Russian/Chinese Expansion in Africa

Making inroads in Africa

With last week’s state visit to Beijing by Equatorial Guinea’s President, which follows a separate visit by President Embalo (Guinea-Bissau) to Russia earlier in May (purportedly to prepare for an update to their 2018 military agreement), we analyse how international ‘powers’ are continuing to enhance their presence in the Gulf of Guinea.

Over the last 5 years, Russia and China have made significant strides in asserting their power in the region with China seeking to leverage its enhanced military reach to control strategic choke points crucial to global trade, and Russia attempting to restore its superpower status and influence Eastern and Central Europe.

Both nations clearly recognise the strategic importance of the Gulf of Guinea, which is not only rich in minerals and natural resources, but who’s coastline has over 20 major ports crucial for accessing new markets, however any action on their respective parts could well pose potential threats to regional peace and stability.

In the past 3 years, Russian and Chinese interests in Africa have grown significantly. China’s commercial activities have expanded quietly, highlighted by a newly commissioned pipeline transporting oil from southern Niger through Benin. Although the pipeline was briefly closed by the Porto Novo government (in response to accusations by the Nigerien government that Benin was allowing the presence of terrorist training camps on its side of the border), Chinese intervention resolved the issue, ensuring oil continued to flow through the port at Seme.

Both nations are keen to establish a naval presence to protect their strategic interests, following the historical precedent set by colonial powers. In April 2024, Russia signed a military accord with São Tomé and Príncipe for military training, logistical support and ‘possible collaborations’ raising concerns from Portugal amongst others about increased Russian influence.

As global powers vie for Africa’s vast resources, securing regional sea lanes is crucial. Tomorrow, we will analyse what has happened so far and what may be next for China and Russia in this strategic competition.In October 2021 the Russian Navy deployed a maritime task group to the Gulf of Guinea for counter-piracy operations, signalling its growing interest in the region. By July 2023, Equato-Guinean delegates at the Russo-Africa Summit in St Petersburg engaged with Russian oil, gas, and mining companies, aiming to enhance trade and economic ties. Following the summit, Russia announced it would reopen its embassy in Bioko.

In November 2023, President Putin met Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Moscow. Putin stated their discussions focused on security and regional relations, with plans for further collaboration. President Obiang highlighted the significant international security challenges and affirmed Russia as a traditional strategic partner of Equatorial Guinea and Africa.

Continuous Expansion

It is clear from this activity that Russia is intent on expanding its ties with Malabo, seeking a foothold for power projection into strategic regional waters. Whilst Russia’s navy continues to suffer losses in the Black Sea from Ukraine, Russia’s intent may well be to expand its footprint in the Gulf of Guinea to potentially interdict Western trade alongside securing its own interests in Africa.

President Obiang enjoys a close relationship with China, however Beijing has been far more measured in its ambitions than Russia, investing heavily in the port of Bata in Equatorial Guinea, ensuring its 550m piers are capable of accommodating the newest Chinese aircraft carriers (noting a recent Pentagon report in 2023 highlighted Equatorial Guinea as the potential site for a new Chinese naval base).

Notably, China has built a strong presence in the country for over 5 decades, with their activity being supported by a large embassy and robust security ties through bilateral engagements. Indeed, in a statement released during the recent state visit of President Obiang to Beijing, the 2 countries were said to have “elevated their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation”.

Since 2014, China has increased activities throughout the Gulf of Guinea, conducting port calls and anti-piracy drills with local navies (between 2014 and 2019 China participated in 39 military exchanges with regional partners). Again notably Angola and Nigeria are among China’s top oil suppliers and Lekki deep sea port was also built by a Chinese company. This growing engagement reflects Beijing’s strategic interest in the region, and their pursuit of a program of rapid naval expansion, both in terms of numbers and also capabilities.

In conclusion both Russia and China clearly see the Gulf of Guinea as vital ground with China particularly regarding the region as a link in its so-called “String of Pearls” – a strategic plan for a chain of naval bases around the world. These ambitions, if achieved by one or both countries, represent a significant challenge to western naval dominance of the eastern Atlantic and the entire West African coastline. While NATO is fixated on Ukraine, the Levant and Taiwan, both Moscow and Beijing are clearly keen on pushing forward with their strategies for Africa and wider global economic hegemony.

A tale of two coups?

A tale of two coups?

Equatorial Guinea

On Friday, 17 May 2024, rumours emerged suggesting a state of emergency or an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo. Unverified reports claimed a state of emergency had been declared the previous day and mainland borders had been closed.

However, our investigation and local intelligence found no credible evidence to support these claims, and all flights operating as scheduled during this time.
Equatorial Guinea’s leadership is particularly wary of potential coups due to the country’s history of such attempts. President Teodoro Obiang, serving the world’s longest uninterrupted presidency, has been in power since 1979. In October 2003, security services arrested a French journalist amid coup rumours. Obiang also faced a significant coup attempt in 2004 when South African mercenaries, planning to replace him with a more business-friendly figure, were arrested in Zimbabwe en route to Equatorial Guinea. This event, known as the “Wonga Coup,” failed before it could begin.

More recently, in December 2018, a coup attempt involved 40 armed mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, allegedly connected to radical opposition elements within the country. Whether President Obiang’s prolonged tenure is due to exceptional security measures or sheer luck remains unclear. Nonetheless, the nation’s security net remains highly vigilant, and the recent rumours may simply reflect a heightened sense of paranoia stemming from past experiences.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Two days after rumours of a potential coup in Equatorial Guinea, an actual coup attempt unfolded in the DRC capital, Kinshasa. Many details remain unclear, but here’s what is known:
– A firefight erupted outside the Gombe residence of Vital Kamerhe, sole candidate for the post of Speaker of the National Assembly.
– A second group seized the nearby Palais de la Nation, raising the flag of former Zaire.
– The attempted coup was led by 41-year-old Christian Malanga, a naturalised American citizen, who live-streamed the attack on Facebook. Malanga was killed, along with two Congolese security officials, while his son, also involved, was captured alive.
– Gunfire from the capital hit Brazzaville in the neighbouring Republic of the Congo, injuring several people.

Malanga, a wealthy businessman, politician and former Congolese army captain, lived in the US where his family had secured political asylum when he was a child. He had a criminal record for firearms and domestic violence offences in the US. Known for his grandiose aspirations, Malanga stood for election as a member of the opposition in the 2011 DRC legislative elections but was arrested for being openly anti-Kabila prior to polling day. Upon release, he returned to the US, founded the opposition United Congolese Party (UCP), and declared himself President of the “New Zaire” government in exile. He published a manifesto detailing plans to create business opportunities and reform Congo’s security services, campaigned for religious freedom in Africa, and led anti-corruption training for young Africans in Europe.

In addition to three US citizens, a naturalised British subject and the President’s former Security Advisor, Francois Beya, were also arrested. In all, 50 people have been arrested in the security sweeps that followed the events. The African Union condemned the coup and praised the military’s response. We will continue to monitor developments in both territories and provide updates.

More chapters to follow?

