The Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi spoke to some journalists on a two-day maritime stakeholders’ conference on the partnership between NIMASA and the Nigerian Air Force held recently, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two agencies and other security agencies. He also spoke on measures to be taken to avoid the deadly Ebola virus. BMWA was there. Excerpt…
Could you please throw more light on this collaboration between the Air Force and NIMASA?
The collaboration is aimed at ensuring maritime safety and security and to enforce search and rescue operations in our maritime domain, that is going to lead us into more prosperity, bring about peace in our maritime environment, create jobs for us, sustain our economy and so on.
Before now DG, there have been some previous collaboration in the past with some other security agencies; is this a different one altogether?
Well, you know our stakeholders are many; the Navy is one of our key stakeholders, generally, the Armed Forces. We have partnership with all of them- the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. So, this is one of the very useful collaborations that we should be interested in.
Yes, the Air Force is statutorily obliged for air surveillance operations; the Navy has its specialization in manning boats, water platforms and so on. There are occasions where your boats alone may not give you the desired result. Whereas our act has empowered us to take on air surveillance responsibilities but we deemed it fit that the Air Force is more robust and capable of assisting us, therefore why do we need to go into our own private arrangement rather than collaborating with them. That is what we are doing.
It is not to take the Navy away, the Navy’s function is also unique and this is also coming to consolidate on what we have been able to put in place.
Can you give us a picture of what the piracy situation in the country has been in the last one year?
It has steadily reduce because of our extra capabilities. Today, we have a robust satellite system that can cover our EEZ including the Gulf of guinea. It has helped us to intercept a lot of piracy operations. We have platforms that can go anywhere for enforcement purposes. So, we are improving, the situation is not as bad as it was portrayed or it is portrayed.
Since 2013 when you signed this MoU, what are the obvious achievement that you have recorded in the area of safety and security in the maritime domain?
There are so many, I cannot begin to count them here because, they are so many. We have had a situation where pirates that have hijacked vessels were chased and dislodged, we have situations where our people have to monitor vessels coming into our territory or leaving it. Where it was becoming a little difficult for boats to go, we quickly call the Air Force to give us some reports about them. Many things have been happening.
The Air Force, even before this MoU and after this MoU, we have intercepted a lot of criminal vessels, we stopped a lot of piracy activities and we can always do that. Possibly, we are doing this because, the world does not know, our stakeholders do not know, we want to sensitize our people so that they will know the importance of what we are doing so that they can give us moral support in what we are doing.
What about the Nigerian Army, are you also collaborating with them?
The Army is already with us, the active arm of the Army had been very helpful to us. They are working with us, they are collaborating with us. They are in NIMASA right now.
So this is the way to go as far as the Marine safety is concerned in the nation’s maritime domain?
This is a further consolidation to all the efforts we have made so far because, when there is a reported piracy or oil theft and if there is the need for immediate intervention, the boat may be sluggish enough to produce the desired result, the Air Force is called to bear and also in search and rescue operations because search and rescue operations is a time bound activity. Therefore, spontaneous action from air Force is pertinent.
How do you think an enabling environment could be created for the investors to come in and invest in the critical areas of our economy baring incidences of piracy attacks?
The first condition in creating a business friendly environment or to attract investments is to make the environment peaceful. Anybody who comes into our territory, or comes in to trade in our territorial waters or in Nigeria or in our maritime domain should be free enough supported by all enabling statutory bodies so that they can operate unmolested, so that lives and properties can be secured. That is fundamental in making people to come, in creating jobs or attracting people to come into our territory to invest.
What is the place of the indigenous ship owners in all these?
Ship owners, we have systems in place where ship owners are required to alert us if there is any maritime breach, where it happened and how so that we can rise up to the occasion. So, the ship owners are going to be one of the key beneficiaries of whatever collaborations that are going on with the Military or the security forces.
What is the NIMASA’s obligation in this collaboration between it and the Nigerian Air Force?
One of the obligations of the agency is to provide some logistics in terms of maybe fueling , financial support, you know, air operations are very expensive. You know also that the Nigeria Air Force is currently engaged in the security activities in different parts of the country. So, we do not also want to further stretch them beyond their limit. So, we are going to add in logistics, share information.
Do you think that this is going to go a long way in tackling the issue of losses on the territorial waters of this country?
I am very confident in all these. Today we have a satellite system that is unique in the world, I think it hasn’t existed anywhere in Africa what we have in NIMASA, that can eventually count all the vessels that we have in our maritime domain, we can position it in such a way that before you enter our territory, we know, before you want to leave, we know, if it is change in identity of your vessel, we know, if you put off your Air Automatic Identification System, we also know.
So, since we have this capability, we bring in the Navy, the Navy can help us in the hot pursuit going by water, the air Force can also help us on their own component by air. So, in whichever way, we are covered. That is what we are doing.
Won’t this bring the agency and the Air Force into a collision course with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency?
Law is law, the law don’t deal with emotions. We operate from a legal perspective and more from that anything other thing is out of it. The law even supercedes policy decisions. When it was demonstrated when the former Legal Adviser was making his presentations, NIMASA by the virtue of the provisions in the our act is obliged to go into partnership with any government agency including Armed Forces of Nigeria and any private person.
Going by the retinue of responsibilities that NIMASA is handling lately, is the agency not overwhelmed as posited in some quarters?
I think we have been able to take a self audit of what we have been able to do within the brief period of the current Management being in place in NIMASA, we can beat our chests and say that we have done very well. We are not overwhelmed, we can rise to the occasion, we have the capability, we have the zeal, we have the will and we have a supporting President and we have a supporting Minister. So, we not overwhelmed.
We saw you washing your hands with hand sanitizer a while ago, what is the rationale behind that exercise?
It is to keep our people safe, it is to be alert so that this deadly Ebola virus should not have inroad into Nigeria or any part of the country. That is why it is a precautionary measure on the part of NIMASA and I think it is a step in the right direction.