Cameroon Signs Maritime Security Law

On December 27, 2021, President Paul Biya of Cameroon signed a law on the suppression of piracy and general safety of maritime navigation within its waters, making Cameroon the second country in the region to enact a national legal framework on suppression of piracy and maritime offenses. Nigeria was the first after it adopted a similar law back in 2019. The law is a critical milestone in the Gulf of Guinea’s maritime security, with Cameroon’s national maritime authorities empowered to punish any illegal activities threatening safe navigation within its territorial waters. 

The law rules on the following: piracy, terrorism onboard ships, pollution of waterways and financing acts of piracy. The punishment for these crimes include life imprisonment if a conviction is successful. Fines range from $16,000 to $4 million depending on the crime.

A series of piracy incidents since 2019 prompted the government to take action. The primary goal was to guarantee security of ships at the Doula anchorage, using local armed guards onboard vessels. Most importantly, as Gulf of Guinea piracy evolves into other maritime offenses such as oil theft, countries in the region are encouraged to strengthen their national capacities in maintaining maritime security. It is hoped that such frameworks, especially combined approaches between neighbouring countries such as the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, will act as further deterrents to criminal gangs.

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Maritime Alert: Crude tanker fired on in Gulf of Guinea

A maritime shipping alert has been issued and vessels have been put on high alert in the Gulf of Guinea after suspected pirates fired on a crude tanker. In the early hours of Monday, December 12, a laden Suzemax tanker was 89 nautical miles southwest of the Kome-Kribi Marine Terminal in Cameroon, where it had loaded a cargo and left the previous evening.

A skiff approached the tanker underway approximately 100 miles west of Equatorial Guinea and shots were fired from the small boat but there was no attempt to board the tanker. The Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) issued two alerts on December 12 to vessels operating in the area.

Several shots were reported fired but it was stated that the skiff didn’t come closer than about 200 meters. Unconfirmed media reports are linking the incident to the Greek-flagged Suezmax tanker Maran Poseidon managed by Maran Tankers Management. AIS data shows that the 158,000 dwt tanker departed the terminal off Cameroon on December 11 bound for the German port of Wilhelmshaven.

In a separate incident, on December 13 an unnamed passenger vessel was reported hijacked whilst underway approximately 55nm northwest of Bata, Equatorial Guinea. It was later confirmed that 2 Cameroonian crew members were abducted from the vessel.

Historically November & December have seen a rise in incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. Arete provides full spectrum risk management services to the maritime industry. These services include embarking Risk Management Consultants (RMCs) on clients’ and platforms offshore to coordinate Security Patrol Vessel (SPV) activity, undertake incident response & crisis management, train and drill the crews in counter-piracy etc. You can email us info@areteafrica.com or fill this form.

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Denmark finds Nigerian guilty in piracy case

On Monday 26th of November, a Danish court found a Nigerian man guilty of endangering the lives of Danish military personnel in a shooting incident last November involving Denmark’s Navy and a crew of suspected Nigerian pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Nigerian man, 40 year old, Lucky Frances, was however not sentenced. The incident occurred when as part of international anti-piracy efforts, Denmark deployed a frigate to the Gulf of Guinea in October 2021. The following month, it intervened in an alleged attack on a commercial vessel, killing four pirates and capturing four other suspects.

“The court emphasized that the (40-year-old) man, together with the other perpetrators, fulfilled all the signs of piracy and had to be described as a pirate group,” Copenhagen city court said in a statement.

Frances was injured during a firefight with Danish navy personnel in the November clash and was taken to Denmark for prosecution in January after being treated at a hospital in Ghana. His leg was amputated as a result of his injuries. The other three suspects had charges against them dropped in January, after Denmark failed to find a country in the region to take them, the Danish Armed Forces said at the time.

Frances was exempted from any legal consequences due to his medical condition and the fact that charges against the other three suspected pirates had been dropped, according to his lawyer Jesper Storm Thygesen, speaking to Reuters news agency here. Frances will remain in custody until both sides have decided whether to appeal against the verdict. We will continue to monitor the case.

Crude Oil Theft, Pipeline Security Contracts, Piracy and Elections – A Perfect Storm of Drivers of Instability

Oil Theft and Economic Strain

The Nigerian economy is currently under intense strain, particularly in respect of foreign currency reserves and inflows.  At the end of November, Governor Godwin Emefiele of the Central Bank of Nigeria stated that “The official foreign exchange receipt from crude oil sales into our official reserves has dried up steadily from above $3.0 billion monthly in 2014 to an absolute zero dollars today”, The single greatest earner of foreign currency has, for decades, been the oil and gas sector.  However, the CBN chief attributed the atrophy of this sector’s ability to generate foreign currency inflows to the relentless and expanding industrialised theft of the country’s crude oil and condensate production. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the oil and gas sector represents a huge opportunity for Nigeria, with global supplies having become strained as a result of economic sanctions imposed on Russia.  However, Nigeria has been unable to exploit the potential this global crisis represents and its foreign currency reserves continue to dwindle.  This is becoming critical as evidenced by the CBN governors comments and a swathe of recent changes in monetary policy relating to foreign currency and banking regulations.   