Since August 2020, a wave of coups and attempted coups has swept through several African countries, including Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Gabon. The most recent coups in Niger (July 2023) and Gabon (August 2023) have left military leaders still acting as Heads of State.

While ‘Coup Fever’ appears to be contagious in West Africa and the Sahel, it seems last week’s rumours in Equatorial Guinea were unrelated to internal events. Given the rumours surfaced within 48 hours of the Kinshasa coup attempt, it is plausible that news of the impending/planned events in DRC reached Malabo, sparking speculation about a coup or similar actions unfolding closer to home. Unlike the coups in Francophone West Africa and the Sahel, which may have been influenced at least in part by anti-Western sentiment, increasing Russian presence, and the withdrawal of U.N. troops, the DRC incident appears to be a power grab by an individual driven by personal economic and political ambitions. There is no evidence to suggest foreign interference in the DRC event; it seems more a case of an opportunist expecting support from local elements, who ultimately abandoned him.

Regardless, the weekend’s events highlight that coups and attempted overthrows of power remain a persistent threat across the continent, driven by many factors including economic hardship, instability, poor internal security, inadequate education, and perceived weak democracies. With upcoming elections in Chad, Guinea-Bissau, and Mali, further instability is a real possibility.

For those with interests in West Africa and beyond, we offer comprehensive assistance to navigate these challenging environments. With our extensive experience advising clients on their business operations in high-risk areas, Arete are equipped to provide expert guidance and strategic planning to ensure your success and safety. Our services include:

• Planning for Operating in High-Risk Environments: From inception to completion, we provide tailored strategies to ensure your operations run smoothly.
• Risk Assessments and Threat Analysis: We deliver in-depth assessments and analyses to identify and mitigate potential threats.
• Journey Management Services: We ensure safe and efficient travel for your teams, minimizing risks along the way.

Protect your investments and ensure the safety of your personnel with our expert guidance. Contact info@arete-group.com for more information on how we can help you navigate these complex and volatile landscapes.

Red Sea Crisis and Impact on Shipping

Red Sea Crisis

Background

During the night of 22-23 January, 2024, the UK and US launched another round of air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.  Eight positions were struck in this series of strikes in a campaign of targeted attacks on Houthi positions identified as being linked to attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.  The action is the latest move in the international geopolitical chess match that threatens to escalate the conflict locally and potentially expand it regionally.

The impact on shipping in the region and the knock-on effects on the global economy are significant.  This analysis will examine the drivers behind the current crisis, the physical and commercial impact on shipping, the displacement of risk faced by vessels and mariners forced to use other routes to global markets and will offer a view on which countries are the winners and losers as a result of the Houthi campaign.

An armed Yemeni supporter of the Houthi movement sits on the back of an armored vehicle during an anti-Israel and anti-US rally in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 22, 2024. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

For several months, shipping has been attacked by Houthi Rebels in the seas off the coast of Yemen.  Houthi rebel forces in Yemen began their campaign against shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden allegedly in response to the massive Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) response to the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel on 07 October 2023.  Their operational footprint encompasses one of the most important strategic choke points for international shipping and global trade, the Bab al Mandab Straits, which connects Asia to European markets.  

This ‘accident of geography’ gives the Houthis a strategic advantage and elevates the impact they can inflict on global economic stability by an order of magnitude that, arguably, is disproportionate to their actual numbers and capabilities.  Setting geography aside, like Hamas in Gaza, they also enjoy the patronage of Iran and benefit both logistically and in terms of training and financial support from their strong ties to Tehran and, in particular, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC).  Among other weaponry and equipment, the missiles and drones – and the necessary training – used by them to attack shipping are supplied by Tehran.  

The waters of the region are a target rich environment for the Houthis, with as many as 400 ships in the area at any one time and a total of approximately 19,000 vessels transiting the Suez Canal every year.  This number is now significantly diminished as shipping companies take the decision to sail the much longer and more costly route round the southern tip of Africa as they transit in both directions between the South Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.   

The Houthis claim their campaign is aimed at bringing an end to the IDF campaign in Gaza.  To that end, they claim their attacks have singled out vessels that have links to Israel, Israeli businesses or which are transiting to/from Israeli ports.  As the attacks continue, this claim has been demonstrably weak, or even completely false, as Houthi attacks have struck vessels that do not fit these criteria.  

Furthermore, Houthi rebels have been targeting shipping in the region since October 2015.  By August 2019, a total of 40 attacks against shipping were attributed exclusively to Houthi rebels. These early attacks began with relatively unsophisticated attacks using hand-held weapons such as RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).  This extremely common weapon system is not capable of sinking a vessel through breaching a hull, but if it were to strike a critical component of a vessel carrying a volatile cargo, such as an LNG carrier, the results could be severe.  The attacks soon escalated, and by 2019, 22 incidents saw the use of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles (or its Iranian built clone, the Noor missile).  In 9 instances, remote-controlled boats were utilized.  The first of these attacks in January 2017, saw a drone boat attack on a Saudi warship off Hodeidah, resulting in the deaths of two Saudi sailors.  These attacks were primarily against vessels involved in supporting the coalition that was attacking Houthi rebels in Yemen.  

A US Navy ship launches missiles in the Red Sea, Feb. 3, 2024

The attacks since October 2023 took on a different characteristic.  Following their threat against all shipping associated with Israel, and the firing of more than 100 missiles and drones in at least a dozen attacks in the weeks up to 21 December 2023, the 21 November 2023 heliborne assault and hijack of an Israeli-linked vessel, the MV Galaxy Leader, demonstrated to the world that the Houthis had evolved – or that they had direct support from the IRGC.

Following several warnings issued by the US through media statements, diplomatic channels and through international organisations, US patience finally ran out after a 03 January “Final Warning” was ignored and both the UK naval vessel HMS Diamond and several US Navy vessels were targeted on 09 January.  The response was quick and substantial.

On 12 January, in the opening round of the operation (named Operation Prosperity Guardian), US and UK military forces attacked more than 60 targets in 28 locations in Yemen that had been identified as linked to the Houthi attacks on shipping off the coast of Yemen.  6 further strike packages were launched in the following 10 days, culminating in the 22-23 January strikes. The most recent strikes took place on 03 February and further strikes are expected, until such time as the Houthi missile and drone strikes against shipping cease.

The Houthis denied that the strikes had impacted their ability to launch attacks on shipping off the Yemen coast and stated that all US and UK vessels were now also targets.  In an apparent demonstration of capability and intent, on 15 January, the US owned dry bulk cargo ship MV Gibraltar Eagle suffered a direct hit from a ballistic missile.

On 17 January, Houthis attacked the Marshall Islands-flagged, US owned and operated bulker MV Genco Picardy successfully hitting the superstructure of the vessel with a drone.  No casualties were reported, but the attack was a clear demonstration that the Houthis were not intimidated by the air and cruise missile strikes of previous days.

The 22 January strikes were carried out primarily by UK and US assets, which launched weapons from aerial and both surface and submarine naval platforms.  Additionally, Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands contributed to the mission, supplying intelligence and surveillance in support of the targeting.  Targets struck on this occasion included an underground storage site and other locations associated with missile and air surveillance capabilities.  These strikes follow a series of 7 attacks which have involved a total of 10 countries.  However, only the US and UK have been directly involved in launching weapons against targets on the ground.  

