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Nigerian elections are taking 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.

This backdrop may also consist of an under-resourced maritime sector crisis, which for the good of all Nigeria, needs the careful attention of the soon-to-be elected leader, whoever that might be.

The narrative describing Northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency is well known, drowning out events 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 current administration’s efforts, 98% of Nigeria’s trade is still threatened by insecurity in its territorial waters. This is currently spreading across the entire Gulf of Guinea and even South of Angola.

Incumbent Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan

Incumbent Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan

 

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 re-elected, the current administration will have to re-invigorate its national security strategy by placing anti-corruption at the centre of maritime security agenda.

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 has 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.

The leading opposition candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, is perhaps well known for the most intensive anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria’s history. It should be expected that if he wins the election, tackling corruption would 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: regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, 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.

Leading presidential challenger (and former military ruler) Muhammadu Buhari

Leading presidential challenger (and former military ruler) Muhammadu Buhari

 

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.

Whoever will be running Nigeria after the elections, 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.

This is a guest post from private maritime security firm Port2Port’s West Africa managing director, Bola Adefehinti, and represents the author’s own opinions

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