Nigeria’s maritime area of interest extends beyond her immediate environment to include the entire Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The GoG has a coastline of about 2,874 nm stretching from Angola in Southern Africa to Senegal in West Africa. The region has a dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits and is geographically positioned with comparative advantage owing to the absence of narrow maritime shipping lanes, straits or chokepoints linking major global shipping destinations. The GoG, with its rich endowment unfortunately has the unintended consequences of attracting various threats such as piracy, smuggling and kidnapping for ransom that continue to affect the economic lifeline of countries in the region.
The Nigerian Navy has established dedicated naval operations and initiatives to counter piracy/sea robbery attacks in Nigeria’s maritime environment, while also engaging in deeper consultations with maritime stakeholders. These initiatives have led to several successes in anti-piracy operations. Pertinently, significant successes were achieved in bringing the rate of piracy to the barest minimum, especially in the last 3 Quarters of 2021. It is also instructive to note that several other attacks on vessels in Nigerian waters were aborted by prompt response from NN ships on patrol using intelligence from her robust MDA infrastructure namely: Falcon Eye and Regional Maritime Domain Awareness (RMAC) assets.
The Nigerian Navy set a new historic milestone in December 2021 when the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR commissioned an array of vessels and helicopter to add to the country’s already existing formidable naval assets. During the commissioning of the newly acquired platforms, boats and helicopter into the Nigerian Navy fleet at the Naval Dockyard Limited, Victoria Island, Lagos, His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari applauded the efforts of the Nigerian Navy towards improving maritime security in the GoG and safeguarding Nigeria’s maritime environment including its hydrocarbon resources and accompanying oil and gas infrastructure. He added that, considering the nation’s current huge dependence on oil and gas revenues, the Nigerian Navy was undeniably a major contributor to the economic mainstay of Nigeria. The President therefore commended the Nigerian Navy’s efforts in the fight against criminality within and beyond the Nigeria’s maritime domain and further expressed his confidence that the newly commissioned platforms will greatly enhance the efforts of the Service in further securing Nigeria’s maritime environment.
President Buhari added that he was especially delighted by the commissioning of the Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) III, Nigerian Navy Ship OJI which is the third in the series of SDBs to be built locally and entirely by the Nigerian Navy engineers. This was a proud moment for the Nigerian Navy and the highpoint of the event. Mr President also performed the keel laying ceremony for SDB IV and SDB V. He lauded the Nigerian Navy for maintaining its drive for local content development – which is in tandem with the policy of his administration. The President reiterated his commitment to adequately equip the Nigerian Navy with the right mix of platforms which led to the Service taking delivery of the Nigerian Navy’s first ever purpose built Offshore Survey Vessel, NNS LANA constructed by OCEA France, in May 2021 while also acknowledging the business dependability of Messrs OCEA Shipyard-France for the timely completion of the contract.
ENHANCING NIGERIAN NAVY’S CONSTITUTIONAL ROLE
The Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo who was the host for the commissioning/induction ceremony, stated that NNS LANA would be involved in the hydrographic survey of Nigeria’s territorial waters towards ensuring safety of navigation within the country’s waterways. Similarly, the SDB III, the Inshore Patrol Crafts and Fast Patrol Boats would be deployed for surveillance and patrol duties within Nigeria’s water. Admiral Gambo stressed that, this undertaking was aimed at enhancing the performance of Nigerian Navy’s constitutional role regarding hydrographic survey and policing of Nigeria’s water.
Furthermore, Admiral Gambo explained that the induction of the new platforms, would lead to further decline in criminal activities in the Nigeria’s maritime domain. He reiterated that the Nigerian Navy will continue to factor in the realities of national imperatives and apply optimal policies and strategies in addressing the security challenges in the nation’s maritime domain-including the GoG. Admiral Gambo who was appointed by President Buhari in January 2021, added that the commissioning of NNS OJI and other locally built vessels was a manifestation of the Federal Government’s commitment to maintaining a well-equipped Navy that Nigerians would be proud of. He thanked President Buhari for his tremendous support to the Service including those that have contributed one way or the other to make the dream a reality and urged maritime and security stakeholders to sustain a robust cooperation towards safeguarding the nation’s maritime domain.
MASSIVE DECLINE IN CRIMINALITY IN NIGERIAN WATERWAYS
With the induction of the new platforms, the Nigerian Navy continues to beef up its operational capacity as well as the scope and depth of its activities both in Nigeria’s waters and the GoG. The surveillance capability of the Nigerian Navy was enhanced with the commissioning of the Falcon Eye state-of-the-art Maritime Domain Awareness Surveillance System by the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, representing President Buhari in July 2021 at the Nigerian Naval Headquarters Abuja. The system incorporates various sensors located along Nigeria’s enormous coastline.
