The Nigerian Navy said it is working with countries within the West African sub-region, including Niger Republic, to tackle the problems of piracy, which threatens commercial activities within the maritime sectors of those countries.
Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, who made the discosure at the opening ceremony for Exercise Obangame Express 2019, said the 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.
Ibas said, under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) integrated maritime strategy, member states of ECOWAS have endorsed a memorandum of understanding 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 threats in the Gulf of Guinea and beyond.
Similarly, Ibas commended the setting up of a regional maritime domain awareness training school, facilitated by the United States government, for the training of Nigerian Navy personnel and the navies of Gulf of Guinea countries in the operations and technical aspect of maritime domain awareness, maritime surveillance and the operationalisation of the Yaoundé Accord.
He commended the US 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 US Consul-General John Bray noted that Exercise Obangame has grown in leaps and bounds, in complexity and 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 said.
As part of events to open the 2019 Obangame Express, Bray and Ibas inaugurated the Nigerian Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness Training School in Apapa, Lagos. The training school was built by the Nigerian Navy and equipped by the US 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 neighbouring countries will be trained,” Bray said.
In her remarks, 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 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.”