Philip Nwosu, Lagos
The Nigerian Navy said it is working with littoral countries within the West African sub-region, including the Niger Republic to tackle the problems of piracy which threatens commercial activities within the maritime sector of those countries.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, who made the revelation at the opening ceremony for EXERCISE OBANGAME EXPRESS 2019 said these countries navies along with the Gendarmerie of Niger and the Nigerian Navy have been in the vanguard of efforts to build synergy across boundaries necessary to mitigate maritime security challenges.
Admiral Ibas said under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) integrated maritime strategy, member states of ECOWAS have endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for joint patrol of their common maritime domain.
The initiative, he said, could serve as a veritable platform for sustained multilateral collaboration to address the peculiar nature of the threat in the Gulf of Guinea and beyond.
Similarly, Admiral Ibas commended the setting up of a regional maritime domain awareness training school, facilitated by the United States government for the training of the Nigerian Navy personnel and personnel of navies of Gulf of Guinea countries in the operations and technical aspect of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), Maritime surveillance and the operationalisation of the Yaoundé Accord.
He commended the United States government for assisting in the establishment of the school and encouraged countries within the Gulf of Guinea to seize the opportunity provided by the school to train their personnel.
Earlier in his welcome address, United States Consul General, John Bray, noted that Obangame Exercise had grown in leaps and bounds, both in complexity and in accomplishment.
“We note the efforts by regional navies to work together in the spirit of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct which is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea-based illicit activity,” Bray remarked.
As part of the events to open the 2019 Obangame Express, Bray and Ibas commissioned the Nigerian Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Training School in Apapa. The training school was built by the Nigerian Navy and equipped by the United States Navy.
“The Maritime Domain Awareness Training School in Apapa is one of the most evident examples of our enduring partnership. This school will be a regional centre of excellence in the area of maritime domain awareness where neighboring countries will be trained,” Bray added.
In her remarks, the Director, Directorate of Intelligence, U.S. Africa Command, Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, lauded the commitment of the 33 nations scheduled to participate in this year’s exercise.
According to her, illicit maritime activities such as illegal fishing, trafficking of weapons, narcotics and people, as well as the ongoing threat of piracy, undermine the rule of law, food security, and economic development in the region.
“This exercise is a clear demonstration of the United States’ dedication to combat these illicit activities and help our partners in the Gulf of Guinea to provide security for their resources, their economy, and their people.
“OBANGAME EXPRESS 2019 will make the region a safe place for maritime commerce and ultimately help increase the prosperity of the region,” Rear Admiral Berg said.
Obangame Express is part of a comprehensive strategy by U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that address maritime security concerns. The Nigerian Navy is hosting the 2019 exercise from March 14 to 22.
The word “OBANGAME” comes from the Fang language of southern Cameroon and other parts of Central Africa. It means “togetherness.”