During the commissioning, the Vice-President pointed out that Nigeria loses around $26bn a year to criminal activities, particularly piracy and sea robbery and this fact underscores the need to enhance maritime security in Nigeria’s waters. Speaking at the launching of the System, Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo said, the Falcon Eye “translates to complete coverage of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone. He stated that monitoring and analysis of data from the various sites strategically located along the nation’s coastline is facilitated through the 4 Falcon Eye Centres in Abuja, Lagos, Yenagoa and Calabar. He added that the coverage of the satellite aspect of the Automatic Identification System of Falcon Eye extends beyond Nigerian waters to Cote D’Ivoire in the West, Cameroon at the East, and Angola at the South East.” Pertinently, the System, combined with the various sea and air platforms as well as well thought out strategies and vigorous leadership have resulted in a steep decline in criminal activities within the nation’s maritime domain and the GoG in 2021.
The Nigerian Navy, working with foreign navies conducted 3 major exercises which include Ex OBANGAME EXPRESS, Ex GRAND AFRICAN NEMO and Ex SAFE DOMAIN 1 in 2021. Records indicate that in Year 2021, 44 vessels involved in illegal bunkering were arrested leading to the recovery of 1,664,628.61 barrels of crude oil and 45,752.91 Metric Tons of Automotive Gas Oil valued at N55.1 billion and N11.8billion respectively. In October 2021, the Nigerian Navy arrested a Singapore flagged bulk cargo ship, MV CHAYANEE NAREE with 32.9kg of smuggled cocaine. The 22 crew of the CHAYANEE NAREE, all reported to be Thai nationals, are being detained onboard the ship at the Lagos Port Complex while the investigation continues.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Global Piracy Report of 14 Jul 21, indicates the lowest total of piracy and sea robbery against ships in 27 years. Notably, there has been a marked decline in piracy in the GoG in 2021 with 11 pirate incidents recorded compared to 44 in 2020. Similarly, there was a decline in pirate attacks and sea robbery in Nigeria’s water where the country reported only 11 pirate incidents and 3 sea robberies in 2021, compared to 22 pirate incidents and 16 sea robberies in 2020. These figures convey proof of the effectiveness of the Nigerian Navy maritime security engagements. The security and economic implications are quite enormous not only for Nigeria but the sub-region as efforts to neutralise activities of criminal elements and economic saboteurs will stimulate and accelerate maritime trade and commerce, reduce costs including insurance premium and hopefully put an end to the smuggling of crude oil which the country depends so heavily on.
Having articulated his vision and mission statements, produced a Strategic Directive document as well as the Nigerian Navy Strategic Plan, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo has won the full confidence of officers and ratings who affirmed their loyalty and vow to be willing, able and ready to keep the nation’s waters and resources therein safe and secure for national prosperity.
THE NEW PLATFORMS
The Nigerian Navy recently inducted and commissioned a Hydrographic Survey Ship NNS LANA, Inshore Patrol Crafts (IPC) NNS ABA, NNS KANO, NNS IKENNE and NNS SOKOTO. Others are Fast Patrol Boats (FPB) NNS OSUN and Seaward Defence Boat III (SDB) NNS OJI. Additionally, NN312 helicopter was commissioned. In addition: 38 Sun craft Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs), 32 Paramount RHIBs, 22 Poly RHIBS, 11 SEWA Boats, 8 Epenal Boats, 4 Suncraft Manta Boats, 4 Falcon Boats and 2 Aresa Boats were also inducted into the inventory of the Nigerian Navy during the event.
DIGNITARIES PRESENT AT THE COMMISSIONING OF NEW ASSETS
The Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu; the Executive Governor of Ogun State, Mr Dapo Abiodun, the Executive Governor of Ondo State, represented by his Deputy -Honourable Lucky Aiyedatiwa; the Senate President, represented by the Chairman Senate Committee on Navy, Senator George Sekibo; the Honourable Speaker of House of Representatives, represented by the Chairman House Committee on Defence – Honourable Babajimi Benson; Chairman House Committee on Navy, Honourable Yusuf Gagdi, Honourable Minister of Defence, Major General Salihi Magashi (rtd), His Royal Highness, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero and His Royal Majesty, Oba of Lagos, represented by Oniru of Iruland, Oba Abdulwasiu Omogbolahan Lawal;
Also in attendance were: the Chief of Defence Staff, Service Chiefs, Inspector General of Police, National President Naval Officers’ Wives Association and many serving/retired military/paramilitary senior officers as well as captain of industries. The Nigerian Navy equipped with various operational sea and air assets including surveillance capabilities and well trained and motivated personnel is certainly one of Africa’s largest and powerful naval forces in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).