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 Dynamic and Evolving Risk Environment – Are we seeing a resurgence of Piracy in the 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.

A New President, Possible Security Solutions

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.



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.

A New President, A New Security Paradigm…..Or Just More Of The Same?

Introduction and Background

This Deep Dive is a strategic review of potential developments in the security environment following the inauguration of the new President of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, on 29th May 2023.  In part one, we will focus on what we know about the President’s declared strategic goals based partly on his post inaugural address to the nation.  It will also examine what is known about the extant drivers of instability and insecurity throughout the country and what we assess to be valid and effective reforms in the security sector that the President might pursue.

Elected in February 2023, President Tinubu was already fully versed in the strategic security challenges that he would be faced with in his first term in office.  The multi-faceted security environment is well documented.  Major drivers of instability exist in all the geopolitical regions of the country, generating economic fragility and stagnation, hindering social development and cohesion and, with relatively few exceptions, ensuring that the country remains an unattractive destination for foreign investors.  Adversarial groups throughout the country can be characterised as diverse, dynamic and persistent. 

It is perhaps sensible at this stage of the analysis to remind ourselves of what the new President has pledged. In his inaugural address to the nation, President Tinubu included the following statements:

The principles that will guide our administration are simple: 

  1. Nigeria will be impartially governed according to the constitution and the rule of law. 
  2. We shall defend the nation from terror and all forms of criminality that threaten the peace and stability of our country and our subregion. 
  3. We shall remodel our economy to bring about growth and development through job creation, food security and an end of extreme poverty. 
  4. In our administration, women and youth will feature prominently. 
  5. Our government will continue to take proactive steps such as championing a credit culture to discourage corruption, while strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of the various anti-corruption agencies. 


Security shall be the top priority of our administration because neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity and violence. 

To effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security doctrine and its architecture. 

We shall invest more in our security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide, better training, equipment, pay and firepower. 


On the economy, we target a higher GDP growth and to significantly reduce unemployment. We intend to accomplish this by taking the following steps: 

  • First, budgetary reform stimulating the economy without engendering inflation will be instituted. 
  • Second, industrial policy will utilize the full range of fiscal measures to promote domestic manufacturing and lessen import dependency. 
  • Third, electricity will become more accessible and affordable to businesses and homes alike. Power generation should nearly double, and transmission and distribution networks improved. We will encourage states to develop local sources as well. 

I have a message for our investors, local and foreign: our government shall review all their complaints about multiple taxation and various anti-investment inhibitions. We shall ensure that investors and foreign businesses repatriate their hard-earned dividends and profits home. 


My administration must create meaningful opportunities for our youth. We shall honour our campaign commitment of one million new jobs in the digital economy. Our government also shall work with the National Assembly to fashion an omnibus Jobs and Prosperity bill. 

This bill will give our administration the policy space to embark on labour-intensive infrastructural improvements, encourage light industry and provide improved social services for the poor, elderly and vulnerable. 


Rural incomes shall be secured by commodity exchange boards guaranteeing minimal prices for certain crops and animal products. A nationwide programme for storage and other facilities to reduce spoilage and waste will be undertaken. 

Agricultural hubs will be created throughout the nation to increase production and engage in value-added processing. The livestock sector will be introduced to best modern practices and steps taken to minimize the perennial conflict over land and water resources in this sector. 

Through these actions, food shall be made more abundant yet less costly. Farmers shall earn more while the average Nigerian pays less. 


We shall continue the efforts of the Buhari administration on infrastructure. Progress toward national networks of roads, rail and ports shall get priority attention. 


We commend the decision of the outgoing administration in phasing out the petrol subsidy regime which has increasingly favoured the rich more than the poor. Subsidy can no longer justify its ever-increasing costs in the wake of drying resources. 

We shall instead re-channel the funds into better investment in public infrastructure, education, health care and jobs that will materially improve the lives of millions. 


Given the world in which we reside, please permit a few comments regarding foreign policy. 

The crisis in Sudan and the turn from democracy by several nations in our immediate neighbourhood are of pressing concern. 

As such, my primary foreign policy objective must be the peace and stability of the West African subregion and the African continent. We shall work with ECOWAS, the AU (African Union) and willing partners in the international community to end extant conflicts and to resolve new ones. 

As we contain threats to peace, we shall also retool our foreign policy to more actively lead the regional and continental quest for collective prosperity. 


Monetary policy needs thorough housecleaning. The Central Bank must work towards a unified exchange rate. This will direct funds away from arbitrage into meaningful investment in the plant, equipment and jobs that power the real economy. 

Interest rates need to be reduced to increase investment and consumer purchasing in ways that sustain the economy at a higher level. 

Whatever merits it had in concept, the currency swap was too harshly applied by the CBN given the number of unbanked Nigerians. The policy shall be reviewed. In the meantime, my administration will treat both currencies as legal tender.