Two ships with ties to the UK and US were also targeted in early February.  MV Morning Tide, a UK-managed and owned vessel transited the Suez Canal on 02 February 2024, and was attacked approximately 57 miles west of Hodeidah, Yemen.  Houthis fired three ballistic missiles at the vessel, all of them narrowly missing their target. 

The second vessel targeted by the Houthis was the Greek-owned, Marshall Islands flagged bulk cargo carrier, MV Star Nasia. The ship is managed by a US-listed company called Star Bulk Carriers. The vessel also transited the Suez Canal at the end of January.  The vessel reported an explosion approximately 50 metres from the ship soon after it had transited the Bab el-Mandeb straits.  US Central Command (CENTCOM), stated that the vessel was attacked by three Houthi ballistic missiles over a period of 12 hours. The first missile reportedly missed the ship, although the ship was still caught in the blast radius and suffered minor damage. The second missile had no effect, and the third missile was shot down by the destroyer USS Laboon.

Houthi Spokesperson Yahya Saree, in a statement issued on 06 February claimed the attacks on the two vessels and stated strikes will continue to target all “Hostile American and British targets” along with Israeli shipping until the war in the Gaza Strip stops”.

Impact on Shipping

In November 2023, Houthis hijacked the car carrier MV Galaxy Leader.  They brazenly released a video of the incident to the world exposing that they had been trained to a very high level – presumably by their Iranian patrons.  Multiple attacks have seen the use of explosive weapons delivered either via missiles or drones.  Their targets are diverse, including container ships, bulk carriers and, interestingly, a Russian oil tanker that was narrowly missed.  A Houthi statement said the latter was targeted, allegedly, by mistake.  This statement is possibly very significant, and we will revisit that later in the analysis.

On 16 January, Bloomberg reported that 114 vessels had passed through Bab el-Mandeb strait in the days immediately after the 12 January strikes. This was 17 transits fewer than in the previous week and a dramatic reduction on the 272 transits a month earlier.

By 22 January, a total of more than 30 attacks on shipping had been launched by Houthis according to a UK MOD statement.  Other sources gave the number as 34 attacks.  These attacks have impacted directly on a total of 55 countries according to flag state, ownership, cargo destination or crewing.  

The diversion via the Cape of Good Hope adds approximately 6,000 miles to a journey from Asia to Europe.  The effect of this is to push up prices in the markets as a result of increased fuel costs (Approximately $1 million) and operating costs (which include crewing costs, insurance costs, demurrage and more) and also to delay the arrival of goods to market by an average of 10 days in each direction.  There is also a knock-on effect on port operations that also add costs to goods in the end markets.

By 20 December, a total of 1.3 million 20-foot-long shipping containers had been diverted.  Global oil benchmark prices rose by 1.2% in the same period.  A further impact is the demand for shipping capacity is rising, driven by the increased duration of transits effectively ‘removing’ capacity from the shipping market.  In turn, this pushes up chartering costs even further and the price consumers pay for goods at the final destination.

The model is not new.  Shipping operators used this diversion route in March 2021 when the Suez Canal was blocked for six days when the container ship MV Ever Given ran aground, blocking the canal in both directions.  Hundreds of ships were trapped in a holding pattern in the Red Sea for weeks, and the cost of shipping a container rose from $2,000 (€1,828) to $14,000. The Ever Given crisis added months of delays to goods imported from Asia.  That crisis lasted for a week and the costs were profound.  The current crisis has run for more than 3 months already and threatens to continue for an unknown duration.  Car manufacturers in Europe have been forced to interrupt operations due to the delayed arrival of parts from Asia.  The cost of shipping a container has tripled thus far and will likely increase further.  

The impact of uncertainty on this scale will impact global markets, oil and gas spot prices, insurance premiums and drive inflation up, slowing economic recovery in countries in Europe. In mid-January, JPMorgan Chase estimated that worldwide consumer prices for goods would increase by an additional 0.7% in the first 6 months of 2024 unless the disruption to shipping ends.  The name of the US operation – Prosperity Guardian – reflects the global strategic importance of the economics of this conflict.  It is this economic impact that drove the European Union to finally agree to deploy military forces in support of the US/UK coalition operations in the region.  Germany is deploying the Sachsen Class anti-aircraft frigate Hessen to the region.  However, this vessel and any other EU assets will not be in position to operate until an unstated date in February.

New Risks?

With so many vessels diverting round the Cape of Good Hope, it is worth examining whether that diversion exposes shipping to other risks along that route.

Historically, piracy has been a serious problem in the waters off Somalia and as far south as the Mozambique channel.  However, in 2022, according to International Maritime Bureau data, no acts of piracy were reported on the east coast of the continent.  2023 saw the return of piracy when a bulk carrier was hijacked off the coast of Oman and sailed towards Somalia.  To date, 2024 has seen a single incident on 04 January when the 7 occupants of a skiff launched from a mother vessel, opened fire on a bulk carrier approximately 455nm SE of Eyl, Somalia.  Although there has been a very small number of incidents in recent times, the return of deepwater attacks off the Horn of Africa indicate that a potential return of Somali based piracy is a real threat – although still a very limited one.  Nevertheless, opportunistic criminal cartels might seek to take advantage of the increase in vessel transits in the region and could lead to a spike in piracy in coming weeks.  

On the other side of the continent, the Gulf of Guinea became the world’s most active piracy hotspot in the years up to December 2021.  However, since then, activity levels have been limited and certainly nothing like the levels seen in the years 2016-2021.  Diverted vessels are unlikely to sail through the Gulf of Guinea directly, opting to take the shortest and fastest route between the Cape of Good Hope and the coast of Sierra Leone and Guinea.  However, the last 2 years have each seen a vessel boarded and hijacked off Sierra Leone and a similar rate of activity off Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire.  To date, 2024 has seen just one piracy incident in West African waters when, on 01 January 2024, the Tuvalu flagged product tanker MT Hanna I was boarded 45 nautical miles south of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea and nine crewmen abducted.  As with Somali groups, we have witnessed Nigerian based crime cartels operating in deep waters far from home so attacks can never be ruled out  Historically, they have operated as far south as Angolan waters and as far west as Ivorian waters.  Whilst the current threat is low, shipping companies should not ignore the latent threat posed by opportunistic criminals.  

The above all being said, is assessed that the diversion of shipping round the southern cape will not substantially increase the risk to shipping posed by latent piracy groups either on the eastern coast or in the Gulf of Guinea given the current level of threat.

Who Benefits

A US Navy ship in the Red Sea [Aaron Lau/AFP]

Almost nobody is benefitting from the crisis in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.  Interestingly and as mentioned above, the Houthis appear to have a benign attitude towards Russia and Russian linked shipping.  This reflects the supportive stance that Russia has taken in denouncing the western naval presence in the region and the recent wave of US-led air strikes.  The Houthis also have an unknown number of Soviet era legacy weapons that are now generally considered obsolete.  It is not known if these are even still operational.  Currently, Russia is not a direct supplier of weapons to the Houthis (and probably has none to spare given the intensity of the war it is prosecuting in Ukraine).  The connection is probably somewhat more subtle and potentially even strategic.

