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Analyses

Nigerian Shippers’ Council: An economic regulator as hypocritical arbiter 

Emmanuel Jime, NSC Boss
The Eyewitness Reporter
Today, Tuesday, October 24th, 2023, the looming disruption of port operations by the distraught freight forwarders who were protesting what they called a unilateral increase in terminal charges by the terminal operators, was dissipated when all the parties involved in the cargo value chain, especially the freight forwarders, were called for the re-negotiation of the increase.
The  Nigerian Shippers’Council, which was said to have approved the initial increase without the involvement of the freight forwarders, beat a quick retreat amidst mounting pressure from the irate freight forwarders and called for a truce between the contending parties.
Yesterday, Monday, October 23rd, under the siege of the rampaging freight forwarders, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) who had stormed the corporate office of the  Nigerian Shippers’Council Council, the Executive  Secretary of the council, Emmanuel Jime, had quickly recanted the initial hike, said to be over 600 percent, admitting that there was an error in the process leading to the increase.
Held ” hostage” by the protesting freight forwarders troop, marshaled by the Field Commander, Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim, the National Coordinator, NAGAFF 100 percent Compliance team, Jime agreed that the council had made a mistake.
“There were certain steps that were not proper; so we will review them immediately” Jime admitted while addressing the irate freight forwarders on Monday, October 23rd, 2023.

“I’ll make sure that we re-engage the process in a way that will meet the needs and expectations of stakeholders in the industry.”

“I have personally discovered that our internal mechanism has not been properly implemented in order for us to arrive at the decision that we made.

“We made that decision, I cannot deny it, but the decision was made on the basis of some information that was provided by certain people.
.”We’ll review the decision,”
True to his words, Jime quickly convened a meeting among the terminal operators, shipping companies, and freight forwarders where the parties mutually agreed to a price hike of 400 percent.
With this, all parties were happy and the looming unrest in the port was dispersed.
The whole scenario has exposed the hypocrisy and insincerity of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council which is the economic regulator and statutory arbiter between the terminal operators and the shippers.
By its status and stature, the council is statutorily mandated to protect the interests of shippers against the imperialist tendency of the terminal operators.
It was at a later stage of its creation, that the scope of its functions was expanded to economic regulation which gives it the authority to mediate between the shippers and the service providers in terms of charges and services.
In the build-up to the initial increase which the council was said to have endorsed, why didn’t Jime and his management team do the right thing as espoused by the concession agreement that negotiations on price increase by the terminal operators should involve the shippers as represented by their agents and the terminal operators?
What is the input of the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy who has to endorse the increase as recommended by the shippers council as contained in the concession agreement?
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council had all along been playing the Ostrich as its management kept sealed lips over the template adopted for the initial hike.
It was not until the heat from the agitating freight forwarders was getting unbearable that the Council’s  Emmanuel Jime started to make his confession.
Like the politician he is, he was quick to recount the initial flawed process he was involved in order to stave off the looming unsavory consequence.
From the confession made by the Shippers’ Council boss, it was obvious that the council did not involve the freight forwarders in the initial process leading to the 600 percent now-rested hike.
It shows the height of insincerity and an act of complicity on the part of the Shippers ‘Council to have secretly approved the initial hike without following due process.
In as much as the terminal operators have the right to increase their charges, given the prevailing economic situation in the country, the shippers and their freight agents who will bear the brunt of the hike have the right to be part of the negotiation.
This was what the Shippers’Council did today, Tuesday, October 24th, 2023, though belatedly.
If the NAGAFF troop as commandeered by the fiery Tanko Ibrahim had not carried out physical blockage of some terminals and laid a siege on the headquarters of the Shippers’Council in protest, then it goes without saying that the initial hike would have gone unchallenged.
The council, in this matter, had given itself away as a biased and compromised arbiter whose hands have to be forced to do the right thing.
If the council had abinitio followed the due process in this matter, it would have saved the industry the avoidable tension that was generated in the last one week.
One thing stands out: no one, including the freight forwarders, has denied the necessity of a price hike, but the point of friction was the failure of the commercial regulator to toe the line of due diligence.
Unfortunately, the council, by this act of commission or omission, may have sustained a deep cut in its approval rating among the shippers whose interests it was statutorily created to protect and at the same time lost the confidence of the freight forwarders as an impartial arbiter.
Kudos to Tanko Ibrahim and his team who refused to be docile like the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) whose new leadership has displayed an unimaginable level of docility in this cause.
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Analyses