All of the above will impact on security and stability – either positively, with improvements and reductions in levels of criminality, lower casualty and victim numbers, or negatively by impinging on the vested interests of powerful crime bosses and extremist groups.

Before we focus on the security reforms that we might see introduced by the new regime, it is useful to review the impacts – both positive and negative – of the President’s declared strategies.

Economic Drivers 

Because insecurity in Nigeria is driven primarily by internal actors and factors, improving GDP will generate security and stability benefits through generating greater revenues for the Federal Government to fund its key strategic aims while lifting many (but not all) Nigerians out of poverty.  

Many of the potential investments mentioned in the address to the nation, if successfully implemented, will contribute to a more prosperous society with improved distribution of wealth.  These impacts will reduce the poverty driven, low level criminality that plagues Nigeria’s urban centres.  

The economic pledges made in the President’s address are commendable.  Of particular note, is the pledge to reduce unemployment and to create 1 million new jobs in the digital economy.  Coupled with his pledge to improve the supply of electricity to communities, his policy development team has clearly identified the key drivers of poverty and hardship endured by millions of Nigerians.  The question is, will he be able to implement these reforms effectively?  A successful implementation will undoubtedly contribute to a more prosperous, stable and secure society.  However, if unsuccessful, the effects could drive even greater corruption and exacerbate existing social tensions.   

At the strategic level, the President aims to deliver a root and branch reform of the nation’s monetary policy.  Focussing on those factors that affect investment and business development, the task of making headway in this area falls squarely on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).  The sacking and subsequent investigation by the Department of State Security of the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, on 9th June was driven, according to the President, by the chaotic performance of the CBN that saw exchange rate mechanisms and complex restrictions on currency transfers across international borders render international business and money transfers almost impossible. 

The shambolic planning for the change out of old bank notes generated severe hardship for millions of Nigerians as discussed in our previous analysis of the situation back in February (read it here).  The resultant unrest in some areas, and the allegations of mass corruption by bankers throughout the country, exposed the fragility of extant monetary policy, its facilitation of corruption and the strangulation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).  

The President’s pledge that his government would ensure that both old and new currency would remain valid for the immediate future is a smart move that will significantly reduce tension among those Nigerians who do not have a bank account.  Long overdue reform of the country’s monetary policy should generate benefits for small business owners and improve the country’s appeal to foreign investors.

The reforms noted above will primarily impact urban centres, however, his address also picked up on the stressors endured by the rural population.  His focus on reforms of the agricultural sector is also commendable, with a clear focus on improvement in the value chain for farmers and the difficulties they experience in getting their products to market.

Improving supply chain security for arable farmers is welcomed, however, the President also addressed the enduring problem of the livestock sector and the omnipresent challenge facing herders in their search for grazing and watering opportunities.  If the President’s team can effectively address this challenge, it will have focussed on a major driver of conflict and instability in rural areas and outlying communities from the mid-belt south as far as the coast in some areas.

Improving the supply chain for agricultural products will generate positive returns in the battle to provide more affordable staple foodstuffs for the average Nigerian.  Again, this reduction in one of the drivers of poverty will help to improve social stability and reduce the need for urban populations to indulge in ‘opportunistic income generation’. 

The focus on the transport networks in the country should also generate commercial advantages that will enhance the strategic aim of reducing poverty.  If this can be achieved in parallel with a doubling of the supply of power to communities, commerce will increase, investment will be a more attractive option for companies and the net effect will be to lift Nigerians out of poverty, into employment and away from low-level criminality driven by need rather than greed.

Conversely, the stated aim of completely phasing out the fuel subsidy is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand it will free up much needed federal revenues to focus on infrastructure projects and other social developments, including improved schooling and healthcare, however, it will also force the price of fuel up and potentially counter the economic benefits of some of the other reforms the Tinubu regime intends.  

Historically, attempts to remove the fuel subsidy have generated political strain as fuel importers and marketers face the prospect of having to work the economy for their profits, and intense strike and protest activity by the wider population who would face significant hikes in essential fuel cost.  In the long term, the removal of the fuel subsidy is an essential step in the reform of the economy.  However, the strategy will involve some short-term pain for the Presidency.

Foreign Policy 

The world is in a transitional state as this report is drafted.  The war in Ukraine has dislocated the expectations of analysts around the world.  What was assessed to be a war that would likely last a matter of a few weeks, has seen the second most powerful military power in the world utterly humiliated. At the time of writing, the Russian Private Military Company (PMC), Wagner Group, appears to have ended its existence in its current form in a spectacular manner.  Regionally, this is significant, as the Group, widely assessed to be an unofficial arm of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an extension of the External Intelligence Service (Sluzhba Vneshnoj Razvedki (SVR), a successor organisation to the KGB, has significant operations in Mali and the Central African Republic.  

