Interview: GoG needs International task force as was done with Gulf of Aden--Omatseye

Mr. Temisan Omatseye

Regarding the Gulf of Guinea(GoG) security, Maritime Lawyer and a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Temisan Omatseye, is of the opinion that an international task force should be drafted to the region like it was done in the Gulf of Aden, which has for some time now experienced more peace compared to what it used to be.
Gleaning from discussions held at the Global Maritime Security Conference, which took place recently in Abuja, Omatseye said it would be rewarding to also apply strategies that have worked significantly in a place like the Gulf of Aden, which used to suffer more piracy attacks. He, like many maritime industry stakeholders, talked on the importance and as a matter of necessity, for collaborative efforts among the Gulf of Guinea States in the fight against piracy in the area.

He said: “If you see what is happening in the Gulf of Aden, you will see that there was an international taskforce that went in, not only to deal with the issues of the piracy on the high seas, but to also take the issues to the shore to deal with what was happening with the Somalia, because piracy starts from onshore before coming to offshore. But, naturally what has happened is that a lot of things have transpired. There is a bit of calm in the Gulf of Aden, and now, suddenly the GoG has become a very hot spot.”

On key take-away from the Global Maritime Security Conference (#GMSC2019)

I believe the take away for a lot of us from this is that improving on your own security on your waters does not guarantee safety. This is because those same people you have driven from your waters are going to the countries next door, and they can still do quick attack in your area and do a quick take-off. So, naturally, there has to be  collaboration among most of the countries. Not only in the East and Central African countries, but also the Gulf of Guinea. That is why you saw countries like Angola being involved. When criminals go to international waters they become pirates, but in national waters they are sea robbers. It is important to note that the criminals are becoming more sophisticated. So, a strong collaboration is needed. If for instance Nigeria is chasing somebody into Cameroon, there should be a natural collaboration to allow them to follow, and the Cameroonians should follow to pursue in the arrest. It should be same thing if you go to Cotonou or Lome. So, the criminals should see that the enforcement officers are speaking in one voice, like the standard operating procedure being one across the GoG. The high seas are very tough, so they should pool resources. I don’t need to have 200 boats, when I can buy only 50 and others buy the rest in smaller units to make up what is needed to secure the entire area.

How will the presence of the international community impact on proposed solutions to the problems of piracy in the GoG?

It is good there is a strong international presence here. It will do a lot. People from Italy, the US Coast Guard and many others. Simple, the impact of unsafe seas has an effect on their economy too. They might be charging us the insurance as they are doing here, but it is added to the goods they are buying from here. That is why you see the world has become a global village. In that respect, their presence here means a lot as they right in the discussions and appreciating the problems better. But as a country, Nigeria, in collaboration with other partners in the GoG are coming together to provide a very strong force to fight the issue of armed robbery at sea and piracy.

What about a national single platform for command, control and collaboration operations?

That really is a challenge. Because, the issue we are facing here is a clear-cut demarcation of roles and responsibilities. Really and truly, the issue should be of national interest. As a country, we must be obedient to the conventions, which we are signatory to. The issue of the seas is the governed by the United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Also, you have the SOLAS Convention, that is, the Safety of Life at Sea Convention. These are conventions that have international implication and is domesticated here in Nigeria. It is quite clear internationally, the Navy’s roles are clearly defined. We have the issue of Blue Water and the issue of brown water.

When it comes to issue of commercial shipping, it is very clear that the navy has their own roles and need for coast guard functions. That is what an agency as NIMASA is supposed to provide. Naturally, NIMASA cannot reinvent the wheel, because already the navy are not going to fight any war. But how can there be a collaboration between an agency like NIMASA, the Navy, the Airforce and the Amphibian Command of the Nigerian Army and the Marine Police? How can we get collaboration? That is the key to it. We can run it and call it a name which will meet the international convention to which we are signatory to. Which is why NIMASA has maritime guard command. NIMASA might have the money to sponsor this, but we must keep the line clear. The jobs are there. I know it is sometimes ego issue, where some officer finds it difficult to take instructions from a civilian authority. But conventions are conventions. In other parts of the world, it is being done.  If you go through the Mediterranean, you don’t see the navy, it is the coast guards. If you go to South Korea, China, to the UK, the US, you see them, they are the ones handling issues of commercial nature and those stuff. The collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy has to be a lot stronger. You cannot go out there and try to sell what you have not domesticated. There is need for us to domesticate unity between NIMASA and the Navy.

Speaking on how engaging communities on collaboration for security could add value,  Omatseye said it would be a welcome initiative  that would enable such communities take the issue as their concern and fight to protect the area against external invasion. “A sense of ownership in a security project among communities in the area will be significant,” he added.