Maritime Labour’s selfish stand against Ports and Harbour Bill

Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, PG, MWUN

The Eyewitness News Analysis

For nine years, maritime labour has fought against the passage of the Ports and Harbour Bill 2015.

Initiated in the eighth Assembly and sponsored by Senator Andy Uba of Anambra South Senatorial District in 2015, the bill, read for the first time on the floor of the National Assembly in 2016, seeks, among other things, the decentralization of ports operations by involving more private interests in ports operations.

The purpose is to open up the ports space for massive investments and attract private sector funds that would be used to build massive port infrastructure.

The bill, if allowed to be passed into law, will repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) ACT 1955 as amended by Act CAP 126 LFN 2004 and establish Nigerian Ports and Harbour Authority.

The bill seeks to further consolidate the gains of the 2006 ports concession programme which ceded terminal operations functions of the NPA to the private interests.

However, the bill which enjoyed accelerated hearing on the floor of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, was stalled and got stuck at the ninth National Assembly where it had passed through the third and final reading and waiting to be passed to the House of Representatives for concurrence before its transmission to the President for his assent.

The maritime labour under the aegis of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria( MWUN) had mobilised its massive membership across the maritime space to stall the passage of the bill.

The major reason for its opposition, according to Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, the President-General of the Union, is the fear of job loss for the teeming members of the union.

The position of the Maritime Workers union is quite understandable and in tandem with the modus operandi of all labour unions.

No matter the nobility and credibility of the objectives of any public service reform, if it conflicts with the interests of the members, the labour unions will fight it.

In as much as we sympathise with the position of maritime labour on the issue of the Ports and Harbour bill, its position against the passage of this noble bill, is at best, selfish and self–serving.

The Union has not controverted the public benefits which the bill, when passed into law, will bring to the Port operations in the country.

Such benefits as attracting more private sector funds to develop the maritime industry and fix the decaying port infrastructure, thus making our ports more attractive and competitive globally.

Over the years, the government has been overwhelmed with the demands to fund public infrastructures, hence its attraction to concessions, collaborations and partnerships with private sectors in order to get their funds for the development of some critical public infrastructures.

The worsening economy in the country has further placed a huge burden on the government so much so that it has started to falter in some of its financial obligations to these public infrastructures.

Further borrowing will sink the economy into a deeper mess as the country still wallows in the anguish of repaying its humongous debts.

So private participation such as the one being sought by the Port and Harbor Bill will save the nation’s sea ports from further decay due to the inability of the government to fund such a huge commitment.

For many years, the Nigerian Ports Authority has been going cap in hands to the multi- national finance companies to seek $800 million needed to rehabilitate the dilapidated ports infrastructures at Apapa, Tin Can, Onne and Calabar ports, an amount the Federal government could not afford.

Many stakeholders fear that the terms for such loans may not be too favourable to Nigeria as the lenders, in order to hedge against any risks, may hold the NPA to ransom, thus mortgaging our ports to foreign interests.

But with the passage of the contended bill, private sector funds will be readily available to carry out such remedial works without necessarily mortgaging our ports to the imperialist multi-national Finance corporations.

The labour union should rise above its selfish and parochial interests and look at the larger picture of the more developed and efficient port system under deregulated port operations.

The same opposition the Labor put up against the port concession programme of 2006 because of fear of job loss.

Yes, the programme recorded some casualties just as similar reform exercises, but the end eventually justified the means.

As widely acknowledged by the stakeholders, port concession, which ceded terminal operations to private interests, has resulted to massive infrastructural rebirth at the Nigerian Ports.

