Director of Information (DINFO), Nigerian Navy Headquarters, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, in this interview with EMMANUEL ONANI, speaks on ongoing operations to deny economic saboteurs freedom of action in the creeks, deployment of technology and funding for the service to ensure security of the nation’s maritime domain, among other issues
How much support is the Nigerian Navy enjoying from the government, considering the enormous challenges that occasion sea piracy, crude oil theft and illegal fishing, among other acts of economic sabotage?
The accounts and budget branch, perhaps, will have the figures. But I can say that the support has been enormous, given the knowledge and the fact that resources are scarce. There has been enormous support on the part of the President for the Navy. Fleet recapitalisation is ongoing through international and local means. As we speak, the Nigerian Navy is building the fourth and fifth locally/indigenously constructed sea worth defence boat. We have built sea-worth defence boat 1, 2, 3. So, to better the ship building capacity, we are building 4 and 5, and it was flagged-off by Mr. President. And it is being funded to meet up the contract period.
As we speak, the offshore patrol vessel is in Turkey. They have started construction; it costs resources and tax payers money. So, in terms of what the service requires to do the job that is on our hands; if you look at the resources in the maritime environment which is said to be the future for most maritime nations – blue economy.
That is tapping the resources under the sea for the good of the nation. The resources on land are getting meager, but out there is fishing; opportunities in the sea. For non-traditional and traditional use of the sea, the Navy needs nothing less than 150 vessels but we are not yet there. However, we are seeing positive effort on the part of government of the day given scare resources to ensure that the fleet recapitalization effort is sustained and that older vessels are maintained. So, the support has been enormous.
Are there existing instruments that encourage cooperation and synergy among nations that constitute the Gulf of Guinea?
There is. In fact, I wanted to go back a little bit to history; the Yaoundé Architecture and when it was established. The first summit that brought about the enactment of the Yaoundé Architecture was some time in 2012 or before, I am not very sure. Now, to that, there have been series of meetings between navies in the sub-region by their respective heads. As we speak, we have two regional bodies that are cardinal to the supervision of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. We have Chresmac and Chresmau. The names are in French, but I can interpret it in English.
Chresmac is sub-regional centre for maritime security for West Africa, which is in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, while the regional centre for security in Central Africa is in Gabon. Those two bodies are part of the African Integrated Maritime Strategy fallout, which is also concerned with the Yaoundé Architecture. The Yaoundé Architecture recognises that the threats in the maritime area affect us all.
So, there is the need to pull resources together; there is the need to zone coastal states. Nigeria falls into pilot maritime zone echo, which is Nigeria, Benin and Niger at the hinterland. So, the three of us are to work together to carry out combine patrols. Most of the times, when these things come up, you find out that it is difficult to organise the people and all that, but there is that general awareness of the need to collaborate. Our maritime domain has helped collaboration through our Deputy Defence Adviser in Malabo. So, across the region, the chiefs of Navy, they know themselves, they met in Ghana.
They also met this year in Nigeria during our 66th anniversary and international maritime conference and came up with the Port Harcourt agreement or so. That is what they called the paper and it will be ratified by the African Union once there is a summit of African leaders because the agreement for the formation of ECOWAS Maritime Task Force is to further ensure the safety in our waters. There is also the coordinated maritime presence by European Union (EU) states.
The coordinated maritime presence by EU states is the deployment of a vessel of the European Union. Whether it is Netherlands or France, they come to our waters to ensure there is safety and that their interest and maritime trade is not in any way attacked or destroyed. The EU delegation paid a visit to the Chief of Naval Staff in April.
They also went to Lagos to further strengthen the already existing ties/talks about training and exercises. There is an annual exercise we do constantly with the French Navy that is called the Grand African Neu; that is naval exercises for maritime operations.
So, we participate we, carry out drills, exchanges including landing of aircraft and all that. In the region also, during the 66th anniversary in Onne, for one week, we also had a regional maritime exercise. There was a Ghanaian vessel; I think there was another vessel from Senegal and Italian vessel. So, there is sub-regional collaboration, continental collaboration as well as international collaboration. Those are the reasons, apart from our own efforts with national stakeholders like Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other bodies to curb piracy.