Noting the Houthis are essentially an Iranian proxy force in the region (they are supplied and trained by Iran), it is also strongly suspected that Quds Force personnel are actually active in Yemen.  Of course, Iran is a known ally of Russia and Putin, and it has been postulated by some analysts that the Hamas onslaught on 07 October 2023 against Israel, and the subsequent escalation of attacks on shipping in the Red Sea / Gulf of Aden, were both launched at the behest of the Iranian leadership in response to a Request from Moscow.  

Ultimately Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is not going according to plan so there is perhaps some credence to this theory noting that the actions of Hamas and the Houthis have drawn the attention of the US away from the conflict in Ukraine and focussed it on supporting its principal ally in the Levant.  With a US presidential election in 9 months, Russia will be content to slowly erode US support for Ukraine in the hope that a Trump win will allow Russia to steamroller the dwindling Ukrainian forces in 2025 in the face of collapsing western support.

The above analysis is speculative, but it is credible, and the next 12 months will likely shape the future of Europe.  The game and the stakes are enormous, and, unlike the US and its European allies, Russia is content to play a long game.  In fact, Russia would prefer a protracted war in which it believes its vast resources will eventually ensure victory.  So, a rapid suppression of the Houthis and the destruction of their ability to threaten shipping in the region is essential for a number of globally strategic reasons.  Whether this can be achieved using only long-range attacks is a known-unknown.  

The west is rightly nervous about any commitment of ground forces into the region as this would almost certainly result in a direct clash with Iranian forces, and that would escalate, expand and extend the conflict, none of which is desirable, particularly in a year when both the US and the UK have major elections.

Arete will continue to monitor and critically deconstruct events in the Middle East and shipping lanes around continental Africa.

Four Nigerian Troops Killed by Suspected Pirates

On Saturday, November 12, authorities confirmed that four Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCD) troops were killed by suspected armed pirates in Rivers State. Ahmed Audi, the NSCDC Commandant General, confirmed that the deaths occurred in Alakiri in Degema Local Government Area and promised thorough investigations into the killings.

He said: “The Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has assured that the blood of the gallant men will not be a waste. I’ll not reveal to the public our operational strategies to bring the perpetrators to book, but we are in collaboration with sister security agencies to ensure that justice is served.”

Pirates continue to operate in Nigeria’s waters despite efforts by the country’s security agencies to maintain security. Historically, attacks have mainly occurred offshore, often targeting international vessels where in recent years the aim has been to kidnap crew for ransom over product theft.

Read more about it here.

Nigeria Welcomes 24 Maritime Nations to Lagos

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is hosting the 43rd Council and 18th Managing Director’s Roundtable event for the Port Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA) from Monday of this week (6th November). The gathering of 24 littoral African countries is being held in Lagos until November 9th with the theme “The Role of Ports in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)”.

Adegboyega Oyetola, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, expressed happiness that the meeting is being held at a time the most populous black nation was eager to provide the leadership necessary to maximise its marine and blue economy potential for prosperity of the growing youth population.

“To demonstrate the premium we place on maximising the emerging opportunities of AfCFTA, which is the focal point of the conference, we have given the Nigerian Ports Authority all the support necessary for a flawless hosting,” he said.

Also speaking in Lagos, NPA Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko, promised a successful outing. He restated his organisation’s readiness to provide regional leadership in port competitiveness.

At the opening of the event, President Bola Tinubu, tasked African leaders with full automation in order to remain competitive in the global maritime sector.  The President said the countries were duty-bound by posterity to unite and deploy their resources to solve issues affecting socio-economic progress and development; “Even though we have physical national boundaries that separate us, the waters are a natural source of connectivity, and they seem like a subtle providential message that we must work together for the good of all our countries”.

He pointed out that the ongoing discussions in Nigeria and other African countries on the importance of investing in infrastructure and equipment would support trade facilitation.

“My administration is especially interested in the maritime industry; this is why we created the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy in the first instance”. He noted that the theme of the conference was a testament to the determination of the organisers to collectively seek sustainable solutions to the challenges affecting port operations on the continent.

“After the issues of adequate security and transparency, the one other important factor deciding the competitiveness of ports is the seamlessness and efficiency with which cargoes are evacuated from the ports. 

“This without doubt is an area in which port operations in Africa need a lot of intervention” he said.

Read more about it here.

Germany Eyes Nigerian Natural Gas

German Chancellor, Olaf Schulz, visited Abuja on Sunday, 29 October 2023 on an official visit aimed at boosting trade with Nigeria.  With the trade between the two countries worth an estimated 3 billion Euros, and as Germany’s second largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria’s oil and gas sector is an attractive target for Germany as it tries to move further away from its previously entrenched position with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  

Sanctions and punitive tariff measures resulting from the Ukraine war have significantly dislocated energy supplies to Europe in general and Germany in particular.  The destruction of the sub-sea gas lines through the Baltic further limited Germany’s ability to meet its energy needs from previously cheap Russian gas.  Adding to the strategic pressure on European fuel markets, the destabilisation of the Sahel by military coups in 4 countries across the region has set plans for a trans Saharan gas pipeline running from Nigeria to Algeria back by years.  

As Europe’s largest economy and largest manufacturing base in the EU seeks alternative supplies, Scholz almost certainly has his eyes on the very light, sweet Nigerian crude and the high volumes of LNG that the country has the potential to produce from its estimated 202 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.  Also discussed were the potential for development of a future hydrogen production and export sector in Nigeria.  The latter is seen as an area that Germany could assist with and invest in.

Apart from economic partnership, major pillars of the two countries’ future cooperation will likely include addressing regional and global issues such as migration, security and the recent spate of coups in West and Central Africa.  Scholz raised the issue of migration across from sub-Saharan countries to Europe via the trafficking and illegal migration routes across the Sahel and Sahara to the north African coast.  Facing major pressures at home to curb the problem of migration, Scholz spoke of the need to manage the problem through implementation of “co-management which is benefiting the two countries the best”.

Following his visit to Abuja, the German leader opened a German-Nigerian business forum in Lagos on Monday, 30 October before flying to Ghana on his final stop on this tour.

Comment:  

The development of an oil and gas trade deal with Nigeria is an obvious evolution in the development of Germany’s energy strategy.  Arete addressed the challenge of filling the gap in supplies of natural gas in our Deep Dive in Feb 2022 (you can read it here).  Since then, the situation has increased in complexity.  With significant uncertainty in the Middle East resulting from the ongoing war in Israel and its neighbouring territories, supplies from Qatar and other regional suppliers face a spike in prices and potentially disruption in supply chains.  The move by Germany is timely and focussed.  Nigeria has suffered badly with loss of market share in the last 2 years and will certainly benefit from an export deal.  We may well see the country ramping up its exports via Bonny and other LNG terminals in coming weeks.

