Over the years, there has been an increase in the level of threats in the shape of piracy, sea robbery and kidnapping around Niger Delta region and wider Gulf of Guinea (GoG) coastal ways. In 2018, Nigeria witnessed 48 actual and attempted piracy attacks, up from 33 recorded in the previous year. In its latest report, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) ranked Nigeria again as the highest country with reported incidents, recording about 21 attacks out of 77 reported globally.
Sea robbery in Nigerian territorial waters and piracy in adjoining seas in the GoG constitute a menace to international shipping. These include the hijack of merchant oil tankers and fishing vessels, ship robbery and the kidnap of mariners.
Indeed, Nigerian waters and the adjoining GoG have been designated as a ‘High Risk Area’ and one of the most troubled and dangerous global waterways. The Niger Delta region, which is the heart of Nigeria’s oil and gas exploration, serves as the avenue for most piracy activities in Nigeria which is believed to be perpetrated by the unemployed youths in the region.
In the latest version of National Security Strategy 2019, a document released by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), it was emphasized that the absence of robust coastal economic activities along the littoral states to engage most of these unemployed youths is the predisposing factor for increased piracy in that area.
Nigeria became a major player in the oil and gas industry in the early 1970s and this encouraged the influx of multinational oil companies into the oil-rich Niger Delta region. However, their activities have led to environmental degradation including land pollution due to oil spillage while at the same time rendering the soil unfit for farming activities and killing aquatic animals which provide a source of livelihood for the inhabitants in the Delta region.
These grievances led to the birth of two insurgent groups that carryout dangerous attack on oil facilities; the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) which was active from 2006 to 2009 and the smaller but equally dangerous, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) which took up arms between 2016 and 2017. Both the duo conducted a series of onshore and offshore attacks on oil production vessels, aiming to cause enough damage to force the companies withdraw from the Delta.
In June 2008, MEND attacked Shell’s Bonga Offshore Oil Rig, which led to temporary halt of the company’s production at its $3.6billion facility. Also in March 2016, the NDA used an underwater explosive and destroyed Shell’s Trans Forcados Pipeline, causing $3billion damage.
The economic consequences for Nigeria were drastic as Nigerian oil output was reduced by 25 per cent around 2009 due to MEND activities and 40 per cent in 2016 by NDA activities. Apart from that, these activities scare away investors while established oil companies do ultimately withdraw. Later, MEND and NDA left the scene, due to peaceful negotiation and granting of amnesty by the Federal Government, but succeeded by more opportunistic criminal gangs.
Kidnappings along the coastal routes and oil bunkering also gave these insurgents new sources of funding as well as political notoriety. Usually, the ship’s captain along with the chief engineer and other crew members are taken off the ship, holding them for ransom onshore in order to extort payment from either a shipping company or the hostage’s family. In the course of oil bunkering, armed robbers usually board a cargo ship and siphon oil onto another vessel which is later sold in the black market.
The problem of piracy in Nigeria is ultimately linked to the country’s dysfunctional oil industry and the violent politics of the Niger Delta. The prevalence of reported armed robbery, piracy and kidnapping cases are always on the increase along Nigeria’s waterways. In early 2019, the government introduced a new security program called ‘Deep Blue Project’ in which previous secure anchorage arrangements were removed and the Nigerian Navy was saddled with the responsibility for maintaining safety and security in these waters.
The National Security Strategy 2019 also highlighted that Nigerian Navy in collaboration with other maritime security stakeholders, i.e. Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), State Security Service (SSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigeria Police Force embarked on heightened maritime operations, including the employment of maritime domain awareness capabilities around identified hotspots. These efforts have generally reduced the incidence of piracy, but the state of maritime insecurity still gives cause for concern.
Responding to this, In June 2019, an Anti-Piracy Bill was passed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari and the effort of Nigeria was commendable for being the first country in the region to ratify a law to specifically combat piracy. The purpose of the bill is to prevent and curb piracy, armed robbery, kidnapping and other unlawful acts against a ship.
However, it is worthy to note that good governance is absolutely fundamental to achieving sustainable maritime security and development in Nigeria. In this regard, policies designed to curb corruption, ensure transparency and accountability in the management of national resources, greater investment in human development, and the strengthening of the democratic processes to ensure the emergence of credible leaders, are crucially imperative.
Ya’u Mukhtar writes from Madobi, Kano State