A Review of Stability in the Niger Delta

Background

August 2022 has seen a number of events in the Niger Delta that threaten to destabilise the region again.  The key drivers of instability remain centred around the exploitation of the region’s primary source of revenue – its hydrocarbon resources.  The exploitation of these resources permeates almost every facet of the socio-political character of the region, with contracts for service companies and security suppliers becoming hotly contested sources of tension between communities, companies and political actors at the Local Government Area (LGA) and State levels.  

This nexus of commercial interests and drivers of instability has been the enduring feature of the region since the 2009 Presidential Amnesty Program was introduced to end the militancy in the region.  In August 2022 we saw the issues re-emerge and resulting in the possibility of increased inter-communal conflict.

The region is not a simple monoculture when it comes to crime and violence.  Cultism, ritualism and robbery are an enduring feature of life for the people of the region.  Recent weeks have highlighted the levels of risk facing both indigenous people and visitors, the latter including people travelling to the region for work.  However, this analysis will focus on how the competition for economic advantage arising from oil and gas contracts is a significant driver of instability.

Oil and Gas under Siege

The surge in pipeline vandalism, illegal oil and condensate tapping and artisanal refining is contributing to huge environmental damage across the region, the loss of lives in fires and explosions at bunkering sites and illegal refineries, and an increase in competition between the gangs involved in the illegal industry of oil theft.  Fires and explosions at illegal refineries have increased significantly in 2022, with major events occurring in the Ohaji-Egbema LGA, Imo State, in April 2022 and Ukwa West LGA, Abia State, in May and again on 21 August.  In August, a tanker that was conveying illegal petroleum products exploded in Eleme LGA of Rivers State. These incidents all resulted in multiple deaths.  

The environmental impact of the pipeline tapping, and illegal refining is massive.  Many illegal refineries dispose of the residue from their unsophisticated refining techniques by simply pouring the tar-like reside into the nearest waterway.

The economic impact of the bunkering and artisanal refining is also huge.  It was reported in July that 90% of oil that should be reaching the main terminal at Bonny is lost to crude oil thieves.  One commentator said in August that,” If you pump 239,000 barrels of crude oil into either of the Trans-Niger Pipeline or the Nembe Creek Trunk Line they will receive 3,000 barrels. It got to a point where it was no longer economically sustainable to pump crude into the lines and a force majeure was declared”.  Condensate lines are also heavily targeted as this by product of gas production requires almost no further refining and can simply be mixed with genuine petrol to provide income for the bunkering gangs and also the downstream fuel outlets that enjoy enhanced profit margins.

Illegal bunkering has also expanded dramatically in the last 12 months so much so that the Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) recently reported that the nation’s oil output dropped by 12.5 per cent to 1.4 million barrels per day, including condensate, in the first half of 2022, down from 1.6 mbpd in the corresponding period of 2021.  One media source also reported that bunkering cartels stole between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels of crude daily during the period.  

Powerful Forces Threaten Stability

The biggest threat to stability in the region at present is the competition between the powerful cartels behind the bunkering.  In this context, Bayelsa State has witnessed a spate of oil and gas related targeted killings in recent weeks.  

On 12 June, the former MEND militant leader known as Commander Ebi Albert was shot dead in a targeted killing in the Biogbolo suburb of Yenagoa.  He was one of the first tranche of militants to embrace the amnesty.  His killing was the latest in a series of targeted assassinations of former militant leaders in the state.

Also in June, gunmen killed Francis Kolubo, the paramount ruler of Kalaba community in Yenagoa LGA, together with the chairman of the Community Development Committee (CDC), Samuel Oburo.  The murders reportedly were the result of fierce opposition by the two victims to the establishment of a crude oil bunkering camp on the outskirts of the community.  They believed that such a development would hinder the further development of the community by the Nigerian AGIP Oil Company.  The pushback against their plan by the community leaders triggered a spate of attacks on NAOC pipelines by the bunkering gang, who subsequently secured a pipeline surveillance contract from NAOC.

In early July, also in Yenagoa LGA, gunmen in military fatigue shot dead a former militant leader, Indukapo Ogede at a hotel at Okutukutu.  He was the Coordinator of Operations for Darlon Oil and Gas Servicing, an indigenous pipeline surveillance company.

As the 2023 elections loom over the horizon, the Federal Government has realised that this illicit parallel industry is a strategic and potentially existential threat to the nation.  The oil and gas sector generates the vast majority of the country’s foreign currency earnings, and the strategic losses being suffered on lines such as the Trans-Niger Pipeline (TNP) that feeds Bonny Terminal have now reached a level of criticality that can no longer be ignored.  

As the country faces a crippling shortage of foreign currency reserves – witness the recent crisis over repatriation of profits by foreign airlines resulting from government measures to protect its reserves – the Federal Government has decided to attack the problem at its roots – in the Niger Delta.  However, the question of whether this chosen strategy will help or drive further instability in the region remains unanswered.

The Government Acts – But is the Solution Likely to Work?

The recent award of a massive pipeline surveillance contract to the former MEND leader Government Ekpemepulo, AKA Tompolo, has generated significant tension in the region, as many other powerful influencers and former militants feel that the award disenfranchises them. Indeed, the tension has extended beyond the region, resulting in a challenge by the Amalgamated Arewa Youth Groups (AAYG), a northern entity.  This challenge itself has been rejected by the Ijaw youths from the six states of Niger Delta who have publicly stated that the contract, worth more than N4 billion per month, will actually help reduce crude oil theft in the region.  Former MEND militant leaders also pointed out that the AAYG, a coalition of approximately 225 northern youth groups, should focus more on the problems in the north of the country.

AAYG protesters also stormed the NNPC headquarters in Abuja calling for the revocation of the contract and the resignation of the Oil Minister, Timipre Silva – a former governor of Bayelsa State with alleged links to MEND leaders in the state.  

The Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide (IYC), countered that Tompolo would help save the country billions of naira being lost through oil theft and pipeline vandalism.  The former MEND commander, Oyimi 1, who is also Chairman of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Dreams of Niger Deltans (MADND), said Tompolo would not be distracted by the AAYG comments.

However, on 05 September, the coordinator of the group, Muktar Adamu, announced the group had dropped its objection to the contract award, saying “the award of the contract was transparent and well-advertised, and followed due process”.  The apparent reason was that they had seen that the contract had not been awarded to Tompolo directly, but to a company in which he has an interest.

While Tompolo’s two companies had contracts covering part of Bayelsa, Delta, Ondo Imo and Rivers States, three other companies were awarded the other contracts.

Former militants and community leaders in both Bayelsa and Rivers issued statements criticising the award of a region-wide contract to a single contractor, claiming they should also have benefited from the opportunities arising from the contracts.  

A former militant leader in Bayelsa who identifies himself as General Lamptey, said there was no way Tompolo’s companies would be allowed to work in those areas of the state where local leaders that should have benefitted. He further stated that people on the ground would resist the surveillance contractors of Tompolo’s companies.  

In Rivers State, militant leaders in the Kalabari areas, which they claim hosts 83 kilometres of pipelines (referring to the Nembe- Creek Trunk Line (NCTL)), stated that ignoring Ateke Tom and Dokubo Asari would lead to a situation where the surveillance contractors would not be able to work in Rivers State. 

In the north-west of the region, community leaders in Delta State called on the Federal Government to award a separate contract to a company owned by an Urhobo indigene where pipelines transit areas populated by Urhobo communities.  Similarly, in Edo State, speaking on behalf of the oil producing communities and stakeholders in the State, Chief Dr Patrick Osagie Eholor called on the Federal Government and Tompolo to engage in a dialogue and “carry those people along”, stating that they have competent people in the OML30 licence block who can take care of the Trans-Forcados Pipeline (TFP) in that area.   

