France, they come into our waters to ensure security and that their interests and maritime trade are not attacked or destroyed in any way. The European Union delegation visited the Chief of Naval Staff in April.
They also went to Lagos to further strengthen the already existing relationship/dialogue about training and practice. With the French Navy we regularly conduct an annual exercise called the Grand African New; It is a naval exercise for maritime operations.
So, we participate, practice, exchange including plane landings and all that. In this region also, during the 66th anniversary at One, for a week, we also had a regional maritime exercise. There was a ship from Ghana; I think there was another vessel from Senegal and Italian vessel. Therefore, there is sub-regional cooperation, continental cooperation as well as international cooperation. Those reasons are, in addition to our own efforts with national stakeholders such as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Security Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and others. Bodies to curb piracy.
How many ships have been arrested between 2015 and now?
I would need to refer to the operations to get the correct figure as the change is dynamic. Patrols are on, but the last thing I know, when I was Deputy Director (Operations) for 10 months, I collected the data of the arrested ships. There were too many violations; Some minor, some serious, rogue ships. Some have been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), some have been handed over to the police, some have been handed over to the DSS, while some are already on trial in courts to be handed over to the government. Huh. At that time, that is, two years ago, there were 400 of them.
Now, we have a total of 488. I know some of them have been released, while some have been confiscated. In fact, some posed a huge threat to the Navy. These are the issues we are talking about. When you hold these vessels, and you hold them for a long time, after some time, the water tightness and integrity fades because a vessel is not meant to be in one place. It is believed that it moves. If it stays in one place longer, it takes up water and may have oil in it. Hence, this creates huge logistics requirements for keeping them safe and in custody.
What is the position of the Navy with respect to modular and artisanal refineries in the backdrop of crude oil piracy?
The first is the position of the government. I know that there was a policy of the government to see the installation of modular refineries in the Niger Delta. I also know that two or three have been established. I can’t remember their names anymore. On artisanal refineries, I think you are talking about illegal refineries because these are what we are fighting.
They do themselves a lot of harm. They cause great damage to the environment and, in some cases, end their lives completely as happened a few months ago in the Emo State. Therefore, these are not authorized in any way and the Nigerian Navy has left no stone unturned to ensure that people do not indulge in illegal refining. As we speak, Operation Taka da Barao is still in place to stop the thief in Hausa. The operation has been able to put many people out of business. Although there has been armed resistance in some cases, it has not stopped us. There are also Operation Delta Safe and Operation Restore Hope.
This is to ensure the safety of our assets and curb the theft of crude oil. So, in Tacca da Baravo, our people go to all those places. We also deploy air assets to thoroughly survey areas, then pinpoint locations where our troops need to be patrolled. So, artisanal refineries are illegal. They will not be legalized by the government. Modular refineries have been legalized and some have set up their own. Perhaps, we need to look within ourselves, to see how to solve that problem. We have to take the point of view of the whole nation, maybe bring people together, say that is what we want to do.
Considering the reported cases of vandalism, illegal refining of crude oil and oil bunkering, would you say that the country’s maritime zone is safe?
Yes, Nigerian maritime territory is protected for legitimate/legal economic activities to flourish. Unfortunately, as we see on the ground and in some areas, there have been issues that we are working hard to overcome. Our people are doing everything possible, including working with traditional institutions.
How is the Navy dealing with the activities of the International Syndicate?
At one time, the activities of international syndicates were also very prominent – kidnapping, hostage taking, plundering in the maritime zone. By the grace of God, everything went as the Navy made a strong case in the Office of the National Security Advisor (NSA) that the registration of crime-based security organizations was posing a threat to national security. These people come under the guise of private security companies and now they turn to negotiators and get their cut on whatever is paid. That aspect has now stopped. The situation in the maritime domain has changed because what was once achieved is no longer there. This is a big plus for the nation. This year alone, we have an epoch-making milestone of activities, one of which is the start of a systematic survey of our offshore waters by a Nigerian Navy ship.
Would you say then that so much is being done at the strategic level to ensure maximum security on our waterways?
At the highest level, the Chief of Naval Staff holds regular meetings with the GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Operation Taka da Baravo which the Navy has been conducting since April 1, was actually launched in collaboration with the NNPCL. Logistics support, so that our people constantly go out to ensure that these people do not continue to illegal refining sites.
So, there is cooperation; I think that’s understandable too. There is also something we need to do more; Monitoring of pipelines. Not only navy is working in Niger Delta, we also have civil defence, army, DSS. Therefore, it is only for our personnel and colleagues to realize that your actions should be in line with and not against the overall strategic direction.