In less than two weeks, over 70 countries will be participating in the Global Maritime Security Conference (GMSC) in Abuja, Nigeria. The Conference is aimed at resolving maritime security challenges at the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). In this exclusive interview with TNMN, General Jonathan India Garba (Rtd), the Board Chairman, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) speaks on the value of the conference for Nigeria, the need for countries in the GoG to prioritize the enactment of anti-piracy laws and the need for the establishment of Coast Guards to support the operations of the Nigerian Navy. Garba also faults the foreign media for not telling the ‘whole truth’ in its reports on the GoG. He alleges a deliberate sidelining of efforts of governments like Nigeria in resolving the GoG crises and is optimistic that the GMSC will address these issues. Enjoy reading!
The Global Maritime Security Conference comes up in a few weeks sir. What is government set to achieve through this event?
First of all, we are talking about the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and you know that in the Gulf, there is this general awareness that Somalia, the Gulf of Guinea and South East Asia are the areas where you have a lot of crimes like piracy and other transnational crimes like drug trafficking, hostage taking and even small arms are being smuggled through these areas causing a disruption of security along coastal countries and in fact certain countries in the hinterland. So, Peace, Security and Development economically in this area has been very very uneasy to achieve. Now, this coming conference (Global Maritime Security Conference) is going to highlight exactly what has been happening in the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria is organising this conference and it will showcase all that Nigeria is doing to stem this issue. For example, when you talk about hostage taking or piracy, a lot of people do not know that Nigeria is working in this direction to make sure the Gulf is safe. If you realise that 90 percent of Nigeria’s trade and indeed that of the countries of the Gulf come by sea, and just because you have a lot of people talking about these things happening, they have heightened the cost of insurance, the cost of transporting goods to coastal countries of the Gulf.
With this conference coming into being, it is going to expose the whole world to the fact that all that is being said is not completely true. Yes, we have issues and problems in this area but what is Nigeria doing and what are other countries doing? This conference will help bring about the awareness of what the countries are doing and possibly these countries are doing this independently so, this conference will put together countries and urge them to unify their stand and together fight these criminals.
These criminals as we know, they go to sea and commit havoc but at the end of the day, they do not stay at sea. They go back to land and in the process they carry the loot and other things to land and disturb the nations bringing about economic de-stabilisation. So, we expect that the exposure of this conference will let nations know what we are doing, particularly in Nigeria. We have the Blue Project which is aimed at providing security in the Gulf, particularly in Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). At the same time, this conference will let everybody know that a lot is being done and it is not all as it is said in the newspaper. Then, the people who are afraid to trade in this area will become aware that it is possible for them to come and trade because they will have protection. It will also create the awareness for people who did not previously know of Nigeria’s effort, for example the international community, when they see there is a lot of efforts, they can key in. It will also help them bring their own knowledge to fore and at the same time, it will make people realise that synergy brought together will create a better enabling environment in the system.
How important is the passing of anti-piracy laws in the individual countries in the Gulf of Guinea to ensure the success of the synergy /realisation of the collective goal of suppressing of armed robbery at sea and piracy?
Nigeria has just passed the law and this will let people know that what they were previously doing and getting away because there is no law, now if you do it, you pay for it. So other countries in the GoG too, seeing this, will also be encouraged to bring about laws that will have far reaching consequences on people who commit these crimes and this will also let them know that even back in their own home countries, if these things happen, they will also not be left free. As you know, before if you did, you will not be punished because there was no law. Now there is a law and whoever commits this crime cannot go unpunished. I am sure it will help other countries to fall in line too.
Overtime people have said the Nigerian Navy alone cannot sufficiently man our waters. The call has been for Coast Guards. Do you think the Navy is sufficiently equipped with enough resources to combat piracy?
The Gulf of Guinea is a wide expanse of sea and for the Navy to be a blue Navy, they have to go out there. Our EEZ is 200 nautical miles and from Badagry down to Calabar, we have about 853km so, even the coastal area is wide not to talk about when you go 200 nautical miles. So, if Nigeria has coast guards, it will assist the Navy to become more concentrated on their original traditional role. If you look at the fact that because the area is expansive, the Navy alone cannot provide the assets. Let the Navy concentrate on the deep sea, As you know, a lot of crimes take place in the EEZ because you have ships that do ship to ship transfer of goods and services and other crimes also take place midstream but if the Navy concentrates on their traditional role of going mid-sea, then , they will be able to check some of those crimes while the coast guards will do what they are supposed to do. I therefore support the creation of a Coast Guard.
Stakeholders have blamed the International Community for putting forward “unverifiable“ statistics of piracy in the GoG. Are you of the same opinion sir?
I won’t say it is the International community but the foreign media that harps some of these things without verifiable evidence and in doing this they down play what Nigeria is doing in this area so as to create fear and increase the cost of doing business in this area and also send away people who have come to do business here so that they will be the ones who will gain. So, I don’t really ascribe to the fact that the International Community are responsible for doing this but I think the international media somehow has a part to play because the writer of history writes it according to his own perception.