Responding, in an interview in early September, Tompolo explained that he would be engaging with major militant leaders in Rivers State – including Dokubo Asari and Ateke Tom – and they would realise the way ahead.  He made it clear that all the major players would be included in the overall delivery of the contract, with plans to meet key players in Ondo, Imo and Rivers States.  The former leader of the IYC, Chris Ekiyor, explained that the people protesting against the contract were simply impatient and need to engage with Tompolo to understand how the contract would be delivered.

The Ijaw National Congress (INC), the overarching body of all Ijaws, set up a committee to reduce tension arising from the pipeline surveillance contract.

Nevertheless, on 11 September, media reported that Asari threatened to confront and disarm any personnel working on the Tompolo contract who enter the Kalabari lands in Rivers State.

 

Can the Challenge Be Met?

In late August, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the federal government would soon go public with the identity of highly-placed Nigerians behind oil theft in the country.  He implied that the ‘big men’ behind the industrialised theft of the nation’s wealth included members of the political elite and the security organs.   His assertion that the cartel includes senior people in the armed forces was an echo of a 2019 statement by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.  He claimed that the cost of such operations was beyond the reach of low-level community based criminal gangs.  Illustrating his point is the case of the MV. Heroic Idun, a 3 million barrel capacity very large crude carrier, which allegedly managed to lift 3 million barrels of crude illegally while in Nigeria waters.  Its subsequent escape to Equatorial Guinea remains contentious and largely unexplained.

Sheu’s words might herald a forthcoming clash between Tompolo’s contractors and powerful actors who will use the security forces to protect their operations.  More likely is a pragmatic balance being reached and the oil theft continuing after a suitable interval in which the contract will be hailed as a success.  The contract award can be viewed as an extension of ‘Operation Dakatar Da Bararrwo’, which was launched on 01 April.  Since its launch, 23,110,102.59 litres of diesel have been seized while crude oil was put at 39,664,420.16 litres or 230,882.73 barrels.  For kerosene, about 649,775.38 litres were confiscated; while PMS had recovery of 345,000.49 litres, Sludge 380,000 litres, and LPFO 66,000 litres.  During the operation, 85 suspects were arrested with 72 Boats while 23 vehicles were also seized.  At first glance, these figures are impressive.  However, they represent a mere skimming of the surface and the arrest and disruption of the very lowest levels of the illicit activity.  The major cartels that steal on an industrial scale will remain untroubled by such operations.

Militants and Surveillance Contracts

Sylva and Kyari decided to award the contract to Tompolo based on his history of leading the highly franchised militant groups in the first decade of the century and his handling of a pipeline surveillance contract in Delta State in 2014-15 with Oil Facilities Surveillance Limited.  Some senior military leaders as well as some governors in the region pushed against the award.  

Awarding pipeline surveillance contracts to former militant leaders is not unprecedented.  In 2014, a contract was awarded to Oil Facilities Surveillance Limited, which was owned by APC chieftain, Chief Emami Ayiri and the PDP’s Chief Michael Diden, AKA Ejele, to secure pipelines in Delta State.  Other contracts were awarded in Bayelsa to ‘Macaiver’ and in Rivers State to Farah Dagogo and Dokubo Asari under the overall control of Ateke Tom.  The contracts ended in 2015 ahead of the forthcoming elections.  Since then, a patchwork of contracts has been awarded to various companies.  

The government perception is that of all the contractors awarded lucrative contracts, only Tompolo has succeeded in securing pipelines.  

Can Tompolo Succeed?

It is reported that he has reached an understanding with the commander of the JTF that it will work collaboratively with his companies.  Tompolo is also perceived by the government as someone who knows the terrain, who understands the bunkering business and who commands a substantial number of men who will aggressively attack the problem of policing the pipeline networks.

Tompolo has mounted a significant and successful diplomatic campaign to win over his detractors in the region and beyond.  Indeed, in the first week of September, the AAYG reached an understanding with Tompolo and the leader of the Itsekiri youth movement (the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought), who met with Tompolo on 11 September to work out a protocol whereby the Itsekiri and Ijaw can both benefit from the contract.  The following day, the Itsekiri leaders began recruitment for the contract indicating a satisfactory outcome to the meeting.

At his headquarters in Oporoza in the Burutu Kingdom of Delta State, he has also held meetings with a succession of former militants, community leaders, journalists, security forces commanders, bunkering gang leaders, and pressure groups.  His efforts appear to be bearing fruit and the hope is that the status quo will be maintained in the region but only time will tell.

 

Strategic Impact of the Insurgency in the North West

Introduction

At the end of March 2022, Arete published a deep dive report into the attack on the Abuja Kaduna train that took place on 28 March.  At the time, the details of that incident were slowly becoming clearer, but the motivation and the impact of the incident remained uncertain.  In the four months since the attack, a picture has emerged of a much deeper-rooted problem for the Federal Government than a single group carrying out an isolated attack for quick financial gain.  What has become apparent is that the Nigerian Government has yet another insurgency to address, but this time it is happening right on the doorstep of the seat of government.  The implications of this, as we enter the election campaigning period ahead of next year’s elections, are profound.  

An Expanding Problem for the Government

In the intervening period since the end of March, insurgents based in Niger State have:

  • Continued to kidnap travellers plying the road between the capital land Kaduna – the gateway to the North.  
  • Attacked the security forces – particularly in and around Suleja, which is the key point between the areas in Niger State where they have their bases and the target rich Abuja-Kaduna corridor.
  • Attacked a convoy of the Presidency in Katsina State – the President’s home state.
  • Attacked Kuje Prison in the Federal Capital Territory, releasing hundreds of inmates including a large number of jailed insurgents.
  • Attacked a patrol of the elite 7th Guards Brigade in Bwari, a satellite town of Abuja lying to the north-west of the capital

The insurgents have demonstrated capability and intent to mount bold attacks in areas that previously had been regarded as relatively secure compared to other parts of the country.  It is believed that the insurgents are now present and occupy bases in six local government areas of Niger State and mount their attacks into the FCT and Kaduna State from these areas. 

Clearly, this evolving threat presents a massive challenge to the authority of the government at a time when the security situation in many parts of the country is becoming one of the main subjects discussed by people examining the political future of the nation.  The boldness of the attacks and the proximity to the seat of government for the country have galvanised these discussions both within the government and among its political opponents.  But could the emergence of this new challenge to the authority of the state have been predicted?  A body of thought that says it could is gathering strength and momentum.  

So, what were the drivers behind the formation of this powerful new group?

Anecdotal information indicates that the insurgents, some reports numbering them in tens of thousands (although the figure is more likely to be less than a thousand), are comprised of youths who had previously been mobilised to act as enforcers in the previous elections in 2019.  They were paid and provided with weapons to ensure the vote went a particular way and they were also promised jobs and other benefits after those election.  It is suggested that these promises were quickly forgotten by the political sponsors and patrons, leaving a large number of disgruntled and resentful youths in possession of firearms.  

Since the 2019 elections, we have witnessed the North-West geopolitical region become the most unstable, with the highest rate of kidnapping and almost daily attacks on communities by gangs of roving bandits who travel on motorcycles and pick-up trucks.  The timeline and geography of this evolution fits with the narrative.  

Could this situation have been foreseen?

There is a precedent for type of event with an almost identical sequence of events occurring in the Niger Delta following the 2003 elections, i.e., when large numbers of youths who had been armed by political patrons to support their election campaigns were abandoned once the elections were over. 

In this regard it could be argued that the situation in the North-West could have been anticipated and the drivers of the instability addressed before the situation deteriorated to its current extent.  