It is beyond the scope of this Deep Dive to analyse in detail the impact of the Wagner group presence in several African countries, but it can be stated that everywhere the group has operated has seen a subsequent deterioration in stability and security.

So, what has this to do with Nigeria?  In July 2021, it was reported in mainstream media that Wagner Group’s CEO, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, had met with the Nigerian Army’s Chief of Staff, Farouk Yahya.  It was stated by a source close to the Nigerian Army that the meeting was in preparation for the deployment of Wagner elements into the north-east of the country to tackle the Islamist insurgency in the region.  It is unknown whether President Tinubu intends to nurture this fledgeling relationship with the Russian mercenary outfit, however, events of the weekend 24-25 June 2023 have left a huge question mark over the future of Wagner Group.  It is possible that it will fragment into a number of new companies, some of which will likely focus on lucrative African opportunities.

President Tinubu stated in his address that his primary foreign policy objective will focus on establishing and maintaining peace and stability of the West African subregion and the wider African continent. This is an important statement, as regional security is fragile.  Our recent examination of trends in terrorism (read it here) highlighted the dynamic nature of the Islamist insurgency that is a transnational threat to stability in at least nine West African nations.  We will look briefly at the threat posed to Nigeria by this insurgency below.

President Tinubu’s pledge to work with regional and international bodies to address the instability is commendable.  If successful, and the insurgency is driven out of northern Nigeria, he will have achieved a significant goal.  However, recent history has shown how resilient the Islamist movements are, and it is unlikely that the insurgency will be defeated in Nigeria within his first term in office.

The Security Mosaic of Nigeria

President Tinubu faces a very challenging problem that is, perhaps, more accurately described as a complex mosaic of shifting and diverse drivers of instability.  The various regions of the country each have their own characteristic primary security challenge. The diversity of Nigeria’s security threats requires an innovative set of bespoke solutions. This requires a detailed and intimate understanding of the local crime patterns, drivers of instability and the dynamics of each threat.  Only by addressing these factors can the response be integrated into a multifaceted national security strategy.

In the North-West Geopolitical Zone, banditry is widespread and, in some areas, out of control. Raids on communities with abduction especially of women, armed robbery and kidnapping on highways and even on railways characterise the region, although they are not exclusive to the north-west.  Our Deep Dive on the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna railway link examined some aspects of the regional security threats in detail (read it here).

In the North-East the principal security challenge is that of Islamist insurgency and our previous Deep Dives have examined the evolution of this threat in detail.

In the North-Central Geopolitical Zone, the main driver of instability is the eternal conflict between pastoral herdsmen and arable farmers over grazing rights and access to water sources.  Banditry also plays a part in the security picture for this region.

The South-West is characterised by high levels of urban criminality which impacts a number of the region’s state capitals but is perhaps the most intense in Lagos – the most populous city in the country.  It comprises of need-driven opportunistic street crime, organised criminal activity including kidnap for ransom as well as ritual killing, armed robbery and house-breaking / estate invasions. 

The South-East suffers from a low-level insurgency associated with the Biafran separatist movements.  See our Deep Dive from April 2023 which examines the security landscape in the region in detail (read it here).

In the South-South region we can still find massive, industrialised theft of crude oil and condensate from pipelines.  The estimated losses are so significant that President Tinubu has identified the problem as having a strategic impact on the nation’s economy.  He has vowed to deal with the problem as a matter of high priority.  

Thus, we can see that the major sources of instability are diverse, relentless and dynamic.  As any one group is neutralised, another steps into the gap.  The monetary gains to be had through criminality often exceed those that are achievable through enterprise and hard work.  

At a lower level, even though Nigerians are instinctively and energetically entrepreneurial, SMEs are prey to ruthless and corrupt landlords, local politicians, community leaders and groups of gangsters.  Corruption among local authorities – such as the leadership of major market sites – can render a business valueless in terms of profitability.  In effect, millions of Nigerians work for the benefit of the unscrupulous and corrupt.  This generates a poverty trap that creates levels of stress and desperation that frequently force ordinary people to commit petty crimes in order to survive.

It is this incredibly complex security environment that President Tinubu must address if he is to create a legacy as the man who improved the lot of the average Nigerian.  In part two of this Deep Dive we will examine some of the measures and steps that could be taken in order to create more effective security forces and achieve success in elevating Nigerians out of the circumstances they find themselves in currently.

Chinese Navy strengthens bilateral relationships with Nigeria

The 43rd escort fleet of the Chinese Navy arrived in Lagos, Nigeria on the morning of July 2, starting a five-day friendly visit. The escort group includes 3 vessels – MSL Destroyer NANNING, MSL Frigate SANYA, and Supply Ship WEISHANHU, as well as a delegation of over 700 people. According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) the MSL Destroyer NANNING, made a port call at Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) Berth 21 in Lagos, while the other two ships remained at anchorage.