Terminal operations have become highly efficient, fast and safe which has led to a quicker rate of turnaround time of vessels.

The concessionaires have injected massive funds for the infrastructural development of the terminals.

While the concession programme shipped out redundant labourers, those who survived the purge now earn fatter salaries with mouth-watering remunerations and fantastic welfare packages which was not the case during the pre-concession era.

Comrade Adewale Adeniyi at one time attested to this change in the financial fortunes of his members who are working at the terminals.Working against the passage of the Ports and Harbour Bill will be tantamount to stagnating the progress of the ports and the retardation of the financial fortunes of the very workers the union is claiming to be fighting for.

We understand that there would be casualties just as in the port concession programme and other reforms exercises, but those who are left will enjoy the benefits of the reform.

We are not an advocate of job loss especially at this trying time of the economy when the unemployment market is congested but no surgery is carried out without pain.

No reform is without casualties but the end will certainly justify the means.

Rather than the labour union throw away the baby with the birth water and oppose the passage of the bill in its entirety, the leadership of the union led by the amiable and indefatigable Prince Adewale Adeyanju, should seek to sit with the government and find a common ground for mutual benefits.

No government would be as insensitive as to throw away its workers who have staked their lives and energies to build an entity without adequate compensation and reward.

Just as what happened during the negotiations over the workers’ fate at the concession exercise when the affected workers were given a soft landing, the labour Union could made a similar demand to give a soft landing for any casualty that may be recorded under the disputed bill.

But to outrightly ask the government to jettison the bill which the generality of stakeholders had described as a new dawn in the maritime industry would be the height of self-preservation and selfishness, thereby placing the interests of few persons over the general good of the industry.

We understand the frustration of Comrade Adewale Adeyanju and his team over their inability to access the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola yet, we advise the team should be more persistent and patient.

With patience and diplomacy, the Minister will grant them an audience.

The Union should desist from clothing its interests for opposing the bill in the garb of public interests as it sought to do when its leadership claimed that the bill will expose the port space to security risks, a claim that is not verifiable and an attempt to blackmail the government.

Comrade Adewale Adeyanju should not yield to the urge to disrupt port activities should the union not have its way over the bill as the industry has enjoyed an uncommon industrial peace and harmony since he ascended the leadership of the union, a feat that was largely attributed to his style of negotiation rooted in lobbying and dialogue.

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Analyses

Jamoh’s three years in office: Achievements, Prospects, Projections

Bashir Jamoh, DG, NIMASA

Today marks the third year when Dr Bashir Jamoh was appointed as the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA).

During these eventful years, Nigeria’s maritime industry has witnessed astronomical growth and quantum development which has earned the country international recognition and goodwill.

In this comprehensive profile of the administration of the Kaduna State-born technocrat in NIMASA, theeyewitnessnews reporter takes a cursory look at the achievements, prospects and projections of the agency to make the industry more robust for efficiency, investments and accelerated growth.  

 

The Mandate

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was established by an Act of Parliament (The NIMASA Act 2007) with two cardinal objectives, namely;

  1. To Regulate and Promote Maritime Safety, Security, Marine Pollution and Maritime Labour.
  2. To promote the development of Indigenous Commercial Shipping in International and Coastal Shipping Trade

 

The Agency derives its mandate from four Acts of the National Assembly. These are NIMASA Act, 2007, Cabotage Act, 2003, Merchant Shipping Act, 2007 and SPOMO Act, 2019.

VISION 

To be the leading maritime administration in Africa advancing Nigeria’s global maritime goals

MISSION 

To achieve and sustain safe, secure shipping, cleaner oceans and enhanced maritime capacity in line with global best practices towards Nigeria’s economic development

OUR CORE VALUES

C – COMMITMENT

A – ACCOUNTABILITY

P – PROFESSIONALISM

I – INTEGRITY

T – TEAMWORK

E – EXCELLENCE

L – LEADERSHIP

D – DISCIPLINE

 

OUR PERFORMANCE TRIPOD

MARITIME SECURITY S1: 

Security of the Maritime Domain is very critical to the day-to-day operation of the sector. Security helps to boost investors’ confidence; hence, the following key accomplishments are under the current dispensation.