Increased production will have a knock-on effect of increased tanker traffic in Nigerian territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone.  It will also generate greater activity onshore and in the swamps as demand for raw gas supplies increases. This might accelerate President Tinubu’s pre-election declaration of his determination to secure the country’s oil and gas sector.

 

Nigerian Navy Burns Confiscated Oil Vessel MV Cecilia

The Nigerian Navy has reportedly burned an oil vessel stated as “MV Cecilia/Cecelia”. On August 16, the Nigerian Navy , Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, intercepted the oil vessel which was loaded with nearly 350,000 litres of stolen Automated Gas Oil (AGO). The operation took place in Woji, Obio-Akpor Local Government Area based in Port Harcourt metropolis, Rivers State in Nigeria.

Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the theft of the product. According to the Navy, the vessel with a storage capacity of over 350,000 barrels of crude, was to be a service boat, however it was converted to a storage tank for illegally refined products.

 According to the Nigerian Navy, the Cecilia had been used as a stationary storage tank for the products of illegal mini-refinery operators. Crudely-constructed miniature refinery operations are common in the Niger Delta, and are typically operated by gangs using stolen oil.

“They would bring their products here to be stored, [and] other people would come here to purchase the products,” said Commodore Adedokun Siyanbade, commander of NNS Pathfinder. He told ChannelsTV that this riverside operation had gone undetected for two years. 

The Nigerian Navy has also revealed that the unfortunate culture of abandoning oil theft vessels along the waterways was one of the major reasons the international Maritime Organization, IMO, declared the country’s ports and waterways unsafe to do business in the past.

Nigeria Creates New Maritime Ministry

Nigeria has established a standalone maritime ministry. The new ministry has been named the Marine and Blue Economy Ministry and was carved out as a separate entity to the Transportation Ministry.

There are reports that it was created out of a growing need to establish a greater domestic shipping infrastructure. Bashir Jamoh, the director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has commended President Bola Tinubu for the creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo was originally announced to lead the new ministry. However he has since been redeployed to the Ministry of the Interior and Adegboyega Oyetola has now been confirmed to lead the new marine ministry having previously been at the Ministry of Transport.

Showing their support for the ministry, Integrity Group of Nigerian Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), on Saturday, August 19, stated in a press release – “We are excited to collaborate with the Hon Ministers to drive a sustainable practices, technological advancements, and strategic partnerships that will elevate Nigeria’s standing on the global transportation stage.”

The group also said that the ministry of Maritime and Blue Economy would create jobs, sustainable growth and wealth creation for the country.

Read more here.

Nigeria – A Resurgence of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?

Piracy Risk in Gulf of Guinea

Arete analysts have noted an increase in criminal activity in the maritime environment in the last five weeks.  This spike in incident rates has also been noted by the International Maritime Bureau.  Most of the incidents have occurred inside territorial waters of littoral states from Sierra Leone in the west to Cameroon in the east.  2 of the incidents resulted in multiple victim abductions – 1 each in Nigerian and Cameroonian waters, and a third in the hijacking of a fishing vessel in Sierra Leonean waters.  Both abduction attacks took place on navigable waterways, although the Nigeria incident occurred in an inland lagoon in Lagos State, targeting a passenger boat rather than targeting commercial shipping offshore.  In contrast the attack in Cameroon targeted Chinese fishing vessels.  It is unconfirmed who was responsible for the Cameroon attack, but historically such incidents have been linked to Nigeria based gangs or Nigerian communities in Cameroon.  The hijack of a fishing vessel off Freetown saw the vessel and crew taken and finally recovered several days later off Monrovia in Liberia after a deal was reportedly done with the coastguard.  The remainder of the attacks in West Africa were attempted boardings and robberies in anchorages, with the exception of one incident on the maritime boundary between Sierra Leonean and Guinean waters.  These inshore attacks are not categorised as piracy as they do not align with the definition of piracy as set out in UNCLOS.  Details of the incidents are at the foot of this report.  

While the above summarises the maritime crime situation over the last 5 weeks, illustrating a slight increase in activity levels, it cannot be concluded that we are seeing a return of piracy to the Gulf of Guinea region (noting that it never went away, it only decreased).  The situation on the water in recent weeks is also somewhat uncharacteristic in terms of historical precedent.  In the first 15 years of the millennium, we traditionally saw a reduction in maritime crime in the months of June and July.  This was attributable to the sea state, which between mid-June and mid-August is generally unfavourable for small boat operations in open waters.  The advent of the use of mother ships by the pirate gangs allowed the criminals to overcome the challenges of poor sea conditions and saw them move to deep-water operations beyond territorial waters and in the Exclusive Economic Zones defined by UNCLOS.  

Despite the apparent uptick in activity levels, the data at present is still too lean to say that we are witnessing a resurgence of maritime crime, but the 2 events in Lagos and Douala, and the hijacking off Freetown, are noteworthy due to the abduction of 8 and 5 persons in Nigeria and Cameroon respectively and the hijacking of a vessel much further West. It is also worth stating that all kidnapping incidents detailed in the IMB report from January to June this year took place in the Gulf of Guinea.  Some intelligence is reporting a 100% increase in alerts in the region for June 2023 compared to the same month last year, however what constitutes an alert can vary between different platforms/reporting systems. Arete continues to advise companies operating in the region to carry out risk assessments and take appropriate mitigation measures as these recent incidents highlight that the threat still remains despite reported incidents having reduced.

A nationwide increase in month-on-month incidents has also been observed in the onshore environment across the country, with over 30% more incidents in June than in May.  Kidnappings are also up, with an approximately 35% increase in kidnapping incidents in June and fatalities increased by 25% in June over the preceding month.

This general increase in levels of security incidents is noteworthy in the context of the inauguration of President Tinubu in May.  Our Deep Dive, released in 2 parts examined the challenges and options facing the new President in the matter of security and stability for the country.  The President pledged to address the security challenges facing the nation, and one of his first acts in this context was to replace the heads of almost all his security agencies.  This dislocation of command has potentially generated a degree of interruption in operational continuity as the new heads of departments, services and agencies each bring in their own new leadership teams.  It is possible that the upturn in the rates of criminality in recent weeks reflects opportunistic behaviour, as criminal elements both on and offshore seize the day while the security organs are realigning under these new command structures.  

Arete continues to monitor the situation both onshore and on the nation’s riverine and maritime environments.  We will deliver further analysis as the security environment evolves under the new President.

Maritime Crime Incidents in West Africa – June-July 2023

Nigeria – Inshore Kidnapping – At approximately 18:00hrs local time on 26 June 2023, eight (8) oil workers were kidnapped whilst travelling in a passenger boat in position 06°25.08N 003°21.07E in the Lagos Lagoon.  The passenger boat which departed the Lekki region for Tin Can Island was boarded by gunmen who forced victims onto their vessel and fled the scene. The passenger boat was later discovered at a jetty in Ikorodu, Northeast of Lagos Lagoon.  The victims were released on 2nd July, although it is unclear whether any ransom was paid.