With Europe now unequivocally cut off from the major supply route for Russian gas since the destruction of the Nordstream 1 pipelines, and the failure to commission the Nordstream 2 pipeline through the Baltic, the question is whether Nigeria can ramp up its production and export levels to fill the supply gap in Europe.  The sea routes to Europe’s markets from Nigeria are relatively short and this reinforces the merits of trading hydrocarbons with European countries.  

Europe’s requirement for LNG supplies is buoyant and Nigeria has capacity to produce 22 million tons per annum (mtpa) from Bonny.  The recent commissioning of train 6 has not yet generated the benefits for the economy that were envisaged though.  For Nigeria to fail to step into the supply gap and increase LNG exports to Europe could be economically – and politically – damaging. 

So can Nigeria exploit the prevailing global economic environment to generate a reversal of fortunes and stabilise the economy?  While clearly a potential opportunity exists, Nigeria faces significant challenges, noting that in late September, media sources reported a 13.5% year on year drop in crude oil output.  This is very significant at a time when these other massive new market opportunities are opening up.   

The following graphic is taken from the OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report and shows the steady year-on-year and month-on-month decline in crude oil output.

Industrialized Theft of Hydrocarbons

Pipeline vandalism and lack of investment in pipeline infrastructure are intrinsically linked to the challenges facing the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources.  Chronic threats/risks to the security and physical integrity of pipelines, particularly in the Niger Delta, undermine confidence among domestic and foreign investors.  The apparent inability of oil companies to secure their pipelines is partly responsible for a wave of divestment by the International Oil Companies, an example of which is the planned major divestment by Shell of its remaining onshore oil production assets.  Shell would likely complete the divestment by the time of the elections were it not for a legal challenge to the process centred around a $1.8 billion settlement claim against the operator by host communities in the Niger Delta.

Onshore gas is less problematic from a security perspective due to its volatility and the technical and safety challenges associated with removing it in volume from the closed systems operated by the oil companies. However, Nigeria’s production of associated gas – that which emanates from the same wells and reservoirs as the crude oil production – is entirely dependent upon the ability of the oil companies to continue to pump oil.  With pipelines now so heavily attacked by thieves and vandals that, according to some sources, as much as 90% of oil that leaves the wellheads is stolen before it reaches the export terminals, there is a significant risk that oil companies will shut in their fields.  This will directly impact on gas production.  

Conversely, with oil being far less profitable than gas for the operating companies, it is possible that the oil companies might take a pragmatic position and adopt an elevated tolerance for theft of crude oil as long as the gas continues to flow.  The downside of such pragmatism is that operators are responsible for the environmental impact of their operations, and as we have seen in the past, they face litigation even for loss of containment events caused by deliberate interventions by communities, criminal elements and militants.  Against such a background, it is understandable that they might decide to divest.   

The Nexus with Piracy

On the maritime front, the point is made in shipping media that when the Dangote refinery comes on stream, the facility will likely export refined hydrocarbon products via tankers.  There could be fewer tankers exiting the onshore terminals in the Delta and more off Lekki.  The cargo will change as well from crude to refined product.  That will change the target set available to pirates and maritime armed robbers off the Lekki area and beyond.   However, in late November 2022, Martha Pobee, an Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) of the UN, warned of a shifting situation in the Gulf of Guinea.  She warned that “Pirate groups are adapting to changing dynamics both at sea and in coastal areas,” going on to say; “In this respect, the recent decrease in instances of piracy may in part be attributable to the shift by criminal networks to other forms of maritime and riverine crime, such as oil bunkering and theft, which they likely view as both less risky and more profitable”.  She urged regional States and their regional and international partners to accelerate their efforts to establish security in the Gulf of Guinea, referring to the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, signed in June 2013 as the benchmark.

Strategies to Avert a Crisis

The Dangote refinery will also rely on oil from the Delta region to operate.  That feedstock will need to be brought in either via pipelines or tankers.  If it is via pipeline, the line could be targeted onshore by thieves and vandals.  It could also be a target for politically inspired vandalism / sabotage.  If the feedstock is coming in via tanker, that increases the costs and also relies on existing output and terminals in the Delta.  It is likely that Dangote has been or very soon will be lobbying government to resolve the security dilemma in the Niger Delta Region.  