  1. Signing into law of the SPOMO Act by Mr. President
  2. The launch of the Deep Blue Project
  3. Significant Reduction in Piracy and Kidnappings
  4. Arrests and Successful Prosecution of Criminals
  5. Leadership of Regional Maritime Collaboration Forum to tackle Insecurity
  6. Nigeria’s Removal from IBM’s Red List

 

AIM OF THE DEEP BLUE PROJECT

The aim of the project is to establish a sustainable architecture for improved maritime safety and security through increased monitoring and compliance enforcement within Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), with a view to effectively tackling the challenges of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

THE DEEP BLUE PROJECT ASSETS BREAKDOWN 

Classified into 3 (three) with over 254 personnel drawn from Military and paramilitary organizations. These are; Marine, Land and Air Assets.

  • Marine Assets

Special Mission Vessels – 2 (DB Abuja and DB Lagos)

Fast Intervention Boats – 17

  • Air Assets

Special Mission Helicopters 3

Special Mission Aircrafts 2

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

  • Land Assets

Armored Vehicles – 17

Facilities – Command, Control, Computer, Communication and Intelligence (C4i) Centre, Training Facilities (Shooting Range, C4i Training Centre etc.). Training; various training for all personnel in the deep blue project on the assets and facilities.

THE INTER-OPERABILITY OF THE DEEP BLUE ASSETS

  1. Effective implementation of the Deep Blue Project contributed to the reduction in piracy cases with only one piracy case as of May 2022, 6 cases in 2021 from 35 cases  in 2020 and 2019 respectively

OUR PERFORMANCE TRIPOD

MARITIME SAFETY S2:

The Agency observed that shipping is critical to global trade, yet it is the most vulnerable in terms of safety. This explains the reason the IMO (International Maritime Organization) adopted the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention to ensure the safety of those involved.

Consequently, empowered by enabling legislations, NIMASA takes this as a critical aspect of its job to ensure safety of ships and those on board, through proper enforcement of maritime safety conventions.

 

ACHIEVEMENT AND INITIATIVES 

   

 

OUR PERFORMANCE TRIPOD 

 

SHIPPING DEVELOPMENT S3

 

 

The critical aspect of shipping development encompasses fleet expansion, shipbuilding and ship repairs. Shipping is responsible for over 90 percent of international transportation of goods that sustain the global supply chain, which is a significant component of the global economy, enhancing imports and exports of goods and services.

NIMASA is poised to advance shipping by ensuring a conducive environment for commercial shipping and encouraging more indigenous participation in the global shipping trade.

 

NSDP BREAKDOWN AS AT OCTOBER 2021

 

WASTE TO WEALTH PROGRAMME / EMPLOYMENT GENERATION – 1,190 MARINE LITTER MARSHALS

The Making of Nigeria’s Blue Economy Strategic Document

  • Vice President His Excellency Yemi Osinbajo will Chair the Expanded Committee on the Blue Economy Strategy Development and its Implementation Task Team.
  • The Federal Ministry of Transportation under the leadership of the Honourable Minister for Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi
  • Federal Ministry of Transportation as the Secretariat

BLUE ECONOMY AND LITTORAL STATES ENGAGEMENT

CABOTAGE VESSEL FINANCING FUND (CVFF) – STATUS OF DELIVERY

Presidential approval was granted for disbursement.

Primary lending institutions appointed.

Disbursement is likely second quarter of 2023.

 

MARITIME SAFETY

The Federal Executive Council, at the end of the last quarter of 2021, approved the wreck removals from the Badagry axis up to the Tincan Island project has gone

very far.

Again, in the first quarter of 2022, the Federal Executive Council approved the removal of the entire wrecks also in the other zones of Nigeria, comprising the Western zone with headquarters in Lagos, Eastern zone headquarters in Port Harcourt, and then the central Zone headquarters in Warri. All these projects have achieved major milestones.