On Sunday, July 2, when the team and vessels arrived in Nigeria, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Cui Jianchun, said that the visit would enhance maritime security within West Africa, hailing the five-day visit as a milestone in ties, and the Nigerian navy expressed willingness to work with China to tackle maritime security threats and maintain stability in the Gulf of Guinea.

Cui Jianchun, Chinese ambassador to Nigeria said that China and Nigeria would continue to work together and promote peace and harmony while also seeking ways to contribute to the international community.

“The visit is to further deepen the relationship the two countries have with one another and also to seek to strengthen and improve our relationship and cooperation with each other. This visit demonstrates the harmony and symphony between Nigeria and China.

I believe that this visit will deepen the cooperation between both countries’ military sector so that we can work together to overcome obstacles. We will continue to do more things to facilitate and promote the relationship between the two countries,” Chun continued.

The outgoing Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command, Rear Adm. Joseph Akpan, said the event would further help to cement the relationship between the two countries.

“Especially between the Nigerian Navy and the Chinese Navy as well as the military. This will help us fight crimes, especially in the Gulf of Guinea. During their period of stay, our men will be interacting, we will be having some sporting activities, exchange of momentous and gifts. We will also discuss the future of both navies, especially on how we can benefit from each other,” Akpan said.

West Africa, mostly Angola and Nigeria, is among China’s top oil suppliers, and major Chinese oil explorer CNOOC Ltd also engages in deep-sea production off the coast of Nigeria.

In January, Nigeria opened a billion-dollar Chinese-built deep seaport in Lagos. The new Lekki deep sea port, one of the region’s biggest, is 75%-owned by state-owned China Harbour Engineering Co. and the Singapore-based Tolaram group. Over the last three decades, China has widened its influence in almost every African nation through investment, trade and loans.

Read more here.

Ghana’s Navy receives Marine Protector Boats from US

On the 17th of June, 2023, the Ghanaian Navy received two former US Coast Guard Marine Protector patrol boats supplied by the United States under its Excess Defence Articles (EDA) programme.

The vessels were delivered aboard the Ocean Giant at Takoradi Harbour. Flag-Officer Commanding the Western Naval Command, Commodore Emmanuel Kwafo, told the press that the vessels arrival will add to the Navy’s capacity to fight against armed robbery at sea, piracy, illegal bunkering, drug and human trafficking, and will help protect Ghana’s fisheries resources.

“We are very grateful of the partnership with the US,” Kwafo said. The vessels that will be named GNS Aflao and GNS Half Assini will play a critical role in maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, and their delivery will strengthen maritime security in the region.

US Naval Attaché to Ghana, Commander Carlton McClain said, “Ghana is our most important partner, especially in regional security for the Gulf of Guinea and for West Africa. The Gulf of Guinea…is important in terms of trade, and we are happy to assist Ghana in this partnership,”.

The Marine Protector class is 27 metres long, with a displacement of over 90 tons. Two MTU diesel engines give a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h), a range of 1700 km and endurance of 3 days. Armament includes two 12.7 mm machineguns and the vessel can carry 10 personnel. Boarding parties can be launched while the vessel is underway, through a stern launching ramp. Ghana also received two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBS) along with the two patrol boats.

Ghana’s Navy has been expanding in recent years, notably with the acquisition of 4 Flex Fighter offshore patrol vessels that were built in Singapore by Penguin Shipyard. They were commissioned in February 2022. These 4 vessels were bought to provide dedicated security to the country’s offshore oil and gas installations. New naval infrastructure is also being added, including multiple forward operating bases across the coastline.

Read more here.

Maritime Threats in the Gulf of Guinea – An Update


On 09 May 2023, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, announced that the International Maritime Bureau had removed Nigeria from its list of “War Risk Countries”.  The move by the IMB reflects the sustained low levels of piracy and maritime criminal activity reported in the Gulf of Guinea over the last 18 months and follows the cessation of war risk premium payments by Nigeria to Lloyds of London amounting to $793 million per annum.  While this is an encouraging step for Nigeria and its neighbours, it does not mean the risks posed by highly organised criminal gangs has disappeared completely.

The discussion around the recent historical low frequency of acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and of maritime crime in the territorial waters of littoral states in the region, continues to present analysts with the interesting question of what exactly happened to the pirate gangs previously operating in the region?  Various bodies have presented credible explanations of why piracy and maritime criminality is at its lowest for several years, but are they accurate?  This report examines recent developments in the maritime operating environment in the region and revisits some of the questions posed in previous analyses.