How many vessels have been arrested between 2015 and now?
I will need to refer to operations to get the correct figure because change is dynamic. Patrols are ongoing but the last that I know, when I was Deputy Director (Operations), for 10 months, I collated data of arrested vessels. There were a lot of infractions; some minor, some serious, rogue vessels. Some have been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), some have been handed over to the Police, some to the DSS, while some are already undergoing trials in courts for eventual forfeiture to the government. At that time, that was two years ago, there were 400 of them.
Now, we have a total of 488. I know that some of them have been released, while some have been forfeited. In fact, some constituted a lot of menace to the Navy. These are the issues we have been talking about. When you arrest these vessels, and you keep them for long, after sometime, the water tightness and integrity get to fade because a vessel is not meant to be at a spot. It is supposed to be moving. If it is at a spot for a long time, it takes in water and may be it has oil in it. So, it creates enormous logistics requirements to safeguard and keep them in custody
What is the position of the Navy regarding modular and artisanal refineries against the backdrop of crude oil theft?
The first is the position of the government. I know there was a policy by the government to see the setting up of modular refineries in the Niger Delta. I am also aware that two or three have been set up. I can’t remember their names now. On artisanal refineries, I presume you are referring to the illegal ones because these are the ones that we have been fighting.
They cause a lot of harm to themselves; they cause a lot of harm to the environment and in some cases, complete extinction of their lives as it happened in Imo State some months ago. So, these ones are not in any way authorised and the Nigerian Navy has left no stone unturned in ensuring that people do not carry out illegal refining. As we speak, there is still in force, Operation Taka Da Barawo, which in Hausa, means to stop the thief. The operation has been able to put a lot of people out of business. Though there have been armed resistance in some cases but it has not deterred us. Operation Delta Safe and Operation Restore Hope are also there.
hey are there to ensure the protection of our assets and to curb crude oil theft. So, in Taka Da Barawo, our men visit all those places. We also deploy air assets to survey the areas very well, then pin point those places that our men need to carry out patrols. So, artisanal refineries are illegal. They will not be legalised by the government. Modular refineries have been legalized and some people have set up theirs. Perhaps, we need to look inward properly, to see how to address that problem. We have to adopt a whole of nation approach, may be to bring people together, to say this is what we want to do.
Considering reported cases of vandalism, illegal refining of crude oil, and oil bunkering, will you say the nation’s maritime domain is safe?
Yes, Nigerian maritime domain is safe for legitimate/legal economic activities to thrive. Unfortunately, just like we witness on land and in some area, there have been issues which we are working hard to curb. Our men are doing everything possible, including working with traditional institutions.
How is the Navy dealing with activities of international syndicates?
Once upon a time, activities of international syndicates were also very prominent – kidnapping, hostage taking, racketeering in the maritime sector. By the grace of God, all that is gone because the Navy made a strong case to the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) that the registering of crime-based security outfits was becoming a national security threat. These people come under the guise of private security companies and they now turn to negotiators and they have their cuts on whatever was paid. That aspect has stopped now. The situation in the maritime domain has changed as what was obtainable once upon a time is no more. This is a big plus to the nation. This year alone, we have had epoch-making milestone activities, one of which is the commencement of the systematic survey of our offshore waters by the Nigerian Navy ship.
Would you then say so much is being done at strategic level to guarantee maximum security on our waterways?
At the highest level, the Chief of Naval Staff holds regular meetings with the GMD of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) The operation Taka Da Barawo that the Navy has been carrying out since April 1, was actually launched in collaboration with the NNPCL for logistics support, so that our men continually go out there to ensure that these people do not continue to carry out illegal refining sites.
So, there is collaboration; I think there is also understanding. There is also something we need to do more; monitoring of the pipelines. The Navy is not the only one operating in the Niger Delta, we also have the Civil Defence, the Army, DSS. So, it is just for our personnel and colleagues to realize that your actions should be in consonant with the entire strategic direction and not to be against.