It is no longer news that the scourge of piracy and kidnapping on Nigerian waters in the last quarter of the year 2019 peaked dangerously. This has once again brought up the debate on the need for the Federal Government to set up a National Coast Guard with the sole purpose of policing the waterways in addition to the Nigerian Navy.
Recall that NIMASA had spent billions of taxpayers money to organize a Global Maritime Security Conference (GMSC) which held in Abuja from October 7-9, 2019. Up till now, no concrete steps have been taken to commence the implementation of the resolutions at the conference.
The conference called for collaboration among the navies, coast guards, and maritime authorities of countries in the Gulf of Guinea and other continental and international maritime nations.
It said countries in the Gulf of Guinea should intensify maritime capacity and infrastructure building efforts to push the objectives.
In the year 2012, the Federal Government realized the need for additional force to police the waterways, subsequently, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) under Patrick Akpobolokemi awarded a $103million dollars security contract to a private firm; Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL)
At the time the contract was awarded, it was awarded to a Niger Delta warlord; Mr. Government Epemupolo, alias Tompolo. Many stakeholders kicked against it, calling on the federal government to equip the Navy to carry out its functions.
The contract was supposed to last for 10 years, but it was canceled in 2017 by the government in order to pave way for Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and Director General of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside bring in another contractor.
Amaechi replaced the indigenous arrangement with GWVSL with a controversial $195 million security contract to an Israeli firm; HSLi Security Systems and Technology Limited.
Expectedly, tongues started wagging again, maritime stakeholders raised an alarm, especially as the Minister was accused of exposing Nigeria’s territorial integrity to foreigners.
The $195m maritime security contract was signed off by the Federal Executive Council in December 2017 and was for the provision of three helicopters, three airplanes, three big battle-ready ships, 12 vessels, and 20 amphibious cars, to aid security of Nigeria’s waterways.
The creation of a coast guard has brought a lot of controversies in the past, but maritime security experts have agreed that there is a need for Nigeria to have a coast guard.
A maritime security expert and one of the proponents of the highly controversial Maritime Security Agency (MASECA) Bill, Capt Alfred Oniye said that the Bill, if passed, could create direct jobs for 50,000 youth which would be used to power the security of the waterways.
He assured that the program would be run at no cost to the federal government and that it would be driven by intelligence, using the seafarers that are already exposed to the security of the waterways.
Unfortunately, the Bill did not see the light of day. It was opposed by maritime agencies, many stakeholders who kicked against the Bill at a public hearing in 2018 argued that it would lead to multiplicity of agencies.
Speaking with DAILY TREND NEWS, maritime expert and Deputy Registrar of Ships for Liberia, Capt Tony Onoharigho has advised the federal government to concentrate efforts on forming a coast guard to take over security of the waterways rather than awarding bogus security contracts to foreigners.
WORKABILITY OF COAST GUARD
What the government should do, according to Capt Tony who is also President of the Nigerian Institute of Shipping (NIS) is to gather officers from various security agencies and bring them together to form the Coast Guard.
He said “Coast Guard is a very welcomed idea, it is more like what Global West Vessel Specialist Limited was doing before, they were policing the waters and it was a perfect job before it was closed up”
“Government should use the same pattern of the Global West by gathering different sections of the Military like Navy, Marine Police, Amphibious Army, Marine Customs and others to form the coast guard”
“They would be doing their regular duties but they would be renamed just like we had Brigade of Guard in the past”
“The other option is to recruit new sets of hands and expose them to training and make them the coast guard. But the easiest and best way is to gather different forces together who are good in amphibious to form the coast guard”
“This is the same thing that was done in SARS and JTF”
Originally, these guys are drawing salary from the various department they are working for, so their salary is already taken care of.
All the Coast Guard needs could be an extra allowance in which the International Oil Companies can be asked to start paying 1% to the purse of the coast guard, this could take care of allowances at the stage of implementation.
The various department have their existing platforms, apart from these, the Global West platforms are still there, they were acquired for the government, so they can use that, the Navy have their own gunboat, the Customs have their own gunboat, marine police have their own gunboat, they should take from them and form a coast guard.
That contract is a wrong one, Amaechi had a problem with that contract, how can you go and bring another country to come and police your waters, you are exposing your territorial integrity and security, it is not a good approach.
It is the same contract that was given to Global West which is a Nigerian firm, this is better off because they are Nigerians, but the Israelis are foreigners, in case there is a war, they would have known all our secrets, but if government forms the coast guard from different forces it is a good development.
All that would be next is to acquire ammunition for them. Their work is to secure the water and all these piracy issues would be solved.
The creation of the Coast Guard will take care of security on Nigerian inland waterways, apparently, the Navy alone cannot secure the inland waterways, not too talk of the Gulf of Guinea. The Coast Guard creation will boom the economy, bring back sailors to the creek and place Nigerian seas on the map of secure ocean.
The creation could require the existing 9th National Assembly to facilitate a legislative procedure for the establishment of the coast guard.
Unless this is done, it would be difficult for Nigeria to realize its dream of harnessing the potentials of Blue Economy or improving the Nigerian economic activities as regards to the blue economy.
Good enough, President Muhammadu Buhari last year assented to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill, 2019, as proposed by Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA)
2020 is here, and it is time to change the narrative by taking advantage of the Anti Piracy law by setting up a national coast guard.