The Baseline

Figures held by Arete analysts indicate that the rates of piracy and maritime crime in the region over the last five years have fallen dramatically since they peaked in 2020.  Security events are broken down into those that occurred inside territorial waters, including ports and navigable inland waterways, and those that occur in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and International Waters.  The statistics are summarised in the following table.

Table 1.  Spatial distribution of incidents between territorial and international waters 

It should be borne in mind that these figures reflect only those incidents that have been reported noting it is generally accepted that maritime crime remains under-reported in the region still.  

If we break the figures down into those that occurred in Nigerian Waters and those occurring in other territorial jurisdictions in the region, we see a stark reduction in the levels of activity in Nigerian waters.  There has also been a corresponding increase in the number of incidents in other regional waters, however, the overall trend is for a gradual reduction in those waters as well.

Table 2.  Spatial distribution of incidents between Nigerian and other nations’ waters 

2023 has seen numbers remain very low for the year to date, with just one incident reported in Nigerian waters – a robbery of a berthed vessel in Tin Can Island terminal, and 14 events occurring in other nations’ waters.  

Significantly, 2023 has seen two maritime kidnappings, with 6 crewmen taken from a hijacked product tanker (Monjasa Reformer) in March off Pointe Noire, Congo Republic and 3 crewmen taken from a bulk carrier (Grebe Bulker) in Libreville, Gabon.  The latter is interesting in that the vessel was boarded and the crew abducted while berthed in the port of Ownedo.   In the whole of 2022, there was just one maritime kidnap reported on 13 December, when pirates abducted two crewmen from an offshore support vessel (name withheld) some 48 nautical miles off Bioko, Equatorial Guinea.  Additionally, in 2023, a tanker (Success 9) was hijacked more than 300 nautical miles off Abidjan; the vessel and crew were reported safe 5 days later.  

These events highlight the latent risk that pervades the region and the fact that despite the frequency of events remaining very low, when incidents do occur, they have the potential to have a very high impact on the crew and the company’s operations.

Lloyd’s list, in a report released in early May 2023 indicated that the global trend was shifting away from deepwater operations by pirate gangs (hijacking and kidnapping of crew members) to a renewed focus on armed robbery against vessels in territorial waters.  This global trend seems to also be reflected in the Gulf of Guinea as shown in Table 1 above.  

However, the Gulf of Guinea presents a more complex array of actors and threats than can be summarised in such a broad global analysis.  The region sees opportunist thieves boarding vessels in ports and anchorages hoping to steal something they can then sell.  At the other end of the spectrum, we have the organised pirate cartels who operate deepwater capable vessels and who hunt vessels in international waters frequently more than 200 nautical miles from nearest landfall.  We have also seen a minor increase in hijacking and kidnapping in the region since December 2022.  

So, although the report acknowledges that the Gulf of Guinea is somewhat more complex than other regions due to the widespread theft of oil and a diversity of smuggling operations by organised crime groups, the picture is perhaps not as cut and dried as the Lloyds list report headline would seem to suggest (details of all known incidents in 2023 are provided at Annex A to this report).


What Has Driven the Pirates from Nigerian Waters?

There has been a lot of speculation as to why the pirate gangs have apparently moved into other areas of criminal activity in 2022.  In February 2023, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh, said:

“This achievement is a product of a well-structured multimodal policy which has been implemented over the years to fight piracy and other criminalities in Nigerian Waters. The Legal instrument called SPOMO Act signed into Law by President Buhari in 2019, the full implementation of the Deep Blue Project by NIMASA, expanded assets and capacity of the Nigerian Navy, enhanced cooperation between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, and the regional collaborative efforts under the umbrella of SHADE Gulf of Guinea midwifed by NIMASA, are all policies of the current administration and the benefits are gradually coming to fruition. We are focused on ultimately improving and reducing the cost of commercial shipping in Nigeria.

Notable maritime institutions like the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, have lauded the reduction in piracy in Nigeria following enhanced patrol and relevant Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered by NIMASA with other security agencies.”

Much has been made of the launch of the Deep Blue Project, including the introduction of maritime surveillance aircraft and their integration into a fully integrated maritime and coastal surveillance system. This development is a significant capability multiplier alongside improving performance and evolving capability of the Nigerian Navy.  

It is also apparent that regional cooperation between states is improving, with an announcement on 10 May 2023 that the Nigerian Navy was establishing a maritime task force with other navies in the region, including those of Ghana, Benin, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’ivoire.  The strategy includes the establishment of a Multinational Joint Task Force (see our piece on this news here.).

Additionally, international support to regional navies is increasing.  This year has seen US participation in joint operations and training with local navies and the launch of a Japanese government initiative to cooperate with Nigerian security efforts to reduce piracy in the region.   On 21-22 May 2023, President Buhari conducted a Presidential Fleet Review of 16 Nigerian naval vessels as well as guest vessels from Ghana, Brazil and Spain.  The drive by the Nigerian Navy towards becoming a more collaborative force capable of operating in multi-national formations will aide further development of capability.