We engaged the Nigerian Navy Naval Dockyard in Lagos to repair our operational vessels, Millennia 1 and Millennium 2. Today both vessels and five others are almost ready

 

 

 

for deployment for enforcement purposes. This will also enhance our search and rescue operation, and port and flag state administration amongst others.

In other to attend to the emergencies that may occur after Search and Rescue operations, the Agency has built two brand new Search and Base clinics of international standard at Azare Crescent, Apapa and Kirikiri. We are hopeful to commission it soon. The hospital is not for NIMASA or Nigeria, but for the original Regional States, NIMASA is in charge of nine countries in terms of Search and Rescue. The hospital is of high international standard, we hope to treat all calibers of patients locally, and internationally, with the state-of-the-art equipment the facility will possess, when completed.

In the area of our Flag and Port State Administration, at the inception of the administration, there was no single vessel for enforcement. Today, we have built seven brand new bulletproof boats and we expect them to have completed the building. They are being built in Spain, and we are hoping that before the end of March, we will receive and commission the vessel.

As soon as the vessels are commissioned, there will be enhanced enforcement performance; and we plan to divide the use of the vessels; not only in Lagos but also in other zones of the Agency. All these will cater for the issue of safety.

MARITIME SECURITY 

Before 2019, we do not have law, separate law that tried these offenders and criminals that we arrest those involved in piracy and kidnapping.

Therefore, we are trying to get this formal act Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Related Offences (SPOMO) Act signed by Mr. President in June 2019. As of today, we have secured convictions under this Act. This has also served as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

To further deter these criminalities on the waterways and make our youths gainfully employed, the Agency engaged the Marine Litter Marshals Usually;

In the area of education, the Agency introduced the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP). The Nigerian NSDP development program is a capacity development programme.

Now in order to ensure that we do not forget our own training institution in Nigeria, we have improved our interface with the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron. The Agency’s statutory funding of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron has been on point since 2020.

We have Simulators, among other state-of-the-art facilities, and the funding by NIMASA has been unhindered. This is in addition to other private maritime institutions, the private like Charkins, which are now also coming up with a lot of accreditation of diplomas and other short-term certificates that we are doing it locally, saving foreign exchange that we are having.

In addition to this initiative, the Agency created skill acquisition centres across six geopolitical zones. For the South-West we have Lagos, in the South-East we have Anambra, for South-South we have Bayelsa, in North-East, we have Maiduguri, Borno state; for North-West we have Kaduna State for North Central we have Kwara.

So all these skill acquisition centers have the capacity of training younger Nigerians on different aspects of professionalism under that. This is to help trim the number of this criminality in our own territorial waters. Records, therefore, show that from the third quarter of 2021 until date, we have never recorded one single attack in our own territorial water.

 

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Analyses

What is the Impact of Deep Blue project on Nigeria’s piracy war?

On 08 March 2022, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) decided to remove Nigeria from its Piracy List in view of the dramatic reduction in the number of reported incidents of piracy in Nigerian waters.

 Following the report attributing the improvement in security to the efforts of the Nigerian Navy, the Chief of Naval Staff of the Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, said:
“We will sustain the tempo of our Maritime Security Operations efforts. As you are all aware, the NN is the cardinal institution in the maritime sector that has the responsibility to lead the national response and prosecution of maritime threats.
” I make bold to say that the NN made giant strides in ensuring the security of the nation’s maritime environment.
” It is heart-warming to note the significant decline in piracy attacks by 77 percent on Nigerian waters as reflected in the International Maritime Bureau (IBM) Third Quarter 2021 report.
” I am glad to notify you that the latest IMB report (just last week) shows that Nigeria has exited the IMB Piracy List.
“However, considering the NN’s lead role in the regional effort at combating piracy and armed attack against shipping, the Service will not relent.
” Also, the NN’s effort at containing piracy in the nation’s maritime domain has earned us commendation by the Office of the National Security Adviser on behalf of the President Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

The reduction in the number of incidents reported in the region has been significant, with no attacks recorded in Nigerian territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zone since November 2021 and just four incidents being reported in the whole of the last 12-month period – one each in April, June, October, and November.

