On January 29th, 2014, PSV Cee Jay liner was attacked by pirates and boarded off the coast of Bayelsa State. The Pirates kidnapped the Master and Chief Engineer and robbed the crew. The next day, the Tug Lamnalco Hawk was attacked and boarded by 3 pirates in Pennington Terminal area of the same Bayelsa State.
2014 is continuing a harrowing trend that has won Nigeria a top position in the global high sea piracy charts. As Nigeria achieves greater ‘successes’ in events of boat capture and robbery, global levels have recorded appreciated drops. The total events of piracy according to the International Maritime Bureau were 264 in 2014 compared to 297 in 2012 and 439 in 2011. But events off West Africa’s coast are increasing.
Of the 51 events in the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria had 31 last year, overtaking Somalia on the east of the continent, which had only 15 episodes of piracy that same year. Reports have it that Nigerian pirates are even involved in cases far out from its bay, across Togo, Gabon and all the way up to Ivory Coast, making the registered total Nigerian events lower than actual.
Though Indonesia had the greatest total number of events, these were low level opportunistic thefts. Africa’s shores recorded the most dangerous high level incidents of piracy globally, with Nigeria topping the list.
Nigeria’s Joint Task Force, JTF is reported to have increased efforts to stem the increases in these terror events off Nigeria’s shores; however a lack of proper redress for criminals and a culture of impunity for successful thieves, makes the impact of its effort to combat this new vocation of the nation's Southern states questionable.
An extensive report on oil theft in the Niger Delta in October last year by the Stakeholder Democracy Network, SDN, indicted the very JTF and maritime police in aiding and abetting these criminal activities; actually levying taxes and receiving payments to protect and oversee the activities of the hoodlums.
An amnesty program which invested billions of naira in countries overseas in rehabilitating and training Niger Delta MEND militants has not recorded appreciable success because after the training received, many youth cannot secure meaningful employment as the environment simply does not have options and investing in job creation is not a priority of this government. A ‘rehabilitated’ ex-militant terrorist told his friend to come join him in the kidnapping business, convincing him that it was seriously lucrative.
Critics of the amnesty project have stated that as the project which was initiated by late president Umaru Yar’Adua progressed, more money should have been invested locally in constructing the training schools and accommodation facilities, so as to keep the money within the economy and build long lasting infrastructure and opportunity for employment.
Rehabilitated terrorists are now actively engaged in either high sea piracy, oil bunkering or kidnapping of affluent locals and visitors. Even the nation’s President’s adopted father was recently kidnapped in their village by these confident terrorists, and a ransom of N500 million was allegedly demanded… which may likely be paid, as is typical, thus cementing this new found vocation.
A problem Nigeria is credited with that discourages global business and investment, especially in its fourth republic and under the current administration is tolerance of crime of the wealthy. Once a kidnapper or pirate acquires an appreciable wealth status, he gains complete impunity and he and his gang are freed by the government regardless of their crimes. In contrast, petty thieves remain imprisoned, sometimes for years without trial.
It has been noted that in the case of northeastern terrorism, terror suspects who have been found guilty of mass murders are sentenced to life imprisonment, whereas armed robbers are given the death sentence. This sympathy for terrorists and their affluent sponsors by the government is a challenge to serious efforts at combating high caliber crime.
High profile pirates, MEND or Boko Haram terrorists are only caught and incarcerated abroad, in South Africa, Togo, and Cameroon. And even in these cases the Nigerian government battles to secure their release or transfer to Nigerian custody, only to pardon and free them as soon as they get home.
As the Jonathan administration grapples with these serious security crises in the north, south, middle belt and off its coast, the notably weak government is getting increasingly overwhelmed and without adjusting its posture to one of strength and forging and supporting alliances with communities to participate in security of the nation, things are projected to get worse. The first recorded hijacking of an oil vessel was in December 2010 and it involved the MT Velle di Cordoba, since then pirates have hijacked oil tankers serially, making anywhere between $5-10 million a month from hijacked tankers. The increasing dangers of coastal villains are also taking a toll on the land and sea and not only vessels and their crew. Oil spillage is having an irreversible deadly impact on Nigeria's coasts. Shell claims that 80% of Nigeria's oil spills are due to the activities of thieves and saboteurs.
The Civilian JTF was a local effort in Nigeria’s northeast which arose out of necessity and has done much toward quelling Boko Haram crises, most especially in the state capital city; however the government has not shown much commitment and done much toward patronizing and assisting these critically needed civilian efforts. Surprisingly, the administration was eager to give a lucrative amnesty to Boko Haram terrorists, going as far as negotiating with some in jails, but has not yet decided to similarly award and assist the brave civilian youth who combat them.
If Civilian JTF type efforts are duplicated in other prone areas and there is a commitment by the government to protect and honestly sponsor and support these efforts, it may help in decreasing the rate of high caliber terror Nigeria is gaining a global reputation for, while reducing the burden on the nation’s security services. This however is sadly not anticipated as this will cost money and the government officials are noted to love keeping the entire nation’s money for themselves.
As the center gets increasingly overwhelmed and fails to hold, many clamor for greater regional autonomy, including state police to be responsible for the security in their regions. This may also be worth seriously considering and will stave off blaming and relying on Abuja for all problems of insecurity.
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