Conclusions

The collapse of security in the North-West over the last three years has been widely discussed and the details of the individual incidents are well known.  However, the developments since the March 28th attack on the train have taken on a new, and much more threatening, dimension for the Federal Government.  Against a background of widespread, diverse and expanding security challenges throughout the country, the situation in the North-West threatens to become a major political liability for the APC in the forthcoming elections, with some well-placed commentators suggesting that the APC already might be mortally wounded by it.

The security organs of the state continue to wrestle with the challenge of finding a solution to the situation, but to date they have been reacting to an adversary who enjoys a secure operating base and considerable freedom to move, giving them the initiative and the confidence to strike wherever and whenever they choose.  While the immediate impact is being felt in the FCT-Kaduna-Niger tri-State border areas, the insurgent campaign threatens to have enormous impact on the elections, resulting in a profoundly destabilising effect on the nation as a whole.  Some commentators are starting to talk about the ‘Balkanisation of Nigeria’, which is a scenario that would have huge strategic implications in the wider regions around Nigeria. 

 

Timeline of Events in the FCT-Kaduna-Niger Tri-State area – April-July 2022

26 April – Attackers release images of some of the abducted train passengers.

06 May – The pressure from the families of the abducted Abuja-Kaduna passengers may have forced the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) to put a hold on the resumption of train services within that route.  

12 May – Three Nigerian police officers were killed when an ISWAP cell ambushed a police team in the town of Suleja in Nigeria’s north-central state of Niger, near the country’s capital city.  

15 May – The train attackers release one of the hostages – a heavily pregnant woman.  In a video message circulating on social media, the woman said the abductors told her she had been freed on “compassionate grounds”.  

20 May – The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) suspended the resumption of train services on the Abuja-Kaduna route.  

29 May – The train attackers’ withdraw their previous threat to stop feeding the over 60 abducted passengers of the Abuja-Kaduna bound train and to start executing the victims 

31 May – video released showing passengers pleading for government intervention.  One of the passengers was a course-mate of VP Osinbajo when they were at Lagos Law School.

08 June- Two of the abducted passengers of the Abuja-Kaduna train regain their freedom after spending 72 days in captivity.  

15 June – 11 of the abducted train passengers are released by their captors.

21 June – President Muhammadu Buhari has directed increased efforts toward rescuing kidnapped railway passengers still in custody and bringing the case to a close.  Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, on Tuesday said upon the President’s approval, rescue efforts are taking a two-lane approach, the kinetic and non-kinetic, to ensure the captives’ safe release.  Shehu said the kidnappers made a demand for the release of their own children and upon the settlement of that issue, they let go eleven of the victims, even though more were expected.

29th June 2022 – Mohammed Al’Amin, one of the remaining 50 hostages of the abducted Abuja-Kaduna train passengers was shot by his captors.  The incident occurred during “friendly exchanges of fire at the forest between the abductors that are guarding the victims and preventing them from possible escape.” Although the victim was critically wounded but still alive and in need of medical attention, appeals to the insurgents to release the wounded victim for access to medical care were “vehemently refused”.

04 July – ISWAP claims responsibility for another attack in Suleja, killing a policeman

05 July – ISWAP attacks Kuje Prison in Abuja, which housed more than one thousand inmates.  They attacked using explosives to breach the walls and then entered the prison with small arms.   600 inmates including 67 Boko Haram terrorists were said to have been freed during the attack. The attackers were able to operate inside the facility for almost four hours without facing any response.

07 July – 7 abducted train passengers were released by the insurgents.  Families of the released passengers stated that ransoms of 100m naira per victim and 200m naira for a Pakistani were paid.    200m was paid in Naira and the remaining 600m was paid in the equivalent in dollar value.  These released captives stated that the terrorists celebrated when they returned to the camp with prisoners they had released from Kuje Prison..  This indicates that the train attackers and the prison attackers are the same group.

10 August – 7 further abducted train passengers were released, 6 members of the same family including 3 children aged between 18 months and 7 years old, along with an unrelated 60-year-old woman.  It is not clear if any ransom was paid to the terrorists for their release.

Japan Grants Nigeria N910m for Speed Boats

The quest to make the maritime industry and trade in Nigeria safer continues to receive International support. According to the latest news reports the government of Japan has promised a ¥300 million (about N910m) grant to the federal government to procure high-speed boats to assist with protecting the Gulf of Guinea from piracy.

Speaking at the signing ceremony of the exchange of notes for the economic and social development program in Abuja, the Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria, Matsunaga Kazuyoshi, noted that the security of the region is important to deepen the $1bn annual trade relationship between Nigeria and Japan, adding that the route serves as a facilitator of goods traded between the two countries.

“The security of the Gulf of Guinea is of vital importance not only to Japan and Nigeria but to the whole of West Africa. The cooperation between our two countries will serve as a good example to support the self-sustaining economic and social development of African countries,” he said.

The Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said the high-speed boats would help to reinforce coastal security in the Gulf as over 60 percent of shipping activities in Africa pass through Nigerian waters.

Read the full story here.

Arete recently reported that Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had received two unmanned aircraft systems, nine interceptor patrol boats, and ten armored vehicles to enhance maritime security in the country as part of the Deep Blue project. Read more about it here.

Russia In Africa – A Strategic Evolution

Background

Moscow’s attempt to destabilise the West has backfired spectacularly, with Europe demonstrating greater cohesion and resilience than was perhaps anticipated, NATO being reinvigorated and, in all likelihood, expanding to incorporate two powerful and geographically important new members in Finland and Sweden.  

This unexpected outcome from the invasion of Ukraine will likely encourage Moscow to draw NATO and European attention away from its eastern frontiers and refocus their efforts elsewhere once the war in Ukraine is concluded.  One of the most likely future focal points for Russia will be Africa.

The African continent is rich in mineral resources, some of which are not found in significant volumes in Russia.  It is also a growing market for various products ranging from foodstuffs and technology to weapons and energy.  Moscow already has a footprint in Africa, with relationships existing or emerging in countries throughout the continent.  These relationships include trade and commercial agreements, diplomatic ties, military cooperation agreements, and energy – including nuclear technology.

The scene is set for a rapid expansion of Russian presence on the continent in parallel with burgeoning Chinese investment in the region as well as an increasing focus on Africa’s potential among numerous western countries.  Following Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, the race for expanding influence in Africa between the three power blocks could develop into a significantly destabilising force in some parts of the continent.

However, Moscow is not having it all its own way in Africa.  The vote in early March 2022 on the UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine was opposed by only one African nation – Eritrea.  The African Union and ECOWAS also joined the strong international consensus of condemnation of the Russian attack. The current AU Chairman, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, as well as AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, also criticized Russia’s unprovoked war, noting that did not stop the former from accepting an invitation to Moscow in early June 2022.

Of the 54 African states, 28 voted to condemn the Russian invasion with 16 countries abstaining and 9 choosing not to vote. Ultimately, the vote has been a surprising condemnation of Moscow from a continent where the worldview of many leaders is shaped around non-alignment.  This, combined with enduring resentment of the impact of the various proxy wars fought on the continent during the Cold War, a focus on diplomatic etiquette, and a desire to remain non-aligned in the face of great power rivalries, makes the outcome of the vote quite remarkable.

The vote also exposed divergence of governance norms across the region and demonstrated that Africa’s future relations with Russia will be variable and likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

The countries that refused to condemn Russia have leaders who have been heavily co-opted by Moscow, including Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Bourhane of Sudan, and Malian Colonel Assimi Goïta.  Those leaders were not elected in any recognisable democratic process and are heavily propped up by Russian patronage and mercenaries.

The leaders of Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe all benefit from Russian weaponry, disinformation, or political support and none of them would benefit from a democratic process that could remove them from power.