Ghana – Boarding Theft – At approximately 00:55 hrs local time on 28 June 2023, an unnamed cargo ship reported a boarding and theft while anchored in position 04°53.03N 001°36.06W in the Takoradi anchorage.  Three perpetrators were sighted lowering paint buckets down the side of the vessel onto a boat. Following the alarm that was raised, the crew mustered, and the Port Control was informed.  upon searching the ship, it was discovered that items of ships stores had been stolen including twelve drums of paint.

Cameroon – Armed Attack – At approximately 22:40 hrs local time on 30 June 2023, two unnamed fishing vessels were attacked whilst proceeding in position 03°56.00N 009°35.00E, near buoy 14 in the Wouri River, Douala.  Some armed bandits onboard several speedboats approached the two Chinese-flagged fishing vessels. The attackers’ approach resulted in a crossfire between the bandits and the Cameroonian military guards onboard the fishing vessels. One of the pirates was killed and a pistol and one magazine were recovered from the incident.  Five crew members were kidnapped from the vessels.

Sierra Leone – Boarding Theft – At approximately 03:55 hrs local time on 05 July 2023, an unnamed Turkish-flagged fishing vessel reported a robbery incident while operating in position 08°53.00N 013°31.00W in the Northern part of Sierra Leone waters, bordering Guinea.  Eight (8) perpetrators boarded the vessel and stole various items before destroying the cameras and communication equipment. During the incident, the captain was shot and is currently undergoing surgical treatment in an undisclosed hospital, his condition is stable.  A Sierra Leonean Navy patrol team was deployed immediately to the location, and the vessel headed to Freetown Port.

Guinea – Attempted Boarding – At approximately 09°17.00N 013°45.42W on 05 July 2023,  an unnamed tanker reported an attempted boarding whilst anchored in position 09°17.00N 013°45.42W, 14NM South of Conakry. Six perpetrators were spotted trying to board the tanker from a small boat, using a ladder.  Duty crew directed a searchlight at the perpetrators, which resulted in them escaping empty-handed. The crew were all reported as safe.

Ghana – Attempted Robbery – At approximately 00:35 hrs local time on 10 July 2023, the master of an unnamed cargo vessel reported an attempted robbery while the vessel was anchored in position 04°53.07N 001°41.08W in the Takoradi Anchorage.  The duty crew noticed that the razor wire on the forward, port side of the cargo vessel had been partly removed and two (2) perpetrators were sighted on the deck. An alarm was raised, and the crew mustered. Port Control was informed via VHF Channel 14.  Upon hearing the alarm and seeing the alerted crew, the perpetrators escaped into a waiting blue, wooden boat with an additional perpetrator.  A full search of the cargo vessel was conducted, and it was confirmed that all padlocks were still intact, and nothing had been stolen.  A patrol boat arrived at the scene and checked the area surrounding the vessel however, the perpetrators could not be found.

Angola boarding/theft – At 02:50 hrs local time on Thursday, 2o0 July 2023, an unnamed Hong Kong flagged container vessel was boarded while at anchor in position 06:06.012S 012:12.24E in the Soyo Anchorage.  An unknown number of thieves boarded the vessel from a small boat and broke into one of the containers before stealing items of cargo.  They were spotted by the duty drew who raised the alarm   The perpetrators were able to escape.

Sierra Leone – Maritime Hijack – At approximately 04:30 hrs local time on Saturday, 22 July 2023, A fishing vessel was boarded by approximately 13 armed attackers while underway in approximate position position 08:22.00N 013:32.00W some 16 nautical miles SW of Freetown.  The vessel was sailed to have been sailing south, towards Liberia.  On 26 July 2023, the vessel was found located off Monrovia in Liberia.  Two of the attackers were arrested but the other 11 escaped.  The crew were rescued.

Nigeria’s New President, Possible Security Solutions

Nigeria’s New President & Security

The Problem

In our previous Deep Dive (read it here) we explored President Tinubu’s challenges.  In this latest Deep Dive we shall analyse the potential solutions.  Over the last two decades, the performance of the security forces has been an area that has focussed minds among the Nigerian political elite.  

State security organs comprise of:

  • The Nigerian Police Force (NPF)
  • The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC)
  • The Nigerian Army
  • The Nigerian Navy
  • The Nigerian Air Force
  • The Department of State Security (DSS)
  • National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)

All these structures are deployed internally in roles that range from counterterrorism, through conventional policing, to counter-smuggling operations.  There is a significant degree of overlap in operational footprints, roles and terms of reference.  The Army is increasingly deployed in roles that are conventionally carried out by police forces.  Agencies compete for budget allocation, resourcing, and operational primacy.  Some competitiveness continues to exist between the Army and the NPF, which sometimes leads to clashes between the two.  The Navy has also steadfastly resisted the establishment of a Nigerian Coastguard Service.  Against this omnipresent and complex mosaic of security delivery, the average Nigerian is routinely frustrated by the intrusiveness of the security forces operations, the delays caused by them and the ineffectiveness of the response when a crime is committed.

The NPF is the largest security organ in terms of manpower.  Police officers are routinely armed with assault rifles, generating an environment where the sight of a weapon is absolutely commonplace.  The carriage of weapons in public places is a response to the availability of firearms to the criminal elements faced by police officers.  Firefights in crowded spaces are not uncommon, and collateral casualties sometimes occur when such incidents happen.  As the largest and most commonly encountered security body in the country, it is the police that can be most heavily criticised by the citizenry.  

In the last 20 years, we have witnessed several attempts to reform and restructure the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) – all of which have been unsuccessful.  Almost every regime in that period has attempted to improve the performance of the largest security force in the country.  Most recently, in 2020, President Buhari oversaw the ascent into law of the Police Bill, which repealed the previous Bill set in 1943 during the colonial era.  At the beginning of January 2023, Buhari’s regime introduced the Presidential Roadmap on Police Reform.  It pledged a 20% increase in police salaries.  The increase had not been paid as at the beginning of June.

So, against this background of stagnation and outdated practices, what should we expect to see from President Tinubu’s government?  When analysing the performance of the NPF, we should firstly identify the major areas of concern that require immediate and effective reform.  

The NPF faces a number of stubborn challenges that impact on performance and delivery in terms of capability, capacity and compliance.  These challenges include undertrained personnel, lack of funding, inadequate equipment, shortage of personnel, dilapidated housing units and offices, poor equipment and vehicles, absence of maintenance budgets and regimes, as well as weak supervision and accountability.  It will not be possible to reform the police without addressing these challenges

The pay and conditions that members of the NPF work under are an area for concern.   While the pay is considered attractive by many (police recruitment doesn’t seem to be a problem), delayed payment of salary, sometimes by as much as six months, is a widespread and perennial problem that generates strain and undermines discipline.  Pensions are either not paid in full or not paid at all.  There is inadequate insurance for police officers who lose their lives or are injured during the course of their duties and unable to continue to work.  All of these factors drive illicit collection of fines and other behaviour by police officers – particularly as they approach retirement.  The practice of illegitimate collection of ‘on the spot fines’ is one manifestation of the failure to pay police officers on time or in full.  It is also not possible for a citizen to report a crime without paying for the relevant forms.  

