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As you were! Why spread confusion across the sea?

For over a decade, some “powerful” voices within our society have always gone to the National Assembly (NASS) to propose for the establishment of a coastguard. Those lobbying for a coastguard in Nigeria have always goofed. Why? Their justification for a coastguard is not convincing.

On a particular occasion, the lobbyists for a coastguard had to copy the roles of the Nigerian Navy as expressly stated in the Constitution and the Armed Forces of Nigeria Act. And these were presented to the NASS as the roles of their own proposed coastguard. They failed! How can a nation have two different organizations perform same functions at sea? I thought the idea of establishing a coastguard, though enticing, was a bad one until someone drew my attention to a move recently by some Nigerians under the name Nigerian Merchant Navy Coast Guard Security and Safety Corps (NMNCCSSC). The proposed bill which reportedly had gone through the second reading was sponsored by a federal lawmaker Hon Tajudeen Adefisoye. So, what is their prayer in the proposed bill? A coastguard? A merchant navy, or both?

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But if the NMNCCSSC was to function as a coastguard, there will be confusion in our coastal waters which will undermine the nation’s maritime security. There are so many reasons. For instance, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 would have to be amended. These legal documents statutorily allow the Nigerian Navy (NN) to defend Nigeria by sea.

The creation of a coastguard is duplication of efforts and waste of lean resources that would have been used to transform the NN to enable it perform its statutory coastguard functions effectively

Other roles of the NN in the eyes of the law include the following: “Enforcing and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all customs, immigration, bunkering, fishery protection and pollution laws including enforcement of all national and international maritime laws ascribed to or acceded to by Nigeria. Other duties include making of charts and coordinating national hydrographic surveys as well as promoting, coordinating and enforcing safety regulations in the territorial waters and the EEZ of Nigeria.” These are all coastguard duties to be performed by the NN as a lead agency in our maritime environment in concert with other security agencies.

It is well known and documented that Nigeria and many maritime nations are confronted with a variety of security challenges at sea, which some public analysts argued may require “coast guard” operations. But we ought to bear it in mind that maritime nations have the responsibility for planning how to address their security challenges at sea. Whether a maritime security force is considered to be a “navy” or “coast guard” is secondary. What is imperative is the need for a maritime nation to constantly identify threats at sea, carry out a threat assessment, and then provide matching resources to meet those threats.

The capabilities of African navies, according to Morris Michael in his book titled Expansion of Third World Navies, is best understood using the following roles: military, diplomatic and policing. Of these three roles, it was stated that African navies including the NN have concentrated more on policing or coast guard functions. It is because the NN does not have the capacity for global operations on a regular basis. But it is equipped for national and/or regional operations. So why the need to create a coastguard? The creation of a coastguard is duplication of efforts and waste of lean resources that would have been used to transform the NN to enable it perform its statutory coastguard functions effectively.

As much as I concur with public intellectuals that our country must rise up to contemporary maritime security challenges, one is concerned that the resort to the establishment of a coastguard is another “badly chewed and ill – digested strategy” which will lead to another round of wasteful spending. Does Nigeria have the resources to establish a coastguard? No! Or, are those sponsoring the bill for a coastguard not aware that the country is highly indebted to the tune of almost $87.239 billion (N33.107 trillion), according to the Debt Management Office?

It has been the culture of some leaders in the country and their allies to copy ideas from other countries without due diligence to ensure that such concepts or philosophies would work in our country. So, what do we get? Ideas that produce excellent results in other countries most times do not work in Nigeria. I say no to the establishment of a coastguard if the sole aim as quoted in many newspapers is to “secure the safety of Nigerian coastal and inland waterways,” …and to stem the “high tide of sea piracy on water highway.” The proposed bill for the establishment of a coastguard reminded me of what a friend described as “frailty of institutional memory.”

Most Nigerians will remember how a paramilitary guard was established in 1989 directly under the presidency. This paramilitary organization known then as the National Guard was set up by a decree to combat crime and terrorism. No sooner than it was established, the paramilitary outfit became controversial because its mission overlapped with that of the Police and the Army. Nigerians perceived that it could be used for witch-hunting and intimidation of political opponents. Accordingly, it was de-established.

If some Nigerians feel that the Navy is not performing its coastguard functions well, we should not forget that a navy is an indicator of the development of the economic might of a country. This is a fact! Because only developed navies enjoy strategic presence at sea and indirectly through economic strength. That is why African navies in the West African sub-region, and indeed the Gulf of Guinea with less technological capability and fragile economy are advised to collaborate with those that have proven capabilities to meet security challenges of their maritime environment.

In spite of all inadequacies exhibited by the Navy, naval patrols must be sustained at the domestic level as this is a critical component of an effective counter–piracy strategy. Those advocating for a coastguard and their collaborators in the government should not spread confusion across the sea! Thank you.

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