In light of the developments highlighted above, and given that Nigerian waters have not witnessed such low levels of piracy in any 12-month period since 2006, is there credible evidence to suggest that piracy in Nigeria is a thing of the past?

Introduction

The International Maritime Organisation defines an act in Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as consisting of any of the following acts:

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft and directed:

(i on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b)any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c)any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a)

It defines armed robbery as:

(a)  any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation, or threat thereof, other than an act of piracy, committed for private ends and directed against a ship or against persons or property on board such a ship, within a State’s internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea;

(b) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described above.”

This analysis will consider all acts of maritime criminality that fit these definitions.

The analysis does not take into consideration criminal acts against vessels in ports, anchorages, and on the region navigable rivers unless they involve acts of extreme violence, kidnapping of mariners from internationally registered vessels, or hijacking of internationally registered vessels.  The analysis will examine trends and patterns of activity going back to 01 January 2018 in order to provide some context to the reduction in activity witnessed in the last 12 months.

It is acknowledged that a great deal of maritime criminality occurred outside the parameters described above, but a full historical dissection of the region’s security history is beyond the scope of this article.

Historically, we have witnessed a number of evolutions in the maritime security threats that have plagued the Gulf of Guinea for almost two decades.  To examine some of the more significant trends and patterns we will consider:

The annual ‘Ember Months’ spike:

Local wisdom warns us every year to be more security conscious in the Ember Months – November and December.  Some people include ‘Octember’ in this warning.  It is true that criminality increases in the run into the festive season as people resort to crime to ensure they can take care of their families over the holiday season.  This phenomenon can be witnessed in the statistics for maritime and riverine criminality as well as onshore and urban crime patterns.  Perhaps the starkest example of this phenomenon in the maritime environment occurred in 2020 when at least 15 acts of piracy occurred in Nigeria’s waters (and that excludes robbery in the ‘brown water’ environments).  Previous years have seen an increase in the 4th quarter, but 2020 was demonstrative.

Mid-year lull:

In the years leading up to 2013, there was always a dramatic reduction in incidents in July and August.  This was attributable to the fact that sea conditions were unfavourable for small craft operations and the pirate gangs at that stage had not yet moved into the use of motherships.  From 2013, we saw a steady increase in the number of incidents in those months as the gangs used large vessels to reach further offshore and support small boat operations in deep water.

Election years:

Historically, as criminal gangs raise funds for their political patrons’ electoral campaigns, we have witnessed an increase in criminality both onshore and in Nigeria’s waters in the 12 months leading up to an election.  These spikes might be very localised, such as off the coast of Bayelsa in 2010, and not particularly evident in the overall statistics for the period.

Changes – mother ships:

As mentioned above, the introduction of the use of motherships by pirate gangs allowed them to extend their reach, and from 2013 we started to see attacks occurring much further from the nearest landfall, and eventually the evolution of extended operational deployments into the waters of other Gulf of Guinea nations – with Nigerian gangs operating as far south as Angola and as far west as Liberia.

Migration to other waters:

The migration to the wider Gulf of Guinea environment also coincided with a more ‘industrial’ approach to kidnap for ransom activities, with pirate action groups (PAGs) deploying for several weeks and accumulating as many as 30 hostages.  This behaviour had clear economic benefits for the PAGs, allowing them to collect much larger ransoms in both individual and cumulative terms, and in so doing, dramatically improving their profit margins.  The gangs were clearly identified as Nigerian by the testimony of their victims upon release and also the fact that the kidnap victims were frequently held in camps in the Niger Delta.

Last six months – comparison

To illustrate the stark reduction in activity levels, we will compare activity in the last six calendar months (December 2021 through to May 2022) with the same period 12 months previously and also against the five-year rolling monthly average.