Further undermining morale and discipline is the parlous state of police barracks in many parts of the country.  Recently, on 23 May, media reported that 25 run down police barracks sites would be demolished across Lagos State due to them having failed structural integrity tests.  Police officers live in these barracks, frequently accompanied by their families.

Excessive behaviour by some police officers is widely reported on and an accepted facet of daily life in Nigeria.  Abuses of human rights and extortion of money drive a final nail into the coffin of trust between the citizenry and the NPF. Citizens do not believe that the police are there to serve their interests or protect them.  The 2020 emergence of the #ENDSARS movement reflected frustration among the youth and middle classes over the apparent lawlessness of certain elements and individuals in the NPF.   Established to address the ubiquitous problem of armed robbery, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) soon became notorious for use of excessive force and random targeting of youths based on stereotypes including wearing of dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, driving of expensive cars, or even the ownership / use of apparently expensive devices such as smart phones.  Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 18 people were extrajudicially killed during the Coronavirus pandemic by security forces enforcing the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns. Incidents of police violence are common in the Nigerian media.

Unfortunately, the #ENDSARS protest was put down violently by the Army and it was widely postulated on social media at the time that the order was given by the man who is now charged with improving the security of Nigerian citizens.   This unfortunate narrative, whether accurate or completely false, generates speculation as to how the security forces will operate under the new President.

Police involvement in political activity is further damaging to their reputation and standing.  We have seen incidences of police involvement in electoral activity in several locations across the country during this year’s elections.  

Police officers also are hired by private citizens who have the means for the purpose of providing private security details and protection of lives and property.  This practice and its impact on professionalism is examined below. 

All of the above factors are widely commented upon in open sources, regularly feature in the mainstream media and even more so on social media platforms in Nigeria and among the diaspora.

Following President Buhari’s statement in January 2023 as he launched the Roadmap to Police Reform, the Police Reform and Transformation Office (PORTO) Programmes Officer, said an extensive reform process of the police force had begun but pointed out that it will be a protracted process, taking up to five years to effectively implement.  This assumes that the programme will be adopted by President Tinubu.  Unfortunately, we have seen numerous examples of politicians killing the initiatives of their predecessors and then developing their own, equivalent proposal with their personal stamp on it.  In Nigeria, completion of a predecessor’s legacy projects is not good for political standing.  

Nevertheless, if President Tinubu is determined to improve security and stability in the country as stated in his address to the nation, the professionalisation of the NPF is a matter of priority.  So, what areas might he focus on?

Generating capacity and capability to enable the police to conduct effective and professional investigations has been the core of several failed police reform strategies.  Provision of adequate equipment and resources is vital.  This will only be achievable if the funding is not only allocated to, but actually spent on, closing the intended gaps.  

Training in both investigative techniques, human rights compliance and good governance are other areas that would generate dividends in terms of NPF performance.   Development of more advanced crime scene procedures, forensic techniques, laboratory facilities and perhaps most importantly, an effective and durable national crime database are all areas worthy of critical examination. 

Areas recommended by Sharkdam Wapmuk, an Associate Professor at the Nigerian Defence Academy, have included:

  • Rebuilding trust.  For the government to regain the trust of Nigerian citizens, special measures must put in place to address shortcomings in the policing system and the military.  Critically, governance must be sincere and transparent.
  • More inclusive oversight. The Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up at state level to probe police brutality should include critical stakeholders nominated independently of the government.  If the panel were to serve a similar function to the Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa, its impact would be much greater.  This could also generate a fundamental shift in the relationship between the police and the people, which should be a symbiotic relationship, but which currently is more confrontational than cooperative.  This would be assisted by tying police structures to the communities they serve (see below) 
  • Independent investigations into police abuses. To end police impunity, the government needs to establish an independent body that includes representatives of civil society organizations and charge it with responsibility to consistently investigate and report excesses and crimes committed both by the police and other security bodies.  The mandate of these investigations should be wide-ranging and cover the full gamut of security forces illicit and illegal activity.
  • Holistic police reform.  There are many good police officers. Yet good men and women recruited into the police force can easily turn bad due to poor remuneration, poor conditions of service and weak or corrupt leadership. 
  • Focus on citizen security. Reform of Nigeria’s security architecture is long overdue. There should be training and retraining of the security agencies on issues of citizen protection, human rights, relations with citizens, and building community trust.

One other area of reform that has been postulated in the past, but which died at birth, was the restructuring of the NPF into autonomous state or regional police forces with their own organic command and control structures.  The creation of federal agencies that support local forces would enhance the delivery of crime solutions.

Worryingly, experience of police reform in other West African nations does not offer encouraging signals.  In Liberia, police reform has been underway for 20 years.  Progress has been hindered by underfunding and a lack of political will to correct the problem as well as competing interests between different parties engaged in the process.  In Cote D’Ivoire, the efforts to drive police reform have struggled with the challenge of generating effective oversight and transparency as well as very challenging dynamics between vigilance committees, everyday citizens, police, and youth gangs.  These are relevant lessons that should be taken into account when any plan for police reform is undertaken in Nigeria.

 

The ‘Privatisation’ of Government Security Forces (GSF)

Not only the police, but all GSF organisations hire their personnel to influential and wealthy organisations and individuals.  The Supernumerary Police Force (SPY) was established to provide warranted police officers to support commercial enterprises and fee-paying individuals.  They carry a police warrant card and are trained at the force HQ training schools.  However, the levels of training received are tailored to their roles, which are essentially to act as a deterrent security force deployed to protect the ‘client’.

Typically, all the other agencies and organisations have also hired out their assets in similar roles.  The Army provides defensive deployments for oil and gas operators in the Niger Delta – as does the Nigerian Navy.  The Navy also provides armed detachments for vessels operating in Nigerian waters and on its navigable waterways.  These deployments are at the discretion of force and base commanders and have become a very lucrative sideline for the bodies concerned.  Even the DSS has provided private security detachments for high-net-worth individuals.  There is significant competition among the relevant bodies for this money-making business and contracts are much sought after.

The commercialisation of the security forces ought to be forcing standards of performance to increase.  However, the opposite is sometimes the case and there are instances where such detachments have refused to comply with corporate standards in areas such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR) if the unit commander feels they increase the risks his personnel are faced with.  This frequently means the commercial enterprise cannot meet its own governance and compliance standards.  

President Tinubu will need to look very closely at this widespread practice and delivery a policy decision that provide robust and enforceable guidelines for commanders in all the various security organs of the state.  The challenge is that the operating environment is so hostile in some areas that removal of armed teams will leave organisations and individuals vulnerable.  This then generates a new problem for the Presidency to consider and address.

 

Illicit Involvement in Oil Theft

In early June, the President directed Service Chiefs, heads of security, and intelligence agencies to “crush” oil thieves.  His intention to issue this directive was known as early as January of this year.  It is driven by his understanding that no amount of police reform or investment in the armed forces will change the security environment in Nigeria unless the economic conditions that currently prevail are addressed.

