The Oil Spill: Nigeria’s Counter-Piracy Measures and their Effect on Neighboring Countries
October 22, 2011 1 Comment
The menace of piracy in present-day Nigeria derives from its coastal reserves, rich of oil and natural gas, particularly in the Niger Delta region. Environmental pollution and lack of local access to profits generated by the exploitation of natural resources rapidly added to the Niger Delta’s long struggle for greater autonomy. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta became an umbrella for locally-based militant groups taking up arms for social, economic and political independence.
From 2006, rebels increasingly attacked vessels and oil platforms in and around the Niger Delta, kidnapping foreign staff as well as stealing oil and damaging properties. The attacks quickly became a source of financial revenues. Over time, it became almost impossible to establish whether a piracy incident was politically or criminally motivated as the perpetrators often operated interchangeably.
Faced with the prospect of significant financial losses and local instability, the Nigerian Federal Government swiftly stepped up its response against pirate attacks, launching “Operation Restore Hope” and creating a military Joint Task Force to take strong, at times ruthless, action against piracy and maritime security threats. The government has also attempted to address the root causes behind piracy attacks, namely corruption and a lack of local economic development. For instance, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was tasked to address the motives behind recourse to piracy in the Niger Delta crisis, investigating and auditing state governors’ assets throughout Nigeria to combat government corruption.
Nigeria is today the largest African oil producer, with the current crisis in Libya requiring Nigeria to increase its output and revenues. Against this background, it is thus not surprising that this year marked increase in the number of piracy and armed robberies at sea attacks, witnessed an increased leadership and intervention by Nigerian naval authority with the support of important oil consumers, such as the US and France.
While not immediately characterized by political motives, the attacks are attributable to independent criminal gangs composed mainly of, and certainly led by, Nigerians. The amnesty granted in 2009 to the Niger Delta benefited the leadership rather than the middle or lower ranks insurgents and ensured a ready pool of potential recruits for criminal enterprises. Former Rebels have expressed discontent with the disarmament process and have threatened to take up arms again.
Nigeria is now largely in control of the security situation within its own maritime borders, having intensified its coastal navy patrols and counter intelligence. The main outcome of this security clampdown is, however, the worsening of piracy attacks in neighboring countries. This is particularly serious in Benin, which depends on its port in Cotonou for some 40 per cent of state revenues. The country has so far seen at least 20 piracy-related incidents compared to none last year, prompting a call for the UN to consider sending an international force to help police the Gulf of Guinea. During his address to the recent UN General Assembly, Benin’s Foreign Minister described his country’s own counter-piracy resources as “laughable.”
Nigeria and Benin therefore recently started joint naval patrols in an effort to curb soaring piracy attacks. The naval patrols, tagged “Operation Prosperity”, would last six months, involving Nigerian Navy ships and vessels from Benin, as well as resources from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.
Concerns, however, are rising that the pirate gangs could once again adapt and move their criminal activities further west. Togo and Ghana are already attempting to boost maritime security to address the threat. Are these countries next in seeing a spike in piracy and maritime robbery activities?