Other countries, including Morocco, Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa, abstained or did not vote probably as a result of an ideology of non-alignment.

It is evident that Moscow has a lot of work to do if it wants to supplant the West in Africa, but how can it successfully achieve this potential aim?

 

Moscow’s Aims

Following the virtually unchallenged Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its consolidation of lands occupied by Moscow-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine, Moscow ramped up its strategic effort to gain further traction and influence in Africa.  It sees the continent as the next frontier for expansion of its political, military, and economic interests in response to growing pressure from the West.

In November 2019, leaders from up to 40 African nations gathered in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast for the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit.  Many of them represented nations that Russia had no particularly strong history with.  The summit established a formal partnership with the aim of strengthening existing and potential political, security, economic, legal, scientific, technical, humanitarian, information, and environmental cooperation. The Russian team stressed to the African delegations that this cooperation offered a way for African states to affirm their sovereignty and resist European and American coercive diplomacy.  The latter point underlined that the continent was on the cusp of a new ‘Scramble for Africa’ with three main protagonists;  Moscow, Beijing, and the West all vying for influence and cooperation.

Russia began developing its position on the continent two years earlier, through a number of low-key and covert operations, but its efforts were constrained by budget limitations.  This effectively forced Moscow to rely on diplomatic and military means to gather influence and support rather than an investment of large amounts of hard currency.  

Most recently, on 03 June 2022, President Macky Sall – Chairman of the African Union – met with President Putin in Moscow where they discussed “…freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries…”.  The agenda also covered expansion of political dialogue, economic relations, and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and African nations. Sall, visited Moscow at the invitation of Putin and was accompanied by the Chadian Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.  During the meeting, Putin took the opportunity to take a swipe at the West, saying “I would like to recall that our country has always been on the side of Africa, has always supported Africa in its struggle against colonialism.”  Read it here.

From the point of view of geostrategic security, there are three key threads to Moscow’s strategic aims in the continent. 

Firstly, establishing a presence in the southern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden which would undoubtedly present a threat to NATO’s southern flank, as well as the strategically vital choke points for international maritime trade that pass the Horn of Africa and the Suez Canal.

Secondly, after a less than impressive performance by its armed forces in the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow will be seeking to re-establish its credentials as a great global power.   It has arguably suffered significant loss of ground in this respect,  both diplomatically and militarily.  It has also been severely diminished economically.  Establishing a strong presence and degree of influence in Africa will remind the world that Russia is a country that must not be ignored.

Thirdly, establishing itself as a major external power on the continent would force the West to focus even greater efforts and resources into the continent in order to counter Russia’s influence while at the same time conducting aggressive influence operations among African nations to attack the standing of the West.  To some extent, as we shall see below, this is already happening.  

In terms of trade, Africa is still a relatively small but growing market for Russian goods compared to Europe and Asia.  Africa trades more with India, China, and the US than with Russia.  Nevertheless, in 2022, Russian trade with Africa has grown by 34%.  The importance of this should not be underestimated.  As it feels the weight of sanctions imposed by the West, Moscow views trade with African nations as a strategic opportunity. 

President Vladimir Putin has said Africa is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities and has spoken about offering:

  • political and diplomatic support
  • defence and security help
  • economic assistance
  • disease-control advice
  • humanitarian-relief assistance
  • educational and vocational training

Where Russia Already Has a Presence

Between 2014-19, the African continent – excluding Egypt – accounted for 16% of Russia’s major arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).  80% of these exports went to Algeria with the remaining 20% spread across the rest of the continent.

Against this relatively modest position, Moscow’s defense relationships with African nations are growing.  Since 2015, military cooperation agreements have been signed with over 20 African countries. Read more about it here.

In 2017-18, Russia had weapons deals with Angola, Nigeria, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Equatorial Guinea.  These included fighter jets, combat, and transport helicopters, anti-tank missiles, and engines for fighter planes. Full story here.

Russia has also been active in the Central African Republic (CAR), officially helping to support the embattled UN-backed government against an array of rebel groups.  This support has seen the Russian private military company (PMC), the Wagner Group, active in the country, providing security to the government and supporting indigenous forces in the protection of key economic assets.  Wagner group has also been reported to be active in Libya, Sudan, Mali, and Mozambique.

State-owned Russian companies have been mining bauxite in Guinea, diamonds in Angola, and winning concessions to produce off-shore gas in Mozambique.  Lukoil have interests in Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria and is reportedly seeking exploration and mining licenses in the Republic of Congo.

Russia is also offering nuclear power technology to several African countries, including the construction of the first nuclear plant in Egypt, financed by a $25bn (£19bn) loan.

Russia’s footprint in Africa is set to expand.  Its current presence is illustrated in the following maps:

Source: https://www.mining.com/russias-comeback-in-africa-favours-profit-over-long-term-influence-analyst

 

Source:  https://www.graphicnews.com/en/pages/39567/POLITICS-Russia-influence-in-Africa

Strategies

Russia’s strategy for increasing its influence in Africa takes several forms, including:

  • Political engineering and supporting counter-government activities
  • Electoral engineering and influencing voter behaviour through misinformation and disinformation
  • Direct military support to Moscow-friendly regimes or opposition groups using Wagner group.
  • Exchanging arms for resources.

The principal characteristic of the strategy is that Moscow co-opts the elites in the target countries in order to gain advantage that greatly outweighs the investment required to achieve that position.  This is a strategy that suits Moscow, given the financial constraints imposed on it.  This strategy requires no long-term investment or even relationship building and pays no attention to establishing strong relationships with the population.  It relies almost completely on influencing key individuals in the power structures through coercion, personal reward and manipulation.  The most frequently identifiable strategy relies on political support and deployment of Wagner troops in countries with natural resources on Moscow’s shopping list.

This has been the approach adopted by Moscow in Central African Republic where Moscow propped up President Touadéra.  The same strategy has been seen in support of Denis Sassou-Nguesso in the Republic of Congo, Ali Bongo in Gabon, Filipe Nyusi in Mozambique, Andry Rajoelina in Madagascar, Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe, Salva Kiir in South Sudan and Alpha Condé in Guinea.  This list is not exhaustive. Read about it here.

In the African countries where Russia has become most entrenched – Libya, the CAR, and Mali — there is growing evidence of it deliberately undermining the United Nations, deploying mercenaries, and violating human rights.  These all have a highly destabilising effect on the countries concerned and potentially for regional neighbours.

In Libya, where Russia has its strongest military presence, there is evidence of efforts to undermine the UN process aimed at establishing a constitutionally based, unified government through its support for a parallel government in the east of the country led by the warlord Khalifa Haftar.

In CAR, the National Security Advisor is a Russian and the Presidential guard comprises of Wagner mercenaries.  They are also very active around gold and diamond mines and increasingly aggressive towards the UN peace keeping force in the country.

In Mali, Russia began an influence operation in 2019 based on disinformation aimed at damaging the standing of the UN and the French operations in the country, as well as the democratically elected president, Ibrahim Keita.  Amid claims of widespread human rights violations involving Wagner mercenaries, the Russians have used their veto in the UN Security Council to supress any attempt to investigate the massacres.

As well as providing support to democratic leaders, Moscow has also weighed-in in support of undemocratic alternatives as they did in Libya, where they supported the warlord Khalifa Haftar.  Elsewhere, it is reported that the August 2020 coup in Mali led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, was planned in Russia while members of the Malian army participated in extended training.  Since early 2021, Wagner troops have been operating alongside Malian troops, including participating in atrocities against civilians which they have attempted to blame on French troops, who have since withdrawn from the country. In Sudan, Russia reportedly urged military leaders to resist the planned transition to civilian rule. 