While all of the above is having a beneficial effect on the regional maritime security situation, it should be remembered that the pirate cartels were sponsored by powerful actors with strong political connections.  It cannot be overlooked that in 2022 it was suggested in some circles that the pirate cartels had been shut down very quietly after a foreign power identified the big men behind them and threatened to name them publicly and internationally unless there was an immediate improvement.  Whilst this cannot be conclusively verified, it can also not be discounted as a possibility.



NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy are improving their collaborative efforts to secure the nations maritime economy.  Greater cooperation with other nations will further improve the situation.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea remains well below 2020 levels, although we have seen a recent spike in high-impact attacks in international waters in the region.

Gangs are still operating in the region, but mostly outside Nigerian waters.  Within Nigeria, the greatest threat currently is faced by travellers and commercial users of the country’s waterways and navigable rivers. 

Whilst the likelihood of an event affecting a vessel may now much lower, in the event an incident does occur, the impact will be high, with attacks on personnel, kidnappings and injuries if the crew resist.  Theft of cargo from product tankers remains a risk, normally resulting from short-term hijackings. Companies operating in the area should not take the recent headlines as an indication that there is no longer a threat. 

As a locally owned and registered Nigerian company, Arete provide a wide range of maritime risk management services, including escort services within Nigerian EEZ as well as onboard consultants to assist with crew training and drills, voyage planning and advice on threat across the region and beyond. 

Fully ISO accredited and with a 100% track record, we have over a decade of experience operating in West Africa specifically so please reach out to us to discuss your operational requirements in the region.


Annex A

Chronological List of Reported Maritime Crime And Piracy Events – 2023

  1. Sao Tome and Principe – Suspicious Approach – At approximately 02:00 hours local time, on Wednesday, 11 January 2023, an unnamed vessel was approached by two skiffs in approximate position 00:45N – 006:20E, approximately 27 NM northwest of Sao Tome Island.  The master took evasive action and increased the vessel’s speed causing the skiffs to abandon their approach. The crew and vessel are reported safe. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  2. Ghana Inshore – Illegal Boarding – At approximately 23:50 hrs UTC on Wednesday, 25 January 2023, the Hong Kong flagged Product tanker, MT Seaclipper, IMO number 9570101, was illegally boarded while at anchor in an unspecified position in the Takoradi Anchorage. Duty officer onboard an anchored tanker spotted three unauthorised persons on the forecastle area. Alarm raised, crew mustered, and port control notified. Hearing the alarm and seeing the crew alertness the persons escaped without stealing anything. A patrol boat was dispatched to the location and investigated. (Source – multiple – B2)
  3. Cameroon Offshore – Hostile Approach – At approximately 03:45 hrs local time on Tuesday, 31 January 2023, two skiffs approached a Chinese fishing trawler operating off of Idenau in position 04:13N – 008:50E, approximately 31 NM from the Nigeria-Cameroon maritime border. Armed military guards onboard the trawler fired shots toward the two speed boats, which resulted in them aborting their approach and moving away from the area. The vessel, crew, and military guards have been reported as safe. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  4. Cameroon inshore – Armed Attack – At approximately 00:28 hrs local time on Thursday, 02 February 2023, an unnamed vessel was attacked off cap Debundscha, Cameroon. The vessel was attacked, but the attempted boarding was unsuccessful.  It is suspected that the vessel had an armed, military protection team on board. Vessel and crew were reported as safe. (Source – B2)
  5. Cameroon Inshore – Armed Attack – At 0400 hrs local time on Friday, 17 February 2023, an unnamed oil vessel was attacked and fired on by suspected militants while anchored off the Idabato subdivision of the Bakassi Peninsula.  The attackers boarded the vessel after shooting and killing two escorts. They then attempted to set the vessel ablaze.  The attackers escaped before Cameroonian security forces arrived. (Source media – C3)
  6. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft – At approximately 03:15 hrs local time on Wednesday, 01 March 2023, an unnamed container ship anchored in approximate position 06:05S – 012:14E, off Soyo, was boarded by armed men from a skiff.  The boarders threatened a crew member with a knife before stealing items from inside a container. The local authorities were alerted, and the crew was reported as safe. (Source – C3)
  7. Ghana Inshore – Illegal Boarding – At approximately 02:36 hrs UTC on Thursday, 02 March 2023, the Danish flagged product tanker Nord Stingray, IMO number 94197835, was illegally boarded while at anchor in position 04:53.70N  001:41.20W, in the Takoradi Anchorage. Duty crew onboard an anchored tanker noticed an unauthorised person near the forecastle and immediately raised the alarm. Upon hearing the alarm, the individual escaped with stolen ship’s stores. The incident was reported to Takoradi port control, and a patrol boat was sent to investigate. (Source – Multiple – B2)