This first graph shows very clearly the complete absence of activity in Nigerian waters in the last 6 months.  The reality is that no acts of piracy were recorded in Nigerian waters in 8 of the last 12 months.  There have only been three other months (August 2018, November 2019, and August 2020) in the period Jan 2018 to Dec 2020 in which there were no incidents recorded in Nigerian waters.  However, in August 2018, an incident occurred in Gabonese waters that were attributed to Nigerian pirates, and in November 2019, five incidents occurred in the waters of Togo, Benin, Sao Tome & Principe, and Equatorial Guinea.  In August 2020, a single incident occurred in Ghanaian waters.

An absence of reported incidents that matches the current hiatus in activity has not been witnessed for two decades or more.  However, the keyword is hiatus.  We do not know how long this period of grace will last as the organised crime groups (OCGs) that launch the PAGs likely still exist, still own their motherships and retain the capacity and capability to mount further operations at relatively short notice.

This second comparison shows the monthly activity rates since 01 January 2018 for Nigerian territorial waters and EEZ.  It is clear that despite the peaks and troughs in activity levels, the overall trend is downwards towards the current extremely low levels.  However, if we look at the next graph, which includes similar incidents in the waters, with the exception of Nigeria’s, between the Ivory Coast in the West and the Congo Republic in the south, the picture is slightly different.

Another comparison shows a trend line with a very gentle upward gradient, which persists through the currently extremely low levels of activity in Nigerian waters.  Nevertheless, the graph also shows a significant general reduction in incident rates in ‘foreign’ waters over the last 12 months when compared to the preceding 12-month period.  This almost certainly reflects the fact that most of the piracy attacks in the whole of the Gulf of Guinea are carried out by Nigeria-based OCGs/PAGs.

As a more direct comparison, the following graph shows annual totals for the various territorial waters and EEZs of the littoral states of the Gulf of Guinea.

What is interesting is that even after the marked reduction in Nigerian waters, activity persists in the jurisdictions of other Gulf of Guinea states.  It also reflects the predominance of activity in the Nigerian EEZ, which is likely a reflection of the density of available targets, the ease of reach from the home bases of the PAGs, and the range of the mother ships being used, and the endurance of their crews.

It is thought that the PAGs operate in the waters of neighbouring nations in the view that the naval threat is lower in some of those states.  Of interest is the spike of activity in the waters of the Congo Republic in 2021, which coincides with the reduction in activity in Nigerian waters.

So what?

All of the above point to a number of key questions:

How long will the hiatus last?

This depends entirely on what is driving the absence of PAG activity.  If the OCG/PAGs have found another more lucrative or less risky revenue stream, then the hiatus is likely to last.  Of course, if the OCGs have responded to external pressure from the Federal Government then again, it could last – at least until there is a change of government.

Have the OCGs shifted their operations to another source of income onshore?

It is possible.  However, there has not been any noticeable spike in other criminality onshore or indeed the emergence of any new form of organised crime.  Oil bunkering is at an all-time high, and it is possible that some of the OCGs are also involved in that activity and have shifted their efforts into that arena.  It is possible, as the industrialised theft of oil and condensate no longer attracts the international condemnation and attention that the piracy was attracting.

Have the PAGs retained their capacity and capability to resume operations?

As far as we know, they have not burnt their boats on the beaches.  That must mean they have either sold them or retained them.  Some of the mothership’s identities were well known and it is likely that had they been sold as they would have required a complete change of identity in order to operate unmolested by indigenous and international security forces in the region.  For now, we have no evidence to suggest that the capacity and capability of the PAGs have been removed from the OCGs.

Is this a reflection of a reporting anomaly?

This has been touched on above.  Reporting of activity in Nigeria and West Africa has always been incomplete, sometimes misleading, and sometimes mischievously so.  However, it is interesting that reporting of activity in anchorages and ports has also fallen away sharply.  There are lots of political and commercial factors that could be behind that, including the cancellation of the Secure Anchorage Area contract in early 2020.  We cannot rule out that the anchorages and ports are suddenly a lot safer.  The data would suggest that is the case.  Anecdotal information would suggest otherwise.

What could have forced the change?

