A new president for Nigeria could ring the changes for the under-resourced maritime sector and consequently for the wider shipping community
The Nigerian elections have taken place against a backdrop of instability in the north, nationwide corruption and economic woes born of the sharp fall in crude oil prices and a struggling naira. I would suggest that this backdrop also consists of an under-resourced maritime sector crisis, which for the good of all Nigeria, needs the careful attention of the newly elected leader, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari.
The narrative describing Northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency is well known, drowning out the tale in the south and offshore where maritime crime is prevalent: particular threats include sabotage by oil thieves, sea pirates, illegal bunkerers, illegal and unregulated fishing and sea robbers within Nigeria’s coastline. Despite the previous administration’s efforts, 98% of Nigeria’s trade is still threatened by insecurity in her territorial waters. This is currently spreading across the entire Gulf of Guinea and even South of Angola.
The country is still losing $2bn annually to oil theft alone. As illegal boarding, oil theft and kidnappings continue to threaten Nigeria’s maritime sector, it is likely that if they had been re-elected, the previous administration would have had to re-invigorate its national security strategy by placing anti-corruption at the centre of maritime security agenda.
“Now that the elections are over, the fight against Boko Haram is likely to be the primary distraction, potentially leaving the maritime sector under-resourced”
Overall, some progress has been made in the maritime sector. During Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidency, he has initiated several large-scale upgrades in maritime infrastructure and security. The Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA) has set up a satellite surveillance centre to reduce maritime crime levels. The satellite surveillance initially proved to be relatively successful and cost-effective, leading to a decrease in the incidences of piracy and oil theft in Nigeria’s waters.
More broadly, President Jonathan also commissioned four new warships to be built to ensure Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) protection, and adopted a Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy (TSMS), which provides an operational framework for the Navy to ensure the protection of Nigeria’s maritime environment. Last year he inaugurated Nigeria’s first maritime university, commissioned to utilise and develop local know-how. Most recently the ECOWAS Commission inaugurated the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) for a maritime zone known as “Pilot Zone E”, which will coordinate joint activities between Benin, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. But for any semblance of maritime security in the region, it is imperative that these important steps are built upon.
Incoming President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, is perhaps well known for the most intensive anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria’s history. Having won the election, it is expected that tackling corruption will be high among his priorities, and this will no doubt take an effect in the maritime sector. This is just as well, because closely linked to corruption is security: as Muhammadu Buhari takes the reins, security needs to be the country’s upmost priority to regain stability in the country and in the region, in particular the Gulf of Guinea.
Notably, the private sector can (and does) assist with the regional maritime security solution.
The shipping community needs to know it can conduct normal vessel operations in territorial waters, but through the concerted efforts of a myriad of stakeholders, state and non-state, mitigation can be provided through initiatives aimed at information sharing about best practice and lessons learned, for example.
Now that the elections are over, the fight against Boko Haram is likely to be the primary distraction, potentially leaving the maritime sector under-resourced. It is logical that instability onshore can affect instability offshore, and so a holistic approach is needed, linking one with the other – but not one in exclusion of the other. It is truly hoped that this election will be decisive for the good of the Nigeria and its resources, whether on land or sea.
Bola Adefehinti is Port2Port West Africa’s managing director.
A President with a passion
Nigeria’s next President, 72-year-old Major General Muhammadu Buhari, has something of a cult following in the northern states, where he is seen as disciplined and incorruptible. Both are welcome qualities for supporting the maritime sector going forward.
The new government takes power on May 29, but Nigerians and the wider maritime community are unsure how it plans to address the corruption that is so characteristic of the sector.
In his first speech to the nation after winning the election, Mr Buhari vowed that he would “strongly battle” against “the evil of corruption” – which he described as “even worse than terrorism.” He added that corruption has become so powerful that it threatens Nigeria’s economic development and democratic survival.
“Corruption will not be tolerated by this administration, and it shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation.”
According to press reports, since independence in 1960, approximately $600bn in oil revenue has headed for the government’s coffers, but up to two thirds has been misdirected, misspent or stolen.
Mr Buhari has yet to give details of his plans to combat corruption, but when he does the maritime sector will certainly stand up and pay attention.