  1. Congo Republic Offshore – Maritime Kidnap – At approximately 21:38hrs UTC on Saturday, 25 March 2023, more than ten pirates armed with guns attacked and boarded the Liberian flagged product tanker MT Monjasa reformer, IMO number 9255878, while underway in position 05:03.00S 009: 35.00E, approximately 135nm WSW of Pointe Noire. The alarm was raised, and all crew members mustered in the citadel. On being notified of the incident, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre immediately informed the regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea and the French authorities and requested their assistance. The pirates managed to break into the citadel, took hostage all crew members, and took control of the tanker. They hijacked the tanker and sailed to another location. All communication with the tanker was lost as the pirates had destroyed the navigational and communication equipment. The IMB broadcast a missing tanker message to all ships at sea. On 30 March 2023, the French patrol boat Premier Maitre L’Her intercepted the tanker Off Bonny, Nigeria. A team boarded the vessel and treated three crew members for minor injuries. Part of the cargo was stolen and six crew were reported kidnapped. The tanker was then escorted to the port of Lome, Togo. On 08 May 2023, the Owners confirmed that the six kidnapped crew were released safely. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  2. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft – At approximately 0230 hrs UTC on Sunday, 26 March 2023, The Maltese flagged Tug Komodo, IMO number 9328273, was boarded by robbers who had approached the vessel in a canoe while the vessel was at anchor in position 08:44.61S 013:17.36E in the Luanda Anchorage.  Alert crew noticed the robbers and informed the OOW who raised the alarm and crew mustered resulting in the robbers escaping with stolen ship’s properties (including empty plastic food trays, an air hose which was coiled on top of the portside tugger winch, and the main deck c/w electrical extension wire in used daily for deck maintenance.  Port Authorities informed. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  3. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft – At approximately 0318 hrs local time, on Wednesday, 29 March, 2023, an unnamed container vessel was boarded while steaming in approximate position 06:08S – 012:15E off Soyo Anchorage.  The boarders threatened a duty crew member with a knife, then made their escape with items from one of the containers. Local authorities were informed of the incident and the crew were reported as safe. (Source – Multiple – B2) 
  4. Ivory Coast Inshore – Attempted Boarding – At approximately 22:00 hrs UTC on Friday, 31 March 2023, the Singapore flagged Container Ship, MV Maersk Vigo, IMO number 9401697, was approached and a boarding attempted while the vessel was anchored in position 04:44.47N 006:37.13W in the Port of San Pedro. Two unauthorised persons attempted to board the berthed ship by crawling under the razor wire while a third was assisting from their wooden canoe to move the razor wire. Alert crew detected the persons and raised the alarm. Hearing the alarm and seeing the crew alertness, the persons escaped without stealing anything. At the time of event the pilot was still onboard. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  5. Ivory Coast Offshore – Maritime Hijack – At approximately 13:50hrs UTC on Monday, 10 April 2023, the Singapore flagged product tanker MT Success 9, IMO number 9258131, was attacked and boarded by twelve pirates armed with firearms while underway in position 00:06.90N 004:34.00W, approximately 307 nM SSW of Abidjan.  The pirates hijacked and self-navigated the tanker. On being notified of the incident, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre immediately informed the regional and French authorities in the Gulf of Guinea. A missing tanker message was broadcast to all ships to lookout for the tanker. Position updates received from all sources were communicated with the relevant authorities for their coordination. On 15 April, a French naval asset located the tanker and the tanker escorted to a safe port by an Ivory Coast Guard patrol boat. The pirates had destroyed the navigational equipment, handcuffed all 21 members of the crew with cable ties and stolen part of the cargo before escaping. All crew reported safe. (Source – Multiple  – B2)
  6. Angola Inshore Attempted Boarding – at approximately 02:30 hrs local time, on Wednesday, 19 April 2023, an unnamed refrigerated cargo ship was boarded while at anchor in approximate position 08:44S – 013:18E in the Luanda Anchorage. The duty watchman noticed an unauthorized person climb up the anchor chain and through the hawse pipe while another individual waited below on a small boat. The watchman raised the alarm and mustered the crew. Upon seeing the alerted crew, the perpetrator jumped into the water and escaped in the small boat. The master confirmed that all crew were safe and that nothing was reported stolen. (Source – Single security source – C3)
  7. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft  – At approximately 02:30 hrs UTC on Tuesday, 25 April 2023, the Panama flagged crew change vessel, MV Bourbon Shamal, IMO number 9656931, was boarded while anchored in position 08:47.06S 013:14.85S in the Luanda Inner Anchorage.  Alert crew noticed unauthorised persons onboard attempting to steal an outboard engine of the FRC. The alarm was raised and ship’s horn sounded resulting in the robbers escaping. Authorities informed and the police boarded the vessel for investigation. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  8. Lagos Inshore – Illegal Boarding – At approximately 05:00 hrs UTC on Tuesday, 28 April 2023, the Liberia flagged general cargo ship MSC Wave F, IMO number 9232462, was boarded by approximately 8 persons armed with knives while berthed in position 06:25.76N 003:20.53E in the Tin Can Island Terminal.   Alert crew on rounds spotted the persons resulting in the persons escaping empty handed in their boat.  (Source – Multiple – B2)