In conducting these operations, where it aligns with and supports indigenous military factions, Moscow has ensured that its proxies in those countries have supplanted the democratically elected powers and created enduring hardship for the greater populations.  

Russia has also been active in manipulating voter behaviour in elections in Africa – a tried-and-tested strategy employed by Russia in western polling exercises. 

This usually involves widespread and multifaceted influence operations using media, social media, and other messaging channels.  The basis of the strategy is to disseminate supportive messaging for their favoured candidate, coupled with unfavourable representations from opposition candidates, the dissemination to the media of flattering, albeit dubious, poll results, and the unqualified and timely approval of election results by a pseudo-election monitoring organization, such as the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC). These methods were highlighted in the recent elections in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, among others.

Russia also carries out well-structured information operations in target countries with the aim of altering voter behaviour, influencing public opinion against the West and undermining democracy.  Its campaigns typically support chosen candidates and denigrate those that are unfriendly towards Moscow’s ambitions.  Additionally, Russia has established a broader campaign to undermine democracy by disseminating reports and whispering campaigns about the weaknesses of democracy and the futility of supporting candidates who strongly support democratic principles.  As in all effective influence operations, the psychology is subtle, suggesting there is little to choose between the various political systems and therefore no real advantage to democracy.  The end state aim is to encourage a sense of inevitability among the voters who will then passively accept whoever is elected to represent them.  The message is usually that nobody is any better or worse than the alternative.

In those countries where Moscow is already close to the incumbent leader, it will continue to work very hard to keep that individual in place.  An example is the support for Alpha Condé’s candidacy for a third term in Guinea in 2020, which the country’s constitution prohibits.  When Condé faced widespread opposition to the proposed extension of his term, the Russian Ambassador, Alexander Bregadze, attempted to neutralise the opposition with a carefully constructed statement in which he said, “constitutions are not a dogma, a Bible or a Koran… it is the constitutions that must adapt to reality, not the reality that adapts to the constitutions.”   Russia’s interest in the continuance of the regime is less subtle.  Guinea has the largest reserves of bauxite in the world and Bregadze now heads up the operations in Guinea of Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminium company.  

However, Moscow does not always have its way, and the ousting of Condé in a coup in September 2021 set them back. The departure of South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in 2018, a reliable friend of Moscow, saw his replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa immediately cancel a deal with Moscow to build a nuclear power plant.  This saved South Africa from a huge debt commitment and weakened Moscow’s leverage over the country.  Russia apparently used the prospect of investment in nuclear energy technology to leverage elite capture in the country and disseminated disinformation and created tension to influence its internal politics.  Russia has used investment in nuclear programs to influence other African countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zambia.

Russia has also supplied surveillance technologies to a number of autocratic regimes in Africa, including Uganda and Rwanda, to help them control their political rivals and civil society groups. 

Russia has traditionally worked hard to influence governance in Africa by exploiting characteristics of democracy such as elections, free media and news platforms – in an effort to manipulate outcomes that are supportive of its interests.  At the same time, it seeks to sow seeds of dissent and disillusionment among the populace about the merits of democracy.  An African leader who gains or retains power through elections, even flawed elections, gains a powerful legitimacy and that serves Russia well insofar as it also legitimises the relationships and presence in the country enjoyed by Russian organisations – including its mercenaries.  The basis of this strategy is that it is hard to criticise the presence of a Russian interest when it has been invited there by a legitimate, democratically elected leader.

With regards to Moscow’s arms trade with the continent, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to fulfil orders already in place or offer future orders as many of its arms plants are reportedly struggling to manufacture weapons systems due to embargoes and sanctions imposed since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

 

“Dezinformatsiya” and Influence Operations

Following the reality check of the UN vote in March 2022, Russia will likely ramp up its efforts to regain traction and expansion of its interests in Africa.  One of the primary tools that it will use to achieve this aim is disinformation.  Disinformation is the intentional dissemination of false information with the intent of advancing a political objective.

 

In October 2019, Facebook removed dozens of fake accounts operating in Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan, that had been engaged in a long-term disinformation and influence campaign aimed at promoting Russian interests.  The accounts were linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group who has long-standing ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Prigozhin has been indicted for interfering in U.S. elections.  The deactivated accounts give us a glance into the nature of Russian disinformation campaigns in Africa.

 

Russian disinformation campaigns are a growing concern for African countries where information is a commodity that can be unreliable at the best of times.  Local political and economic interests as well as erroneous interpretation and unreliable sources shape the messaging in many African media sources. 

 

Prigozhin’s involvement was confirmed by a report from the Dossier Center, a Russian investigative organisation headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who fell out of favour with Putin, and also a detailed and in-depth investigation by Facebook.  Other disinformation was prevalent on Instagram.  A stark example was found to be occurring in Mozambique, where just a month before the October 2019 elections, numerous pages emerged that exclusively promoted the Frelimo ruling party.

 

The pages targeting Libya were more complex and perhaps more subtle.  These pages fell broadly into two categories, the first of which were supportive of Khalifa Haftar, the Russian-backed rebel commander trying to undermine the UN-recognized government and seize Tripoli with the support of Wagner Group mercenaries.   The pages included messaging that Haftar would stabilise the country and bring peace and security.  This strategy was backed by a second set of pages that asked readers to consider how much better things were under Muammar Gaddafi.  Between them, these pages accounted for 90% of the Russian content.  The remaining 10% were supportive of one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.  The latter is regarded as a potential presidential candidate.  Moscow is actively supporting both Haftar and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and is thought to be attempting to bring the two together.

 

The impact of this influence operation was significant, with 9.7 million interactions and the posts were liked by 1.7 million accounts.  However, there is evidence that the campaign was flawed.  In some of the responses, people challenged the messaging, particularly the premise that things were better under Gadaffi.

 

Similar pushback has been seen in other countries.  In Mozambique, the designers of the campaign demonstrated a stark degree of naivety when they launched a disinformation strategy suggesting the opposition party had agreed a deal with the Chinese government to allow the latter to dump nuclear waste in the country.  The designers obviously failed to appreciate that opposition parties do not sign agreements with foreign governments.

 

The volume of disinformation campaigns in Africa is surging, but African governments in targeted countries do little to address disinformation campaigns as in many cases it is a supportive narrative.  It is even possible that some of them are complicit in the overall strategy.  Russia is not alone in spreading disinformation in Africa.  In Libya, at least 6 nations have been detected using disinformation as a strategic tool.  Nevertheless, Russia has been proven to be the principal participant in the campaign to shape the thinking of millions of Africans.  

 

To put the extent of the problem into context, Tessa Knight, a South Africa-based researcher with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab stated, “Every time I have set out to search for coordinated disinformation in advance of an election or around conflicts, I have found it. I have not investigated an online space in Africa and not found disinformation. I think a lot of people are not aware of the scale of disinformation that is happening in Africa and how much it is distorting information networks.”

 

Part of the problem is that social media platforms pay less attention to removing false content in Africa than in other parts of the world.  This possibly reflects an assumption that the target audience is less sophisticated and therefore the damage is less than in Europe or the Americas.  This is a false assumption and the burgeoning use of mobile technology across the continent ensures that a wide audience participates in the debates triggered by these campaigns.

 

The following graphic illustrates the extent of known influence operations in Africa as 26 April 2022:

Disinformation campaigns that have been detected and publicly documented,  Source:  Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Payback – What Will it Cost Africa

Russia has been characterised as an autocratic kleptocracy, in which opposition figures are neutralised through various means ranging from judicial action and imprisonment to assassination.  It has also shown disdain for the international rules-based order and complete contempt for internationally recognised national borders.  The impact of such a political culture if introduced into African states could be profound.  The former characteristic can be found in countries across the continent, but the latter characteristic could have disastrous impact on Africans were it to become part of the African political culture.  

