• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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X-raying coastal communities’ role in combating maritime security threats

X-raying coastal communities’ role in combating maritime security threats

Experts have expressed the need to incorporate coastal communities in maritime security architecture, as part of efforts to boost community policing and security intelligence in the maritime sector.

Despite being involved in maritime-related crimes such as child labour/trafficking, drug trafficking, and illegal fishing among other ills that threaten maritime security, coastal communities can invest in securing the maritime domain, which caters for over 90 percent of world trade.

With a coastline of around 853 km along the Atlantic Ocean, Nigeria’s coast consists of four unique geomorphological units including the Barrier- Lagoon Complex, the Mud Coast: the Accurate Niger Delta and the Strand Coast.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, over 20 million Nigerians- 22.6 percent of the nation’s population- live along the coastal zone.

These communities are exposed to huge maritime security threats, and they can play a role in abating or intensifying maritime threats.

Emmanuel Maiguwa, president of the Maritime Security Providers Association of Nigeria (MASPAN), advised governments to sensitise coastal communities to understand and play a strategic role in maritime security.

Maiguwa described coastal communities as a gateway to the marine environment, protectors and custodians of the maritime domain.

“There is a need for a strategic interface between security agencies and these communities because these coastal areas are some of the poorest regions. Governments across Africa must consider coastal communities as strategic partners to share information on maritime security.

“For every security breach or illegal activity in the maritime space, there is either the direct support of the coastal community or the community residents developing a nonchalant attitude about the issue. This nonchalance towards maritime security issues mayn’t be deliberate. It could simply be as a result of ignorance that the activities of certain persons in the area constitute national security threats,” he explained.

The marine environment is responsible for the major source of livelihood via fishing, marine transportation, and boat repairs among others in Nigeria.

Maiguwa advised governments to ensure that resources in the local communities are explored in a sustainable industrial manner in the same way they prioritise maritime security education.
Citing an example, he said the government can empower these communities to do industrial fishing.

This, he said, will ensure the community understands the role of maritime security and partners with the government towards achieving this.

A senior Naval officer with the Nigerian Navy who preferred anonymity said there is already a mutually beneficial relationship between coastal communities and security agencies in Nigeria.

“Information sharing and intelligence gathering is where coastal communities can be strategic partners in maritime security. If the residents in coastal communities don’t release information, as a security agency, the Nigerian Navy won’t know about certain developments.

“Nigerian Navy always gets information from coastal communities. There are designated platforms and units for retrieving security intelligence. In the Western Navy area, there is always at least one security patrol vessel along the waterways, and this gives confidence to the coastal community residents,” the source said.

Highlighting the role of coastal communities in tackling maritime crimes, Warredi Enisuoh, executive director of Operations at Tantita Security Service Limited said the security company employs youths in every community where it finds the problem of oil theft.

Tantita is one of the private security contractors of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited and has been responsible for checkmating crude oil theft in the creeks and other locations of oil and gas assets.

According to Warredi, about 21,981 Nigerian youths have been recruited by the security company as surveillance and intelligence agents in coastal regions where oil theft is prevalent in Nigeria.

Warredi showed a documentary that revealed that crude oil theft is perpetrated by armed personnel in the coastal communities.

“In the course of our work in checkmating crude oil theft and other related crimes, we have found partnerships with youths and the elderly in the affected communities very helpful. These chiefs easily know when a new person or group of persons settle in a village, and they can tell when new operations commence in certain areas. The youths are useful informants and can be helpful in preliminary investigations around oil theft,” Warredi said.

He, however, advised the federal government to consider empowering individuals in such regions to venture into modular refineries as a long-term solution to provide sustainable solutions to maritime crimes in the region.

According to him, there are several coastal communities in Nigeria where fishing and farming will no longer be possible for decades as a result of illegal crude oil refining and consequent pollution of the coastal communities.

Training Nigerian journalists on Maritime Security Reporting in Lagos recently, Afua Lamprey, senior lecturer at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), equally stressed the need for security agencies to partner with coastal communities.

According to Afua, the role of coastal communities in enhancing maritime security will be heightened with concerted efforts by the government to address the illiteracy rate due to poverty and lack of knowledge.

She said that by acting as ‘area watchdogs,’ coastal communities can provide vital tip-off to combat maritime threats; even as she encouraged security agencies to build connections with community chiefs, and fishermen among other leaders in the region.

The war against maritime crimes and efforts to curb security threats must use a multifaceted approach with the role of coastal communities effectively captured.

African governments need a holistic approach to addressing maritime issues and involving communities in the riverine areas has the potential to provide a comprehensive solution to some of the above-mentioned security threats.