In response to the challenges in the region, we have seen a re-energised focus in government on the seemingly intractable challenge of securing the pipeline network in the Niger Delta.  The Federal Government has realised that crude oil production is vital for the economy and security of the infrastructure is critical to success.  

Recently, we have seen the award of a Niger Delta-wide contract to the former MEND militant leader, Government Ekpemepulo – aka Tompolo.  As at mid-October, the status of this contract remained unclear as a result of strain between Tompolo and other former militant leaders – notably Dokubo Asari. However, by the end of November, pipeline security contracts with Tompolo companies were in place and operational in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States. 

According to local media reports, Tompolo’s company, Tantita Security Services, has been directly involved in:

  • The discovery of a 4km illegal pipeline running from Yorke Flow Station to an offshore loading point.  It was just one of 15 illegal connections to the Trans Escravos Pipeline.
  • 06 October 2022 – Arrest of an illegal oil bunkering vessel and its crew in the Escravos area.
  • 07 October 2022 – Arrest of a 1,500 metric tons capacity crude oil tanker, MT Deinmo, IMO number 7210526 with eight crew members at the Escravos River in Warri Southwest LGA.
  • By 10 October, a total of 58 illegal connections had been discovered by Tantita Security Services in Delta and Bayelsa States.
  • 15 October, TSS reports the discovery on preceding days of another illegal connection behind a military post in the Ogulagha Community in close proximity to the Forcados Terminal.

Tompolo was keen to demonstrate his company’s capability as a significant sum of money had reportedly been paid at an early stage – before the contract had been signed.  Despite numerous claims of ‘discovery’ of oil theft infrastructure and operations, Tompolo and his organisation would almost certainly have had foreknowledge of the many oil theft operations in the Burutu Kingdom and the wider area, including into Bayelsa. Tompolo’s Chief of Security in Tantita Security Services is one Keston Pondi – formerly a senior Delta State MEND commander in Camp 5.

In November, despite growing support among influential actors, Tompolo was still faced with demands for inclusion by security companies and organisations that are closely associated with former militants.  In Rivers, Asari Dokubo has been pacified and is now supportive of the contract and High Chief Edwin Clark has called for people in the region to support the contract.  However also in Rivers, The Onelga Security Planning and Advisory Committee (OSPAC) demanded inclusion in the Tantita Security Limited surveillance contract, and in Delta State, a speedboat operated by Tompolo’s company local subsidiary was attacked and the engine stolen.  This may have been purely incidental, but it cannot be ruled out that a group seeking inclusion was sending Tompolo a message.

The key challenge facing Tompolo is to demonstrate capability, competence and integrity in the delivery of the contract.  The problem he faces is that the youths who are directly involved in the operational theft of the hydrocarbons are very small fish in a big pond where some very large fish also swim.  The youths are expendable, and any number of arrests will only scratch the surface of the problem that is driven by powerful actors, who drive the operations from afar.  

The economic emergency created by the dwindling foreign currency reserves, and the election campaign which is now underway will perhaps focus minds in Abuja and energise the review of options for securing the region’s pipeline infrastructure.  Arete sources indicate that at least one of the presidential candidates intends to make the issue of industrialised oil theft a key election issue.  That same candidate has reportedly pledged to address the challenge to the country’s prosperity that this illicit industry represents, should he win the Presidency.  Any response will likely see the deployment of high-tech surveillance solutions that have not previously been used in the region and it is likely the new technology will be integrated with existing command and control structures that will see Tompolo’s companies responding to highly accurate but perishable intelligence.  Thus, it is expected that, given time, Tompolo’s companies will be seen to be an effective response to the oil theft problem. 

Conclusion

We should expect the issues discussed in this analysis to become hot topics in the election campaign and we will continue to monitor and add our analysis in the coming months.  The scale of the theft of crude oil is such that the problem will not be fixed quickly or without major pushback from powerful vested interests.  The entire Niger Delta region faces a period of strategic change, and the ending of the industrialised theft of hydrocarbons will not come about without massive investment in the region.  The question is, where will the funding be generated for such a project?

Nigerian Floods 2022 – Security and Stability Implications

Background

For the last three months, most of Nigeria’s domestic mainstream media, as well as social media, have carried stories of the escalating flooding crisis that has engulfed large areas of 34 of the country’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory.  

While flooding is almost an annual event (the following map shows those areas affected by historical flooding events), the events of 2022 have occurred on a scale not witnessed since 2012.  

The following before and after satellite photos show the impact of the flooding in the area of Lokoja at the confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers.

