By Augustine Ehikioya
The effective manning of the Nigeria’s waters had been a major problem and have faced many challenges over the years.
Those challenges had prevented the full embracing of the Blue economy in the country.
Among the challenges is oil spill which resulted to ecological damage to ocean and rivers in Nigeria.
Oil pipeline vandalization and crude oil theft in the Niger Delta region were the order of the day few years back.
Besides oil pipeline vandalization, there were other several illegal activities along the creeks and estuaries in the region.
Pirates and smugglers also used to have a field day within the region.
But the sad story in the Niger Delta, which in turn had adversely affected the Nigerian economy for many years, has gradually been changing for good.
Security Watch Africa (SWA) went on an investigative and fact-finding tour of the eastern flank of the Niger Delta region, where the improved security of the Nigeria’s waters was attributed to the changes introduced by the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo.
Vice Admiral Gambo’s Vision, which is “to leverage on all factors of national location, technology, training, teamwork and synergy to re-energize the Nigerian Navy and enhance her as a well-motivated and ready naval force in the discharge of her Constitutional mandate and other assigned tasks in fulfillment of national security objectives,” is said to be the game changer in the Nigeria’s maritime sector.
The Eastern Naval Command (ENC), visited by SWA is one of the 3 Nigerian Navy Operations Commands that is tasked with various wartime and peacetime roles.
Covering coastline of about 110 nautical miles, the ENC has sea area of about 22,000 Sqnm including the EEZ of 200nm.
The sea area under its domain is hosting several Critical National Assets, including several oil fields with 12 Crude Oil loading terminals, 6 Liquefied Natural Gas plants and 2 refineries.
Still under the ENC’s area of responsibility are 3 major seaports, a rich aquatic field and various industrial complexes.
The above critical assets are within 9 major rivers serviced by over 500 creeks and estuaries in the region.
The Eastern Naval Command has three units including NNS Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NNS Jubilee, Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State and NNS Victory, Calabar, Cross River State.
While NNS Pathfinder is being commanded by Commodore Suleiman Ibrahim, the Commander of NNS Jubilee is Commodore Semiu Olubode-Fazaz.
The third unit, NNS Victory has Commodore Chidi Okpala as the Commander.
Highlighting the progress been recorded in the sector while speaking with SWA, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) the Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ibrahim Dewu, said “All these make security very fluid and ever changing in a dynamic operating environment. Nonetheless, the Command through the Operational bases, ships and units has emplaced measures that has ensured the Command’s AOR remains safe for legitimate activities to thrive.
“In addition, the Command has: ships of various sizes in its fleet, several gunboats tendered to the Operations Bases, House Boats, Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Facilities.
“It must however be pointed out that we are constantly reviewing our operations due to the fact that the criminals also evolve on realizing the environment is no longer conducive for their criminal activities.”
The Eastern Naval Command, he noted, has also greatly employed the MDA facilities for the monitoring of the maritime environment.
He went on “The facilities, which are force multipliers, reduces time on task, logistics, wear and tear on both men and machineries, provide constant surveillance and allow us to conduct targeted patrols.
“While I would say that the ENC AOR is more secured than it has ever been, it is still a work in progress,” he added.
As part of successes recorded in the last one year, he said, for rice smuggling alone, over 2,000 bags of 50kg foreign Parboiled Rice have been seized, while over 25 suspects have been arrested and over 30 wooden boats seized.
For PMS, he disclosed that over 600,000 litres have been seized, while over 20 suspects have been arrested and over 30 wooden boats seized.
Also, in its anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) drive, he said, the arrests in the last one year included 24 vessels, 2 barges and 89 suspects.
Still on the anti-COT measures, he said that over 180 Illegal Refining Sites (IRS) have been deactivated, 291 Wooden Boats arrested, over 200 metal Ovens dismantled and covered 121 Dugout pits.
In the same move, the ENC has seized 37,800,000 litres of crude oil, 35,250,000 litres of AGO, and 4,500,000 litres of DPK.
These operations, he said, have led to the “Reduction in Crude Oil theft with a corresponding increase in Crude oil production. Some of the pipeline conveying crude are coming back on stream, drastic reduction of environmental pollution (soot)
“Clearance operations of pirates and sea robbers camp have greatly reduced Sea Robbery, Smuggling and Kidnapping. The Command has conducted over 170,000hrs of sea and backwaters patrol,” he stated.
To achieve the successes recorded, he said, that the operation teams involved included EX OBANGAME EXPRESS 2022, OP DELTA SAFE, OP DAKATAR DA BARAWO, OP GBA PADA and EX EDI DIANA, while the various communities have been very supportive.
On the cooperation by the communities, he said, “The communities have provided some measure of support to the Command in terms of: providing credible intelligence, conducive atmosphere for operations and activities, and support in establishment of Security outposts.
To ensure the Command build a trust-based relationship with the host communities towards getting their full support, he said, that the ENC occasionally carried out medical rhapsodies, quick impact projects in communities and schools, and sponsoring sporting activities.
But he pointed out that some of the challenges facing the Command included lack of cooperation from some stakeholders in the maritime domain and reluctance of some host communities to provide support.
Hailing the leadership style of the CNS, he said, “In order to achieve the constitutional mandate of the NN, the CNS Vice Adm Auwwal Zubairu Gambo, Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR), Admiralty Medal (AM), gave guidance through the CNS Strategic Directives 2021-5 which is anchored on 6 pillars: Operations, Fleet Renewal, Logistics, Infrastructural Development, Human Resource Management & Administration Concepts & Organization.
“There is however no gainsaying that without purposeful leadership, such policy directives only remain as they are.
“The CNS has provided determined, purposeful and visionary leadership, which has ensured that the NN keeps on moving from strength to strength.
“You must however be conscious of the fact that the NN does not exist in isolation of the fiscal realities the country is facing, yet the CNS has consistently gone over and beyond in ensuring that Commands are provided with the wherewithal to enable them deliver on their Missions.
The visionary, purposeful and determined leadership of the CNS has provided the ENC the ability to successfully conduct operations and carryout its mission in fulfillment of the CNS Strategic Directives, which is the fulcrum for delivering on the Constitutional mandate of the NN.
“It thus came as no surprise to us in the NN that he won the award for the Most Outstanding Chief of the Naval Staff in Africa.
“Finally, the ENC will continue to ensure that its maritime domain is safe and secure for all users to conduct legitimate activities,” he said.
With the ongoing reforms, it is hoped that all the existing challenges will soon be a thing of the past and the Nigeria’s waters will be 100 percent safe and secured.
This, no doubt, will go a long way to enhance the Blue economy in Nigeria.