By Stephen Ubanna
When former President Muhammadu Buhari performed the official Launch for the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infratructure, popular, Deep Blue Project, there were the initial fears maritime circles that the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, would be littered with broken down and abandoned equipment.
This is because not much was known about the technical know- how of the maritime security assets comprising of 16 armoured vehicles for the nation’s coastal patrol,17 Fast Interception Boats, Two Special Mission Vessels and Two Special Mission aircrafts for Surveillance of Nigerian Economic Zone, EEZ.
This is in addition to Three Special Mission Helicopters for Search and Rescue, &R, Operations, and four unmanned Aerial Vehicles, supplied by the Isaeli security, firm, Messrs HLSI Security Systems and Technologies Limited, between 2020 and late 2022. The Israel security firm was said to have been contracted by the then Buhari’s Administration in 2017, barely two years in office to supply the maritime security assets, worth the North American country of the United States 195 million, dollars, domiciled in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, under the close watch of Bashir Jamoh, OFR.
As a prelude to ensuring the effective operation and maintenance of the multi-million-dollar maritime security equipment, the NIMASA Management, had sought the cooperation and collaboration of the Nigerian Navy and the Air Force to oversee the assets that will be deployed into the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea including other sister security agencies.
It was therefore, not very surprising that the Naval and Air force personnel were able to conduct the simulation exercises on the sea and air assets of the Deep Blue Project to confirm their readiness for deployment of the maritime security assets , which Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General, had described as taking Nigeria to another level by ‘’entering national security designed for total spectrum maritime security and better domain awareness using some of the latest technology’’.
In collaborating with the sister security agencies, particular, the Navy, Jamoh, the NIMASA, Chief Executive Officer, CEO, was said to have made it from the onset about the aim of the Project and the importance of the maritime security assets meant for deployment in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea in tackling the incidences of piracy , sea thieves and other criminal activities , that it will go a long way to checkmate bunkering activities and crude oil theft in Nigerian waters and at sea.
Indeed, barely two years of operating and managing the sea maritime security assets under the Deep sea project, deployed across , the south western , central and south eastern zonal operations, expected to enhance the nation’s maritime domain, the Project Management team of the Nigerian Navy with the support of past and present Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla could beta their chests that the assets are functioning without any sign of any trouble on the way that will require the attention of the manufacturers to fix .
Victor Chioji, A Commodore and Acting Fleet Commander, Western Naval Command and Commander Deep Blue Project may have gladdened the heart of Rear Admiral Mohammed Abdullahi, Flag Officer, Western Naval Command when he declared recently that the five armourd vehicles and three others deployed in PortHarcourt and Bonny waterways respectively I Rivers state, are performing and functioning without any problem.
He was said to have further told the Rear Admiral and Flag Officer of the Western Naval Command, with Headquarters at Apapa, Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre, during a working visit of the acting Flag Officer, Western Naval Command, that the three units of the armoured vehicles, deployed in Brass , Bayelsa,also, home state of former President Goodluck Jonathan, and two of the Fast Interceptor Boats with the Special Intervention Force elements in the central are full fully working very well .
He did not stop there. The Naval Commodore was said to have also revealed what happened in Lagos just last week, when they got a directive from a higher authority that ‘’there is a requirement for more Boats to support the operations that are ongoing in the Lagos anchorage to checkmate the activities of the criminal elements.
Commodore Chioji, who could not hide his feelings had said that Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, the immediate past Chief of CNS and Rear Admiral Ogalla, his successor, who had inherited his security strategies in manning the Nigerian water ways and the Gulf of Guinea, has remained committed to the success of the Deep Blue Project.
He noted that given the importance attached to the Deep Blue Project by the government, may have informed why during the just concluded National and Presidential election on February 25, 2023 as well as the governorship and state Assemblies elections on March 31, 2023, in the 28 states of the Federation and the FCT, the mere presence of the Project assets in in the riverine locations, particular, were said to have provided the needed inference as required. Hear him: We have the full backing of the Naval authorities for the success of the Deep Blue Project.
Recall that Jamoh, the NIMASA boss had repeatedly said that the multi-million dollars r Deep Blue assets procured by the government and managed by a Project Team headed by a Commodore from the Nigerian Navy for effective Coordination. Note that he had said at different forums, both within and outside the country, that ‘’the agency’s commitment to a robust working relationship with the various security agencies that have responsibilities that are maritime related will be sustained.
It was not surprising why the agency over the years had maintained a cordial working relationship with past and present Leadership of the Nigerian Navy towards the economic development of the country. He had said repeatedly that agency could sustain the existing cordial relationship with the Navy, particular, because of his believe that the two Organisations, which have a lot in common ‘’to ensure safety and security in the nation’s waters could take the country to another security level’’ that would be unequalled in the annals of Nigerian history.
The NIMASA helmsmanhad stated that why the Nigerian Navy ‘’takes care of the kinetic operations, the agency on its part will’’ take care of the non-kinetic operations, noting that the two will have to go hand in hand if they must succeed’’.
He was said to have alluded to the armed forces act , which gave the Nigerian Navy a key role to play in ensuring the implementation and enforcement of the NIMASA and the revised Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap 22023. He had commended the Navy for their efforts in tracking erring vessels which had switched off their Automatic Identification System, AIS, IN Nigerian waters to commit criminal activities.
Osagie Edward, an Assistant Director and agency spokesperson who had quoted Jamoh, the Director General, of expressing the desire of the Organisation, disclosed that it is the only’’to earn the full value for funds invested and still being invested in the operations of the Deep Blue Project.
Industry stakeholders believe that the agency could make a head way over the last three years in its operations because it is in constant consultation and liaison with the National Assembly to ensure an update in the nation’s maritime Laws with particular reference to the Merchant Shipping Act to guarantee adequate punitive measures in Nigeria Law to deter criminalities on Nigerian water waters.
Perhaps, to sustain the improved security in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, achieved over the years, may have encouraged Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General, described as the maritime ‘’poster boy’’,’’ to call for improved synergy between the Navy and the Marine Police to effectively tackle head on the recent criminalities in the Lagos anchorage and Inland waters which is becoming worse on a daily basis.
This is where Gbeyoga Oyetola, a former governor of Osun state and now minister of the newly created ministry of Marine and Blue Economy to through his weight behind the NMASA Leadership to achieve the purpose for the establishment of the Deep Blue Project, the first of its kind in the West and Central African sub-regions.