For all its problems, Africa has generally respected international borders – even those drawn up by colonial powers in ignorance of cultural and tribal considerations.  Were Moscow to influence African states to the extent that they started to eye the resources in neighbouring countries, cross-border conflict could escalate into all-out war between nations.

The Russian strategy in Africa has led to a loss of freedoms, particularly in Mali, where opposition leaders and journalists who have challenged the legitimacy of the new regime have been arrested for questioning and threatened by youth militias sponsored by the junta.

 

Conclusions

Russia is clearly focussing heavily on expanding its influence and leverage in numerous African countries.  Its strategy is aggressive and disruptive, creating instability and insecurity in previously stable, democratic countries.  This presents a threat to political and economic stability and, where Wagner force mercenaries are present, to societal stability and security.

At the level of corporate operations, companies should incorporate disinformation campaigns into their threat assessments and risk analysis templates.  In certain countries, if active in the extraction of minerals or hydrocarbons, companies’ operations could well become a target for Russian disruption, i.e., of the workforce through disinformation, or even direct targeting by proxies acting on behalf of Russian interests.

In short it is likely Russia will continue to pursue a policy of expansion across the continent, and this will likely accelerate after the war in Ukraine reaches a conclusion.  This will likely be to the detriment of Europe and the West unless steps are taken to mitigate it.   

 

Nigeria’s Deep Blue Project Receives New Assets

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has received two unmanned aircraft systems, nine interceptor patrol boats, and ten armoured vehicles to enhance maritime security in the country as part of the Deep Blue project.

The Director-General of NIMASA Dr. Bashir Jamoh, while thanking President Buhari for his sustained support in the fight against sea piracy and other maritime crimes, said the additional equipment will improve on the gains recorded in securing the Gulf of Guinea and the Nigerian maritime domain.

The DG also praised the recently held Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum (GOG-MCF/SHADE) in Abuja as a success in rallying international support for the suppression of maritime insecurity and added that Nigeria’s commitment to regional maritime security will always be sustained.

Dr. Jamoh said: “Nigeria is improving on her capacity to fight maritime crime by procuring state-of-the-art technology, upgrading human capacity for effective service delivery and deployment of the assets for round-the-clock patrol, interdiction, and reconnaissance with the support of Nigerian Navy and other security agencies we signed MoU.

“Indeed, we are further encouraged by President Muhammadu Buhari’s support all the time to ensure adequate security of crew members, vessels, and cargoes within and around our waters.

These newly procured assets would assist us in building on the gains already recorded in the fight against piracy, sea robbery, oil theft, kidnapping, illegal fishing activities, and others.” Read the full news article here.

Arete earlier announced that in order to support the fight against maritime crime and other security challenges in the region, the European Union (EU) donated security hardware valued at €5million (euros), including 30 rigid-hull inflatable boats and forensic equipment to Nigeria and other countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  Read the full article here.

Has Nigeria’s Piracy problem been solved?

Background

On 08 March 2022, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) decided to remove Nigeria from its Piracy List in view of the dramatic reduction in the number of reported incidents of piracy in Nigerian waters.  Following the report attributing the improvement in security to the efforts of the Nigerian Navy, the Chief of Naval Staff of the Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, said:

“We will sustain the tempo of our Maritime Security Operations efforts. As you are all aware, the NN is the cardinal institution in the maritime sector that has the responsibility to lead the national response and prosecution of maritime threats. I make bold to say that the NN made giant strides in ensuring the security of the nation’s maritime environment.  It is heart-warming to note the significant decline in piracy attacks by 77 percent on Nigerian waters as reflected in the International Maritime Bureau (IBM) Third Quarter 2021 report.  I am glad to notify you that the latest IMB report (just last week) shows that Nigeria has exited the IMB Piracy List. However, considering the NN’s lead role in the regional effort at combating piracy and armed attack against shipping, the Service will not relent.  Also, the NN’s effort at containing piracy in the nation’s maritime domain has earned us commendation by the Office of the National Security Adviser on behalf of the President Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

The reduction in the number of incidents reported in the region has been significant, with no attacks recorded in Nigerian territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zone since November 2021 and just four incidents being reported in the whole of the last 12-month period – one each in April, June, October, and November.  

In light of the developments highlighted above, and given that Nigerian waters have not witnessed such low levels of piracy in any 12-month period since 2006, is there credible evidence to snow suggest that piracy in Nigeria is a thing of the past?

Introduction

The International Maritime Organisation defines an act in Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as consisting of any of the following acts:

(a)         any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft and directed:

(i)         on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii)        against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b)       any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c)       any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a)

It defines armed robbery as:

(a)     any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation, or threat thereof, other than an act of piracy, committed for private ends and directed against a ship or against persons or property on board such a ship, within a State’s internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea;

(b)     any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described above.”

This analysis will consider all acts of maritime criminality that fit these definitions.

The analysis does not take into consideration criminal acts against vessels in ports, anchorages, and on the region navigable rivers unless they involve acts of extreme violence, kidnapping of mariners from internationally registered vessels, or hijacking of internationally registered vessels.  The analysis will examine trends and patterns of activity going back to 01 January 2018 in order to provide some context to the reduction in activity witnessed in the last 12 months.  

It is acknowledged that a great deal of maritime criminality occurred outside the parameters described above, but a full historical dissection of the region’s security history is beyond the scope of this article.

Historically, we have witnessed a number of evolutions in the maritime security threats that have plagued the Gulf of Guinea for almost two decades.  To examine some of the more significant trends and patterns we will consider:

The annual ‘Ember Months’ spike:

Local wisdom warns us every year to be more security conscious in the Ember Months – November and December.  Some people include ‘Octember’ in this warning.  It is true that criminality increases in the run into the festive season as people resort to crime to ensure they can take care of their families over the holiday season.  This phenomenon can be witnessed in the statistics for maritime and riverine criminality as well as onshore and urban crime patterns.  Perhaps the starkest example of this phenomenon in the maritime environment occurred in 2020 when at least 15 acts of piracy occurred in Nigeria’s waters (and that excludes robbery in the ‘brown water’ environments).  Previous years have seen an increase in the 4th quarter, but 2020 was demonstrative.

Mid-year lull:

In the years leading up to 2013, there was always a dramatic reduction in incidents in July and August.  This was attributable to the fact that sea conditions were unfavourable for small craft operations and the pirate gangs at that stage had not yet moved into the use of motherships.  From 2013, we saw a steady increase in the number of incidents in those months as the gangs used large vessels to reach further offshore and support small boat operations in deep water.

Election years:

Historically, as criminal gangs raise funds for their political patrons’ electoral campaigns, we have witnessed an increase in criminality both onshore and in Nigeria’s waters in the 12 months leading up to an election.  These spikes might be very localised, such as off the coast of Bayelsa in 2010, and not particularly evident in the overall statistics for the period.  

Changes – mother ships:

As mentioned above, the introduction of the use of motherships by pirate gangs allowed them to extend their reach, and from 2013 we started to see attacks occurring much further from the nearest landfall, and eventually the evolution of extended operational deployments into the waters of other Gulf of Guinea nations – with Nigerian gangs operating as far south as Angola and as far west as Liberia.

Migration to other waters:

The migration to the wider Gulf of Guinea environment also coincided with a more ‘industrial’ approach to kidnap for ransom activities, with pirate action groups (PAGs) deploying for several weeks and accumulating as many as 30 hostages.  This behaviour had clear economic benefits for the PAGs, allowing them to collect much larger ransoms in both individual and cumulative terms, and in so doing, dramatically improving their profit margins.  The gangs were clearly identified as Nigerian by the testimony of their victims upon release and also the fact that the kidnap victims were frequently held in camps in the Niger Delta.

