The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) is unarguably one of the most dangerous maritime spaces in the world as it now attracts war insurance premium. Threatened by increased piracy, illegal fishing, resource theft and general insecurity, the GoG is analogous to a large swathe of honey in a thorn cluster.
Strategic and lucrative but highly dreaded maritime corridor, the region produces 3 million liters of crude oil daily with 40 percent destined for Europe and the U.S receiving about 30 percent. The recent discovery of offshore hydrocarbon deposits in the region has enhanced its status as a geostrategic region in the world. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea in 2016 representing 28% of worldwide attacks– including 36 for Nigeria. This region now accounts for 50% of global kidnapping for ransom, making it an extremely dangerous route for maritime business.
On 3 July, 2001, States of the region established the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) to tackle the aforementioned problems but with the specific mandate to ensure “cooperation amongst the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea in order to defend their common interest and promote peace and socio-economic development based on the bases of dialogue, consensus, ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity”. The treaty was signed in Libreville, Gabon, by the founding member States including Angola, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe. Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo joined the Commission in 2008 for purposes of peace, security and socio-economic development. Ghana, in 2013, applied to join the GGC, but that application is yet to be perfected.
Seventeen years after the GGC was established, there is little to show in terms of concrete achievements. It's acutely disheartening that leaders in the seven member States of the GGC are only beginning to realize the importance of the region and the future potentials of its immense resources. The blame lays squarely with the leadership of the GGC. As revealed by the director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, during a recent Chatham House speech, “65% of cargo coming into Gulf of Guinea end up in Nigeria; it accounts for 50% – 60% major maritime security incidents that occur in the Gulf of Guinea”. IMB reports show that in 2016, there were 53 incidents of piracy or attempted piracy in the GoG with Nigeria alone recording 34 of those attempts. Angola had 5, Congo had 5, Benin had two, Togo had one and Ghana had only one incident. Out of the 16 crew kidnapping cases in the region in 2016, ten were in Nigeria while 56 Mariners were kidnapped in 2017 alone off the Niger Delta. These challenges call for a robust response and committed leadership in that regard.
The GGC has a total population of approximately 337.4 million people with Nigeria having at least 55% of that. The second most populous country in the region after Nigeria is the Democratic Republic of Congo with 84 million people showing that benefits of a prosperous GGC will accrue to Nigeria the most just like the losses are devolving on her. Ironically, since the establishment of the GGC, it has never received more than 50% funding of its budget. As revealed by GGC Executive Secretary, Ambassador Florentina Adenike Ukonga, during a GGC experts meeting held in early 2018, Abuja, since 2009, the budget of the GGC has been pegged at the same level. Meanwhile, only 25% of the annual budget has been released in the last three years. The reality is fraught with total neglect of the commission by the founding States. At the 4th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the GGC held in Abuja in November 2017, none of the GGC Head of States was in attendance. At best, they sent their Vice-Presidents or Prime Ministers with some States sending Foreign Ministers. Such attitude speaks to the value and importance the members attach to their agency.
Interestingly, at that Assembly, Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, emerged as the Chairperson of the GGC, a cap Nigeria should naturally wear with pride given its vantage position in the region. Yet, nothing seems to be changing. There's palpable distrust of Nigeria and her commitments by other member States of the GGC. Such attitude can be addressed and the mistrust doused via exemplary leadership. President Buhari perhaps needs to borrow a leaf from Paul Kagame of Rwanda who on emerging the African Union President earlier in the year, set four African Union flagship projects of the Agenda 2063 in motion including the popular Single African Air Travel Market (SAATM); African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); and Freedom of Movement Protocol. To back up its commitment, the Rwandan parliament has now ratified all the instruments of the AfCFTA, which it signed in March becoming the first AU country to do so. Such defining exemplary leadership is what Nigeria must replicate in the GGC for any progress to be achieved.
The Way Forward
Blue/Ocean economy is worth $7 trillion globally. A huge portion of the Atlantic Ocean consists of the present Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria needs to take advantage of the resources and potentials of this rich region to empower the mostly unemployed youths in this region within the next few years. Not doing so will be tantamount to a remarkable failure of leadership and foster insecurity in the GoG.
GGC holds immense promise and opportunities not just for the prosperity of the region, but for all of the entire of Africa. It has global strategic importance as the region hosting the U.S. Africa Command (AfriCOM) and the core of AfriCOM’s area of responsibility. Meanwhile, illegal fishing is a daily occurrence in waters around the GoG, but arresting violators and interdicting scofflaw's vessels will not solve the problem. Nigeria must strategically harness these resources to empower citizens and create an enviable livelihood. Collaboration with GCC members remains a priority.
Now that Western nations are drawing close to the GoG especially following the recent discovery of hydrocarbon deposits, it is crucial that Nigeria stamps her authority as the go-to partner in the region with influence on what happens and what doesn't. Nigeria as a matter of priority should endeavor to fund at least 50% of the GGC budget yearly, more so with a Nigerian serving as the Executive Secretary of the Commission. Such practical assertiveness will not make her a detested regional hegemon. Rather it will speak to her being the driver of collective security and underline the essence of shared responsibilities with each state lifting at her level. Nigeria can also extend a hand of partnership to Africa's new-found partner, China, on the GoG. Funding GGC could be one of our main proposals to China at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit that will be held this September in Beijing. Considering Chinese investment on the ambitious “belt and road” initiative and partnership with the A.U. on Agenda 2063, China will relish an opportunity to help in the GoG.
With the spillover effect of the Libyan crisis on the GoG now manifesting fully with the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW), the need for cooperation has become compelling. Engaging fully and robustly in the GCC sphere is both a political and strategic imperative for Nigeria. She is being looked up to by her neighbors and partners to assume a proactive leadership role. Moreover, the rich resources of Nigeria and Angola, if well-managed and deployed, will sufficiently fund 100% of the GGC budget without affecting both countries’ primary financial commitments at the national and other international levels. But one thing is clear, if Nigeria fails to assume its leadership responsibilities in the GGC, no other country will at this point, except if to play proxy to external interests. Hence, the policy relating to GCC must be reviewed, and made more robust. Both national and regional strategic consideration compels that this subject must be accorded priority in the immediate term.
Udeh is a Research Associate at Selonnes Consult Ltd; Obaze is MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd. Awka.