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Stopping the bleeding of maritime economy in Gulf of Guinea (1)

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For decades there have been circuits of conferences about maritime security everywhere, in the face of piracy and other illegalities at sea. In Nigeria, in the Gulf of Guinea, in ECOWAS and now in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the debates have multiplied.

One of such forums was that sponsored on April 20, 2013 by the Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs or RIIA) in partnership with its Nigerian counterpart, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA).

The conference titled “West African Maritime Security and Development” was planned to coincide with the port call to Lagos by Royal Navy frigate, HMS ARGYLL. The officers of the ship participated in the conference, to the delight of the British High Commissioner in Nigeria. What a good example of the use of the navy as a handmaiden of diplomacy.

For analysts of the value of navies in war and peace, the rescue operation by ARGYLL off the Cape Verde coast is a model of warship readiness and competence at sea.

It is also important to note that ARGYLL’s training programmes planned to share practical experiences with the personnel of Ghanaian and Nigerian Navies is in line with the spirit of sub-regional, regional and global cooperation pervading the navies today. Such cooperation will, when formalised, help to stem the tide of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as it helped to calm the storms of pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

Keen observers of the worrisome maritime security situation in West and Central Africa were expectant. What new ideas would come out of this conference? For many decades we’ve had many of such conferences, seminars, workshops and roundtables.

For example, in the same NIIA conference chamber, precisely 30 years ago (22-23 February 1983), a similar seminar of maritime security agencies was held by NIIA and the Nigeria Navy in the wake of widespread “smuggling and coastal piracy” in Nigeria at that time. Since then, there had been hundreds of seminars and tonmes of academic reports and position papers.

Is there anything new about dialogue, debates and deliberations on maritime security? A French proverb says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Solomon also says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”

This conference seems different. There are some new initiatives and freshness in the approach to finding solutions to this seemingly intractable problem. There is something new about the renewed sense of urgency, worry and frenetic activities by the international community – the ECOWAS, ECCAS, AU, EU, UN – and many discerning locals about the near death of the maritime economy in these parts of the world. What can we do to stop the haemorrhage of what Martin Murphy calls “Africa’s Leaking Wound”? (Proceedings US Naval Institute, March 2013).

The aim of this analysis is to track the discussions at the conference with a view to contributing to the process of finding enduring solutions to the piracy and other criminal acts in the sub-region.

The keynote address by the chief of the naval staff (CNS), Nigeria, Dele Ezeoba, was candid and copious with information about “a topic that touches on the essence of our existence as a people in West Africa”. He set the pattern of discussion by informing the conference that the Nigerian maritime environment is home to over 5,700 oil wells, 112 flow stations, 16 gas plants, 126 production platforms, 6 Floating Production Storage Offloading platforms (FPSO). One of those FPSOs called BONGA is a deep offshore production platform with 200,000 barrels per day production capacity. There are also 13 crude oil terminals.

He asserted that the sub-region should not indulge in business-as-usual confabs. This is not the time for endless debates, but time to put a stop to the menace of pirates and other maritime criminals who are all out to destroy the economy. The conference should proffer “enduring solutions and implementable strategies for combating the vices that threaten the positive development of West Africa”.

The tone of the papers presented and the contributions on the floor was indicative of the pressing need to make a difference with this and some other conferences looming ahead. There was a free flow of practical ideas that will enhance the capacity of Nigeria to stem the haemorrhage of its economy and earn the full benefits of being a maritime nation.

The British and American diplomats at the conference were less diplomatic but more vehement about the need to minimise the dialogue about the issues at stake and to maximise the pursuit of practical solutions.

Besides the papers presented on piracy and oil theft, there were papers on the huge loss of good money to “Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing” in the sub-region. “Let’s declare total war on all this menace,” pleaded one of the three women who presented learned papers. In doing that, an outspoken American diplomat argued that military action alone would not make these waters safe. 

 

Oladimeji, a retired commodore, wrote in from Lagos.

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