Deep Blue:

The much-vaunted Deep Blue project that married NIMASA operations with those of the Nigerian Navy has been claimed to have changed the security dynamics in quantum leaps.  However, it has not been possible to find any substantive evidence that the Deep Blue project now dominates the maritime environment off the coast of Nigeria.

International patrols – Danish naval action:

The presence of international warships in the region was certainly a game-changer in 2021.  Several interactions between western and Chinese warships and vessels under attack were reported.  The intervention that perhaps had the greatest impact was that of the Danish frigate Esbern Snare, which intercepted a PAG while in the act of attacking a commercial vessel deep off the coast of Nigeria in November 2021.  The incident resulted in four pirates being killed and five being taken into custody.  There have been no incidents in Nigeria’s EEZ since that event.

International political and commercial pressure:

One very interesting possibility is the international pressure that could have been brought to bear through commercial (mainly insurance) channels and also closed diplomatic channels.  The precedent for the latter form of intervention was apparently set when the enduring problem of extended hijacking for cargo theft was brought to an abrupt halt.  The cartels involved in that form of criminality simply ceased operating.  It cannot be ruled out that a similar intervention might have induced the pirate gangs to ‘seek other work’.  The commercial impact that the Lloyds Joint War Risk Committee classification of Nigeria’s waters has had on the Nigerian economy has been significant.  In November 2021, NIMASA stated that it was determined to have the War Risk Insurance Surcharges removed from vessels operating in Nigerian waters.  It cannot be ruled out that the federal authorities identified the big men behind the OCGs responsible for the piracy and persuaded them to ‘seek other work’.

Have the big men behind the piracy made enough money to ‘retire’?

This is another possibility that cannot be ruled out entirely.  The precedent was set when the kingpins behind the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were effectively bought off by the 2009 Niger Delta Amnesty program payments, and the award to their newly formed companies of huge contracts – mostly to protect the assets they had previously been plundering.  So major criminal actors do sometimes “read the tea leaves” and decide to retire while they are ahead.  On the other hand, it is strongly suspected that the PAGs operating out of Nigeria belonged to five or six separate OCGs.  It is unlikely that the bosses of all the groups decided to shut up shop at the same time.

So, the question “What induced the pirates to stop their operations?” remains unanswered with any certainty at this time.

What Next?

There remains a huge amount of uncertainty in the security environment in Nigeria.  The forthcoming elections in early 2023 will likely shape the future security architecture in the country for the subsequent 8 years, at least.  It is known that the Presidency is greatly concerned about the currently held views of the electorate regarding security in the country.  This was brought to a head by the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train attack on 28 March 2022.  A significant amount of energy and time has been spent discussing the various security challenges facing the country and the Presidency is determined to make a difference before the end of the year and the run-in to the polls.

It is likely the impact of piracy on the country’s economy has driven the launch of Deep Blue and the Navy’s focus on generating a safer and more secure environment for mariners.  The country now rests on a political fulcrum and the security challenges have the potential to tip the elections against the ruling party.  Therefore, it is likely that more resources will be introduced into the battle against the pirates being fought by the Nigerian security organisations in the coming months.

Nevertheless, Nigerian security forces have 39,700 sq. km to patrol and secure.  That is a huge challenge, and the assets and resources are not yet in place to ensure security for mariners operating in the area.

Summary

Shipping companies and offshore operators should be prepared to meet the security challenges of short-notice or no-notice increases in the threats facing them in the Gulf of Guinea.  The threat currently is assessed to be dormant and it could emerge again very quickly.  Pirates live on the land and their families stay on the land (mostly).  They are driven and controlled, by onshore factors – poverty, greed, politics, bribery, corruption, and even adventure.  Nigeria is moving into an election process, and like any election in any country, it generates uncertainty and, for some people, fear for their future.

Shipping companies should avoid immediately seeking to cut costs.  The situation remains uncertain, and the Joint War Risk Committee still classifies the waters of the region as a listed area – meaning they consider the risk to be high.  For now, despite the economic pressures being at an all-time high, shipping companies should avoid being seduced by pronouncements that piracy is a thing of the past.

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