Last six months – comparison

To illustrate the stark reduction in activity levels, we will compare activity in the last six calendar months (December 2021 through to May 2022) with the same period 12 months previously and also against the five-year rolling monthly average.  The following graphs are based on data available to Arete.

This first graph shows very clearly the complete absence of activity in Nigerian waters in the last 6 months.  The reality is that no acts of piracy were recorded in Nigerian waters in 8 of the last 12 months.  There have only been three other months (August 2018, November 2019, and August 2020) in the period Jan 2018 to Dec 2020 in which there were no incidents recorded in Nigerian waters.  However, in August 2018, an incident occurred in Gabonese waters that were attributed to Nigerian pirates, and in November 2019, five incidents occurred in the waters of Togo, Benin, Sao Tome & Principe, and Equatorial Guinea.  In August 2020, a single incident occurred in Ghanaian waters. 

An absence of reported incidents that matches the current hiatus in activity has not been witnessed for two decades or more.  However, the keyword is hiatus.  We do not know how long this period of grace will last as the organised crime groups (OCGs) that launch the PAGs likely still exist, still own their motherships and retain the capacity and capability to mount further operations at relatively short notice. 

This second graph shows the monthly activity rates since 01 January 2018 for Nigerian territorial waters and EEZ.  It is clear that despite the peaks and troughs in activity levels, the overall trend is downwards towards the current extremely low levels.  However, if we look at the next graph, which includes similar incidents in the waters, with the exception of Nigeria’s, between Ivory Coast in the West and Congo Republic in the south, the picture is slightly different.

This graph shows a trend line with a very gentle upward gradient, which persists through the currently extremely low levels of activity in Nigerian waters.  Nevertheless, the graph also shows a significant general reduction in incident rates in ‘foreign’ waters over the last 12 months when compared to the preceding 12-month period.  This almost certainly reflects the fact that most of the piracy attacks in the whole of the Gulf of Guinea are carried out by Nigeria-based OCGs/PAGs. 

As a more direct comparison, the following graph shows annual totals for the various territorial waters and EEZs of the littoral states of the Gulf of Guinea.

What is interesting is that even after the marked reduction in Nigerian waters, activity persists in the jurisdictions of other Gulf of Guinea states.  It also reflects the predominance of activity in the Nigerian EEZ, which is likely a reflection of the density of available targets, the ease of reach from the home bases of the PAGs, and the range of the mother ships being used, and the endurance of their crews.

It is thought that the PAGs operate in the waters of neighbouring nations in the view that the naval threat is lower in some of those states.  Of interest is the spike of activity in the waters of the Congo Republic in 2021, which coincides with the reduction in activity in Nigerian waters.

So what?

All of the above point to a number of key questions:

How long will the hiatus last?

This depends entirely on what is driving the absence of PAG activity.  If the OCG/PAGs have found another more lucrative or less risky revenue stream, then the hiatus is likely to last.  Of course, if the OCGs have responded to external pressure from the Federal Government then again, it could last – at least until there is a change of government.

Have the OCGs shifted their operations to another source of income onshore?

It is possible.  However, there has not been any noticeable spike in other criminality onshore or indeed the emergence of any new form of organised crime.  Oil bunkering is at an all-time high, and it is possible that some of the OCGs are also involved in that activity and have shifted their efforts into that arena.  It is possible, as the industrialised theft of oil and condensate no longer attracts the international condemnation and attention that the piracy was attracting.  

Have the PAGs retained their capacity and capability to resume operations?

As far as we know, they have not burnt their boats on the beaches.  That must mean they have either sold them or retained them.  Some of the mothership’s identities were well known and it is likely that had they been sold as they would have required a complete change of identity in order to operate unmolested by indigenous and international security forces in the region.  For now, we have no evidence to suggest that the capacity and capability of the PAGs have been removed from the OCGs.

Is this a reflection of a reporting anomaly?

This has been touched on above.  Reporting of activity in Nigeria and West Africa has always been incomplete, sometimes misleading, and sometimes mischievously so.  However, it is interesting that reporting of activity in anchorages and ports has also fallen away sharply.  There are lots of political and commercial factors that could be behind that, including the cancellation of the Secure Anchorage Area contract in early 2020.  We cannot rule out that the anchorages and ports are suddenly a lot safer.  The data would suggest that is the case.  Anecdotal information would suggest otherwise.

What could have forced the change?

Deep Blue:

The much-vaunted Deep Blue project that married NIMASA operations with those of the Nigerian Navy has been claimed to have changed the security dynamics in quantum leaps.  However, it has not been possible to find any substantive evidence that the Deep Blue project now dominates the maritime environment off the coast of Nigeria.  

International patrols – Danish naval action:

The presence of international warships in the region was certainly a game-changer in 2021.  Several interactions between western and Chinese warships and vessels under attack were reported.  The intervention that perhaps had the greatest impact was that of the Danish frigate Esbern Snare, which intercepted a PAG while in the act of attacking a commercial vessel deep off the coast of Nigeria in November 2021.  The incident resulted in four pirates being killed and five being taken into custody.  There have been no incidents in Nigeria’s EEZ since that event.

International political and commercial pressure:

One very interesting possibility is the international pressure that could have been brought to bear through commercial (mainly insurance) channels and also closed diplomatic channels.  The precedent for the latter form of intervention was apparently set when the enduring problem of extended hijacking for cargo theft was brought to an abrupt halt.  The cartels involved in that form of criminality simply ceased operating.  It cannot be ruled out that a similar intervention might have induced the pirate gangs to ‘seek other work’.  The commercial impact that the Lloyds Joint War Risk Committee classification of Nigeria’s waters has had on the Nigerian economy has been significant.  In November 2021, NIMASA stated that it was determined to have the War Risk Insurance Surcharges removed from vessels operating in Nigerian waters.  It cannot be ruled out that the federal authorities identified the big men behind the OCGs responsible for the piracy and persuaded them to ‘seek other work’.

Have the big men behind the piracy made enough money to ‘retire’?

This is another possibility that cannot be ruled out entirely.  The precedent was set when the kingpins behind the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were effectively bought off by the 2009 Niger Delta Amnesty program payments, and the award to their newly formed companies of huge contracts – mostly to protect the assets they had previously been plundering.  So major criminal actors do sometimes “read the tea leaves” and decide to retire while they are ahead.  On the other hand, it is strongly suspected that the PAGs operating out of Nigeria belonged to five or six separate OCGs.  It is unlikely that the bosses of all the groups decided to shut up shop at the same time.  

So, the question “What induced the pirates to stop their operations?” remains unanswered with any certainty at this time.  

What Next?

There remains a huge amount of uncertainty in the security environment in Nigeria.  The forthcoming elections in early 2023 will likely shape the future security architecture in the country for the subsequent 8 years at least.  It is known that the Presidency is greatly concerned about the currently held views of the electorate regarding security in the country.  This was brought to a head by the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train attack on 28 March 2022.  A significant amount of energy and time has been spent discussing the various security challenges facing the country and the Presidency is determined to make a difference before the end of the year and the run-in to the polls.

It is likely the impact of piracy on the country’s economy has driven the launch of Deep Blue and the Navy’s focus on generating a safer and more secure environment for mariners.  The country now rests on a political fulcrum and the security challenges have the potential to tip the elections against the ruling party.  Therefore, it is likely that more resources will be introduced into the battle against the pirates being fought by the Nigerian security organisations in the coming months.

Nevertheless, Nigerian security forces have 39,700 sq. km to patrol and secure.  That is a huge challenge, and the assets and resources are not yet in place to ensure security for mariners operating in the area. 