The causes of the annual inundation of flood plains and the communities that farm them generally stem from poor implementation of environmental management and inadequate infrastructure.  Nigerian authorities say the causes of this year’s excessive flooding are twofold:

  • Water overflowing from local rivers as a result of unusually high levels of rainfall 
  • The release of excess water from Lagdo dam in neighbouring Cameroon’s northern region into the Benue River system

 

The Impact 

Earlier in October, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) warned of catastrophic flooding for states through which the Niger and Benue rivers flow.  It is expected that flooding will persist through November for the southern states of Anambra, Delta, Rivers, Cross River and Bayelsa, and three of Nigeria’s reservoirs, Kainji, Jebba, and Shiroro, are expected to overflow.

The minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, revealed mid-October that about 82,053 houses had been totally decimated, 2,504,095 million persons had been affected, and 332, 327 hectares of land were completely damaged

The flooding, which began in the early summer, has:

 

  • Killed up to 600 people (as at the end of October)
  • 1.4 million people have been displaced
  • Spread waterborne diseases including cholera and malaria (The flooding has occurred during a severe cholera outbreak that had already killed more than 465 people and affected over 18,000 others in 31 states since January 2022)
  • Damaged Infrastructure and farmland 
  • At least 70,566 hectares of farmland and crops have been destroyed; some more recent reports have the scale of impacted farmland as high as 569,000 hectares. 
  • Destroyed crops and farmland resulting in food shortages

 

The floods are a humanitarian disaster and may also heavily impact security in the region.  According to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) of the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe at the end of October, more than forty-three thousand people in 26 Local Government Areas (LGA) have been affected by flooding since the beginning of the rainy season, including the reporting of 7,485 cases of cholera. 4,347 people have been displaced, with the elderly, women and children most affected.  

These Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have taken refuge in communal buildings such as schools in areas adjacent to the affected areas. Tounga and Fufore LGAs in Adamawa state and Gujba, Geidam, and Gulani LGA in Yobe state have been the most affected areas by the floods according to one NGO. 

IDPs in the flood-prone regions who were already using makeshift shelters or sleeping outside are identified as the most vulnerable and NGOs and relief operations mounted by State emergency management authorities are being ramped up with funding from several sources, including the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund.  

The Rivers State government has reportedly allocated 1 billion Naira for relief operations but nevertheless, across the country, at the end of October less than 40% of people affected by the disaster had received any food assistance, leading authorities to warn of victims resorting to “negative coping strategies” – criminal behaviour triggered by desperation and the urge to survive. 

Further deliveries of relief food & packages have been made in the last few weeks, but some local groups have called for further transparency in its distribution.

Anecdotal information from within Nigeria indicates that:

  • Flood related criminality is increasing.  
  • In one location, displaced cult members took over a town hall and forcefully seized boats and engines.
  • Vacated residences in some areas are being looted by criminals – especially in more affluent areas.
  • State authorities are distributing support but are allegedly using the relief operation as an opportunity to launch election campaigning.
  • The floods are driving inflationary pressure on basic commodities and amenities; inflation is currently sitting at around 20% in Nigeria.

 

Nigerians making their way through floodwaters after heavy rainfall in Hadejia, Jigawa State on Sept. 19.

 

Other impacts from media reporting include:

  • Adamawa state – In late August, severe flooding in Adamawa State caused 10 fatalities and damaged dozens of homes.
  • Anambra state – On 7 October 2022, 76 people drowned after an overloaded boat fleeing the flood capsized. The overflow of River Niger and downpour fuelled the rise of the water level. Riverine communities in the state have been submerged by the flood.  The three-storey Madonna Catholic Church in Iyiowa, Anambra West collapsed due to flooding on 9 October.
  • Jigawa state – Floods struck Jigawa State from August to September, where at least 92 people died.
  • Kogi state – Lokoja, situated at the confluence of the Benue and Niger rivers, is among the worst-affected areas of the flooding.
  • Niger state – In Mariga, Niger State, over 1,500 corpses were washed away from a cemetery.  Officials said that 650 of the bodies were found and were reburied.
  • Yobe state – Severe flooding struck Yobe State in July and killed four people.
  • Rivers State – 5 LGAs have been inundated as at 26 October.

 

The Response 

Conclusions

The flooding has the potential to seriously dislocate Nigerian society and trigger instability and increased criminality as IDPs seek to survive.  The alleged exploitation of relief efforts for political gain will either win popular support, or, where the perception is that relief funding is being embezzled, trigger protest and unrest.  The government’s handling of this national disaster will potentially have a major impact on the outcome of the 2023 elections as Nigerians seek the support of their state and federal level leaders.

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.