Nigeria depends heavily on revenue from crude oil, such that 80% of Federal government’s revenue, 95% of export receipts and 90% of foreign exchange earnings come from oil exports.  However, huge losses occur due to the illicit activity of a complex ecosystem of criminals and facilitators.  

The semi-industrialised criminal enterprises have impacted so heavily on the oil and gas sector that the International Oil Companies, primarily Shell – the largest operator in the country – have taken a strategic decision to divest from their onshore assets.  The knock-on effects have included increased unemployment, a lowering of environmental performance standards as local start-ups buy the licences and assets, a reduction in transparency and governance and increased tension between communities.

There have been repeated and enduring allegations of security forces’ involvement in the illicit theft of hydrocarbons from pipelines in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the country.  Some of this commentary is entirely speculative.  Some of it is apparently supported by evidence.  On 16 June 2023, the notable activist and former leader of one of the factions of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Alhaji Asari Dokubu, claimed that more than 99 per cent of oil theft in the country was carried out by the army and navy. Perhaps significantly, the allegation was made after a meeting with the President in Abuja.

There have been several well documented instances where senior officers have been identified in media reports as having been heavily involved in the so-called ‘bunkering’ of crude oil and condensate.  However, the only people to have been prosecuted to date have been very junior members of the security forces.  

It must be stated that the security forces are not the only alleged actors in the issue of oil theft.  Others include:

  • National and international oil company executives
  • Oil company employees
  • Militant organisations
  • Local political and community leaders
  • Local youths
  • Judicial officials
  • Political actors at all levels.

The impact of the illicit oil ‘industry’ in the Niger Delta has had a crippling effect on the economy, ravaged the local environment, driven intercommunal conflicts, and exacerbated poverty which in turn drives further criminality.

President Tinubu has pledged to address the problem of oil theft and return the revenue streams that previous fed the Federal budgets.  He has vowed to employ new technologies, including the use of drones and aerostat systems, for sustained and enduring surveillance.  However, deploying surveillance is worthless unless the response is in place to interdict criminal activity when detected.  To achieve this, a root and branch restructuring of the security apparatus in the region will be necessary.  

The challenge the new President faces is that the tentacles of the illicit trade are so far reaching and so influential that he will make powerful enemies as soon as he orders the first prosecutions of persons of note.  The strategy risks igniting a new insurgency in the region as powerful former militants who currently enjoy lucrative opportunities either through illegal activity or through winning multi-million dollar contracts to address the problem (….or both) fight to protect their revenue streams.  As has been shown above, the human terrain in the oil bunkering industry is diverse, complex and heavily integrated into the organs of state that are key to defeating the practice.

The trade routes through which the stolen oil pass are well documented, and it is likely that any successful solution will require international cooperation.  This would, of necessity, mean:

  • Sharing of intelligence.  This would require a patient and methodical gathering of raw information and its processing into actionable intelligence that can stand the test of evidence in court.
  • Provision of technology.  This will require foreign powers to share some assets that are potentially in high demand in other parts of the globe.
  • Interdiction of cargos on the high seas.  This will require robust rules of engagement and must be compliant with international maritime law and UN regulations such as the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS)
  • Embargoes of trade.  As we have seen with the recent issue of ‘dark tankers’ evading sanctions on Russian oil exports, trade embargoes are very difficult to enforce. 
  • Support for judicial processes and the prosecutions of offenders.  Preparation of evidence and provision of legal support to prosecution teams will be a significant ‘force multiplier’.  This might include extradition agreements that are robust and implemented.

To create a new security paradigm for the oil and gas sector, the President is going to have to make some very courageous decisions and be prepared to manage the fallout from potentially prosecuting powerful, well-connected, and ruthless individuals if that is where the evidence leads.

Informal security structures

Nigeria has witnessed an expansion of informal security structures in the last decade.  These are not the formally registered security companies that provide guard services and technical security installations, but organisations more akin to militias or even vigilante organisations.

These bodies have arisen due to the perception that the government security bodies are ineffective or even disinterested in dealing with crime affecting ordinary Nigerians.  Examples of such bodies include:

  • Hunters working as military auxiliaries and trackers during counter-terrorism operations in the north-east and counter-kidnapping operations elsewhere in the country.
  • Various vigilante groups in different parts of the country.  These bodies have largely emerged spontaneously in response to chaotic security situations.  Poorly trained and only loosely led, they are prone to committing human rights abuses and are vulnerable to exploitation by politicians and other elites. In some cases, their activities have aggravated intercommunal tensions, increasing the risks of conflict.
  • The Western Nigeria Security Network – also known as Amotekun – which was created in the six states of the south-west geopolitical zone in response to rising crime levels.   Its aim is to complement the operations of the security forces rather than replace them.  Controversial but well equipped and organised, the body was challenged by the Federal government, but remains in existence and operation to date.
  • Ethnic militias such as The Oodua People’s Congress (Yoruba) and the Arewa Peoples’ Congress (Hausa).  These bodies frequently drift across the divide between protecting the community and imposing the will of powerful actors in the community, often acting as political enforcers in election campaigns and polling days.

 

Conclusions

Nigeria’s security challenges are primarily homegrown and internal matters, elevating the importance of citizen engagement in delivering improvements in security and stability.  Yet this vital aspect of securing Nigeria’s urban centres, rural heartlands and the interconnecting network of roads and railways rests upon a relationship with the security forces that is, at best, apathetic and more accurately described in many areas as toxic.  

In almost every instance, Nigeria’s security forces operate from a position that is essentially founded on a deficit of trust. Many threat assessments and risk analyses include security force violence against citizens as a component of the security problem. Remedying this and building trust with citizens will be a top and ongoing priority of any national security strategy.

Any new security paradigm must be multi-faceted, agile, properly resourced and supported by the judiciary.  It will only succeed if it is built on foundations of:

  • Expanding access to government services
  • Social development
  • Job creation
  • Reform of the NPF
  • Modernisation of the Armed Forces and their removal from roles that should be performed by the NPF
  • Removal of the need for informal security structures – i.e. close the security gaps these bodies rose to fill
  • Address the issue of herder-farmer land use with a legislative posture that supports the needs of both communities
  • Effective judicial action against the ‘big men’ behind the organised crime groups
  • Expansion of and improved accessibility to an effective criminal justice system for ordinary citizens
  • Establishment of transparency and oversight of security forces activity

Can President Tinubu successfully implement a new security paradigm for Africa’s most populous nation?  Much depends on him being able to demonstrate quickly to the population that his plan is not just genuine, but more importantly, effective.  Without citizen buy-in, any new strategy is likely to fail before it gets started.  Perhaps the most immediate need of most Nigerians is some relief from the grinding poverty that effects so many of them.  Any uplift in the standard of living and the quality of life for ordinary Nigerians will gain the goodwill needed to support the longer-term planning and implementation of a significant shift in the security dynamic in the country.

His inauguration speech indicated that he understands not only the problems faced by Nigerian’s citizens, but also the underlying issues that drive such widespread insecurity and high levels of crime.   We shall monitor and evaluate his progress in addressing and resolving them over the coming months; it is hoped that he can succeed.