Summary

Shipping companies and offshore operators should be prepared to meet the security challenges of short-notice or no-notice increases in the threats facing them in the Gulf of Guinea.  The threat currently is assessed to be dormant and it could emerge again very quickly.  Pirates live on the land and their families stay on the land (mostly).  They are driven and controlled, by onshore factors – poverty, greed, politics, bribery, corruption, and even adventure.  Nigeria is moving into an election process, and like any election in any country, it generates uncertainty and, for some people, fear for their future. 

Shipping companies should avoid immediately seeking to cut costs.  The situation remains uncertain, and the Joint War Risk Committee still classifies the waters of the region as a listed area – meaning they consider the risk to be high.  For now, despite the economic pressures being at an all-time high, shipping companies should avoid being seduced by pronouncements that piracy is a thing of the past.

Lagos Okada Ban: The Impact so far

On Friday, June 3, the Lagos state government began crushing commercial motorcycles, popularly called Okada, which had been seized in the state. This is following a fresh crackdown in May on these Okada from operating in six local government areas – Eti-Osa, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Apapa, and Surulere.
The Chairman of Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit, Shola Jejeloye,  said the initiative has been effective since 1st June; “There has been more than 85% compliance; 85% compliance in the sense that we don’t see Okadas on the road, on the express any longer. The number has drastically reduced.” Recalling that the enforcement came into force on February 1, 2020, by the state government, Jejeloye added: “Since then, we have been on it. it’s is just that people believe in violating the law, which I don’t think is good enough in a cosmopolitan city like this.” You can read his full statement here.
Following the ban and punitive measures, Okada riders in the state have protested in various ways, leading to hotspots in the state.
On May 24, we shared general security updates with the public highlighting the impact of the Okada ban within Lagos state. You can read the security update here.
On Tuesday, June 7, there were news reports confirming that Okada riders clashed with Police and Taskforce officers at Luth/ Idi-Araba area of Lagos. Bonfires were lit on roads as the police mobilized security forces to prevent further escalation. Here is a video of the incident.
It is clear that Okada riders’ protests against the ban will continue to make movement within the state precarious, especially in the 6 local government areas affected by the ban.
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, insists that the ban is here to stay and will not be revoked. To address the criticism and uproar, Sanwo-Olu announced the launch of 14 commercial boats and deployed a fleet of 65 buses across new routes to expand transportation options.
Arete recommends avoiding Eti-Osa, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Apapa, and Surulere if possible, and where necessary, it is vital to have Close Protection protocols in place when moving through the aforementioned areas.
You can email us at info@areteafrica.com for more information and to access security services.

Women in Maritime: Interesting facts to know

On the 14th of December 2021, The International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that May 18 every year would become the International Day for Women in Maritime.

According to the IMO announcement here, the day will celebrate women in the industry and is intended to promote the recruitment, retention, and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector, raise the profile of women in maritime, strengthen IMO’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and support work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime.

In support of this and as part of our celebration of the day Arete Africa has put together some interesting facts about women in maritime below.

  • The only way for most women to take part in running a merchant vessel before 1900, was through marriage or by being the captain’s daughter. Women were excluded from seagoing careers during this time.
  • According to reports at the time, Mary Patten, temporarily took command of a clippership in the 1850s. In July 1856, Neptune’s Car left New York City for San Francisco. Captain Joshua Patten was in command and accompanying him was his wife, Mary, nineteen years old and pregnant. She had married at sixteen and had already been to sea on several voyages during which her husband had taught her how to navigate. Mistrusting the first mate, the captain removed him from his position and took on his duties. As the ship was rounding Cape Horn, Captain Patten fell ill, his hearing and eyesight failing. Next in line for command was the second mate, but he could not navigate. Mary Patten assumed command, with the second mate’s help and the support of the crew. Navigating and caring for her husband filled every moment; for fifty days she was unable to change clothes. The ship arrived in San Francisco in November 1856. The insurers of the vessel rewarded her with one thousand dollars.
  • Polish-born Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was the first female sailor to single-handedly sail the earth in 1978, with her trip lasting 401 days, having traveled 31,166 nautical miles. Beyond being an accomplished ship captain, she was also a shipbuilding engineer.
  • Kay Cottee would go on to be the first woman to complete a solo trip around the world non-stop just 10 years later, in her ship Blackmore’s First Lady, aged 34. Her trip was completed in just 189 days and was celebrated by 100,000 Australians waiting for her in Sydney harbour when she returned from sea.
  • In 2018, Belinda Bennett became the world’s first black woman cruise ship captain. You can read her story here.

You can read more about the history of women in maritime here and here.

Nigerian Airline Operators suspend shutdown

On Friday, May 6, Arete news reported a planned shutdown by the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) due to the rising cost of jet fuel.

The shutdown was scheduled to begin Monday, May 9, however on Sunday, May 8, AON announced that they would not continue with the planned suspension of flight operations as earlier announced. The body clarified that their decision followed intervention by the government with promises to continue dialogue with operators in seeking lasting solutions to the astronomic rise in the price of aviation fuel.

The statement read: “The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) wishes to inform the general public that further to numerous calls from the highest echelons in government with promises to urgently intervene in the crises being faced by airlines due to the astronomic and continuously rising cost of JetA1, that the AON has acceded to requests to withdraw the action for the time being while we allow for a fresh round of dialogue with the government in the hope of reaching an amicable solution.

We have also reached this decision with the highest consideration for our esteemed customers who have been faced with uncertainty over the last few days and to enable them to have access to travel to their various destinations for the time being during the period of discussions with relevant authorities.

In view of the above and in the interest of national economy and security considerations, AON hereby wishes to notify the general public that the earlier announced shutdown of operations on May 9, 2022 is hereby suspended in good faith pending the outcome of hopefully fruitful engagement with government.”

You can read more here.

Travel Update – Airline Operators in Nigeria announce shutdown

As the cost of aviation jet fuel rises from N190/litre in January this year to N607/litre in March and now sells for N700/litre, the Airline Operators of Nigeria has announced a shutdown starting Monday, May 9th.

The position of the operators was stated in a letter sent to the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, by its President, Abdulmunaf Yunusa Sarina.

The letter read, “It is with a great sense of responsibility and patriotism that the Airline Operators of Nigeria has carried on deploying and subsidising their services to our highly esteemed Nigerian flying public in the last four months despite the steady and astronomical hike in the price of JetA1 and other operating costs.

Over time, aviation fuel price has risen from N190 per litre to N700 currently. No airline in the world can absorb this kind of sudden shock from such an astronomical rise over a short period.

While aviation fuel worldwide is said to cost about 40 per cent of an airline’s operating cost globally, the present hike has shot up Nigeria’s operating cost to about 95 per cent. In the face of this, airlines have engaged the Federal Government, the National Assembly, NNPC and Oil Marketers with the view to bringing the cost of JetA1 down which has currently made the unit cost per seat for a one-hour flight in Nigeria today to an average of N120,000.

The latter cannot be fully passed to passengers who are already experiencing a lot of difficulties.

While AON appreciates the efforts of the current government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure air transport in Nigeria grows, unfortunately, the cost of aviation fuel has continued to rise unabated thereby creating huge pressure on the sustainability of operations and financial viability of the airlines. This is unsustainable and the airlines can no longer absorb the pressure.

To this end therefore, the Airline Operators of Nigeria, hereby, wishes to regrettably inform the general public that member airlines will discontinue operations nationwide with effect from Monday, May 9, 2022 until further notice.

AON uses this medium to humbly state that we regret any inconveniences this very difficult decision might cause and appeal to travellers to kindly reconsider their travel itinerary and make alternative arrangements.”

Earlier this year, Arete reported a strike among aviation workers in Nigeria here.  We will continue to monitor the situation and update accordingly.