16. Gabon Inshore – Maritime Kidnapping – At approximately 02:00 hrs local time on Tuesday, 02 May 2023, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier MV Grebe Bulker, IMO number 9441312, was boarded while at anchor in approximate position 00:16N – 009:29E in the Owendo Inner Anchorage in Libreville.  Three crew members were kidnapped. The remaining crew members and vessel were reported safe. The vessel notified the local authorities of the kidnapping. (Source – Multiple – B2)

Africa’s Biggest Refinery Launched in Nigeria

On Monday, May 22, 2023, Africa’s biggest oil refinery was launched in Nigeria. The $19bn (£15.2bn) refinery, owned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, is situated in the Lekki Free Trade Zone, Lekki area of Lagos.

In one of his last commitments before the inauguration of the new President yesterday (Monday 29th May), the then Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was present at the event together with the Presidents other West African countries including Gnassingbé Eyadéma (Togo), Nana Akufo-Addo (Ghana), Macky Sall (Senegal), Mohamed Bazoum (Niger Republic) and Mahamat Déby (Chad) among others.

The refinery is expected to become operational in July 2023 and at the launch, Mr Dangote outlined his hopes for the refinery by saying: “Our first goal is to ramp up production of the various products to ensure that within this year, we are able to fully satisfy the nation’s demand for quality products.”

“We have built a refinery with a capacity to process 650,000 barrels per day in a single train — which is the largest in the world … We decided on a plant designed with state-of-the-art technology and a scale in a capacity that will be a game-changer in Africa and the global market,” Dangote added. 

Head of Nigeria’s Central Bank Godwin Emefiele said the refinery “is more than able to meet all of Nigeria’s domestic fuel consumption, given its processing capacity. Nigeria can be self-sufficient in all products that we consume and at the same time export our excess output to the rest of the world.”

Dangote expects to begin refining crude in June but London-based research consultancy Energy Aspects said commissioning was an intricate process and expects operations to start later this year, reaching 50-70% next year, with a staggered process of other units into 2025.Data in a document obtained from the Dangote company, shows that the Dangote Refinery could support the establishment of 26,716 fillings stations, create 100,000 direct and indirect jobs, and provide a $21bn market for Nigerian crude oil annually.

Read more about it here and here.

Nigerian FG Commissions New Assets to Ramp up Maritime Security

On Sunday, May 21, 2023, the Nigerian Federal Government commissioned 14 enforcement and security boats belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. These facilities were part of the $195m deep blue projects aimed at enhancing the nation’s maritime security and capacity in line with the best global practices.

Speaking during the commissioning at Kirikiri, Lagos, the Minister of Transportation, Muazu Sambo, said the completed projects were part of the government’s commitment to good governance and institutionalised policies for improved maritime safety and security. 

Other projects commissioned by the minister include five fully bulletproof patrol/security boats, five refurbished search and rescue/pollution control boats, four 35-seater staff ferries, a search and rescue clinic and an administrative building.

“These projects will enable the country to achieve and sustain safe and secure shipping, cleaner oceans and enhanced maritime capacity. The search and rescue clinics will enable the agency to fulfill its obligations to seafarers and the general public by providing top-notch medical care facilities,” Sambo said.

The Director General, NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh, said the inclusion of the security/patrol to the deep blue project assets will help improve security on the waterways, especially considering the recent proliferation of oil theft.

“The successful reduction of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea can be credited to the tremendous effort of the Federal Government in terms of provision of infrastructures, through the deep blue project, investment towards vessels, maritime domain awareness platforms, as well as land, air and sea assets. Beyond the strides at overcoming maritime crime at the Gulf of Guinea, the management and safety of the nation’s inland waterways equally deserve attention,” Jamoh said. He stated that NIMASA is committed to ensuring the waterways are safe for local transportation and other leisure activities, so that more internal revenues are generated. 

“It is important to keep the inland waterways free of waste and pollutants so as to ensure they remain navigable in addition to keeping them secured from perpetrators of maritime crime.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing giant strides and the current state of security, the golden rule is that one must be persistent to remain successful. It is within the bearing of this frame of mind that we hinge the significance of today’s launching.

Read more here.