The Federal Government through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA has especially in the last four years taken concrete steps to secure the Gulf of Guinea by curbing criminality in the region. These various forms of maritime criminality range from piracy, sea robbery, oil theft, illegal fish pouching and kidnaping for ransom, among several others. This is given that the Gulf of Guinea, which is a major shipping route into the West and Central African sub-region. These steps by the Nigerian government were informed by the realisation that if this trend is not curtailed, it might pose a major threat to food security in the sub-region. The incidences of rising maritime insecurity, has no doubt become a global phenomenon and so the Gulf of Guinea is not an isolated case. Little wonder that in most recent times, maritime security issue features prominently on the agenda of international and national discourse on the need to evolve a framework that eliminate security threats in the maritime domain in order to achieve a sustainable use of the massive resources embedded in the belly of the oceans and seas.

DG/CEO, NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside

The current Director General/CEO of NIMASA, Nigeria’s principal maritime regulatory authority, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, who doubles chairman of the Association of African Maritime Administrations AAMA, has been in the vanguard of developing and harnessing the blue economic potential in the continent on a sustainable basis

In line with this commitment, the Federal Government through the agency is currently concluding plans to host a Global Maritime Security Conference GMSC slated for October 7-9, 2019, at the prestigious International Conference Centre, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. This is a high-level conference, aimed at facilitating a clearer understanding of the challenges of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea region. The conference will also help develop tailored solutions as well as coordinate efforts at strengthening regional and international collaborations to eliminate maritime threats in the region.

The conference is expected to define the precise nature and scope of coordinated regional responses to maritime insecurity vis-à-vis intervention supports from external actors and partners. This is given that maritime insecurity has economic, social, political and environmental implications globally.

It is also expected to evaluate the relevance and impacts of the various interventions initiated already to tackle maritime insecurity in the sub-region with a view to revising and adapting them to address the current challenges. Others include to decisively move towards policy harmonisation and effective implementation through regional integration and cooperation as part of principal methods for delivering effective and efficient security systems in the Gulf of Guinea. This is in addition to tackling threats to maritime security, strategise on alternative approaches to prevent cyber security attacks and other forms of emerging maritime security threats.

This conference, which is one of the several initiatives by NIMASA to curb maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, will also advocate deeper global commitment to the deployment of resources towards ending maritime insecurity within the region. It will also include some thematic sessions, comprising intensive and interactive sessions designed to expand, address and deliver a workable framework that tackles key issues around the safety and of our waterways, among several others.

Only recently, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Anti-Piracy Bill by earlier passed by the National Assembly into law. This legislation, which is probably first of its kind in Africa, is a brainchild of NIMASA in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Transport As an agency of the government, NIMASA believes that protecting the Gulf of Guinea remains crucial to the quest for food security in the sub-region and therefore insists that the region must be made safe and secure in order to avert illegal activities that may hamper food supply within the sub region.

While speaking recently at a one-day seminar organised the Gulf of Guinea Commission GGC in conjunction with NIMASA on the State of Food Security among member states of the commission, Peterside observed that the Gulf of Guinea which is a major shipping route must be properly guarded if the countries of the region are to properly harness the blue economy for the growth of their local economies.

He said: “The Gulf of Guinea, aside being a major shipping route, is also home for many aquatic species and so the member nations of the region must do everything to safeguard the region from illegal fishing, piracy and other activities that may affect the food chain”

“NIMASA knows the importance of the region to the African continent and that is the major reason the agency has continuously championed collaborations among member states in order to develop the continent’s blue economy through sustainable shipping. So it is good for member countries to better understand the blue economy and how to properly harness the inherent potential of the Africa’s maritime industry”.

Recall that the Gulf of Guinea Commission was established by the treaty signed in Libreville, Gabon on July 3, 2001 by Nigeria, Angola, Gabon as well as Sao Tome and Principe. The seminar was the second in the series organised by the commission to sensitise member states on the advantages of sustainable shipping.

Executive Secretary of the commission, Florentina Ukonga, while speaking at the event, had commended the leadership of NIMASA for the big role the agency is playing, especially in the current executive management in ensuring safety of lives and property in the region.

She said the commission decided to organise a seminar on the blue economy to promote sustainable shipping in the region.

Ukonga also made a strong case for concerted efforts on the part of the governments and citizens of countries within the Gulf of Guinea towards the protection of the region’s Blue Economy to forestall the devastating effects of the looming food insecurity in the region.

She therefore insists that it has become expedient for countries in the region to begin to take concrete and deliberate steps to develop, protect and harness the wealth embedded in the region’s Blue Economy, arguing that since 71 per cent of the earth surface is covered by water, no food security is sustainable without protecting the oceans.

“The Blue Economy is an economy based on legitimate economic activities carried out at sea, provided by the sea and sustained by the sea. How then do we take full advantage of the vast resources of our region to improve the standards of living of the population?.

‘Fishing is an occupation practiced by almost all riverine populations. Artisanal fishing for maintaining self and the family and commercial fishing for providing other goods and services that may be needed must be encouraged. This can be developed to the level that no importation of frozen marine living resources from outside the Gulf of Guinea region will be necessary for consumption if our living marine resources are properly developed, harnessed, grown and controlled.

“There is strong evidence that major ocean assets have been in steady decline for many years, many of the living marine resources are in serious decline as a result of human activities at sea and there have not been any serious sustainable practices to deal with this serious threat in this part of the world”, she had argued.

It is expected that this conference, which will be attended by over 32 countries as well as representatives from the International Maritime Organisation IMO and the International Chamber of Commerce ICC will mark another quantum leap towards ridding the Gulf of Guinea of all forms of maritime threat.