It’s Time to Bring Back the Merchant Marine.

The challenges facing Nigeria today is daunting. Unemployment, crime, corruption, pollution, the fundamentals does not make it any easier also with too many tribes, Africa’s largest and world’s 7th largest muslim population. Africa’s largest and words 7th largest Christian population. Home to the worlds deadliest terrorist group, Boko Haram, clashes between muslim herdsmen and Christian farmers with killings now almost on a daily basis !!.

Hell on earth !!. People from Nigeria are candidates to paradise, we’ve been living in hell..and now Nigeria recently added another gold medal, beating Somalia to the number one spot in PIRACY !!

There are three main piracy hotspots in the world :

Gulf of Aden

South China seas

Bight of Benin (Nigeria)

The level of piracy in the Gulf if Guinea puts Somalia to shame. The seas around Nigeria can be described as a war zone. It’s the bloodiest pirate hotspot on the planet. This is due in most part to the inability of the Nigerian Navy to effectively police its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Now, to be frank no nation ever has enough resources allocated to enable its forces to be everywhere they need to be all the time. So in reality defence and security has become a bit of a mirage; aiming to look more substantial and solid that it actually is.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the circumstance of maritime security, and the protection of a nations Exclusive Economic Zones. An EEZ is the area of sea bed that a nation administers, for want of a better phrase ‘owns’, and therefore can control/monetize the extraction of resources (such as oil, Fish, gas) from, and which is the bedrock of the Nigerian economy.

Nigeria is the worlds 7th biggest oil producer, with 20,000 foreign oil workers in the country. Nigeria spends a heck of a lot of money importing the expertise needed to pump black gold from one of the worlds richest oil fields. Disgruntled communities and criminal elements doesn’t make their job any easier for the expatriates, who have to live in gated quarters and move around with armed guards. Hundreds of foreign oil workers are kidnapped by pirates and militants every year.

Nigeria imports %75 of all its commodities. Our food, our fuel, our cloths, cars, electronics, toothpick, virtually everything we need or use come to us by ship. As a result ships from all over the world are queuing up to get into one of Africa’s biggest seaport. Funds to expand the size of the port to handle the increasing volume of goods coming in is not forthcoming, as a result sometimes up to a hundred vessels have to wait for weeks on the waterways to offload their cargo. This leaves the ships vulnerable to pirate attacks.

Nigeria, a country with perhaps the most entrepreneurial populace on earth should have a thriving manufacturing industry. Unfortunately It’s much easier to earn money from oil companies than it is to farm or generate tax and duty revenues. The oil boom in the 70s and 80s decimated the once thriving manufacturing industries. The groundnut pyramid in Sokoto, textile factories in Kano, processing plants Lagos, steel plants and plantations in the SouthWest. All gone. Historically one of Africa’s largest manufacturing base wiped within in two decades after the discovery of oil.

The hardest hit is the Niger Delta region. Lacking the manufacturing and service base of other part of the country, the people relied extensively on fishing. Oil pollution have wrecked havoc to their source of livelihood.


The delta is the main oil-producing region in Africa. In 2008 it produced on average $2.2 billion of oil every month. Contrasting the volume of oil produced in that region, the level of pollution and the living standard of the people of those communities, it is easy to see why militant groups like MEND exists. Combating militants in the Niger Delta is a daunting and challenging endeavour .The labyrinth of creeks and waterways in the Niger Delta is enough for militants to hit, run and hide.

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The task of  protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and shipping lanes falls on the Nigerian Navy. One would expect the largest black navy in Africa (in terms of personnel) to be bristling with Offshore Patrol Vessels and supporting craft in the dozens or hundreds. Sadly the Nigerian Navy is severely lacking in capital ships. The very few platforms it has are hopelessly under-armed to provide any semblance of deterrence to a hostile enemy.

Despite recent fleet capitalization, the Nigerian Navy’s surface fleet is too small to effectively patrol the nations inshore waterways and too ill-equipped to provide blue water protection for Nigeria’s vital offshore economic infrastructure.A nation cannot control or monetize anything if it doesn’t actually have control of it, and just as a city cannot be policed from the secured, nor a battlefield secured just from air, neither can an EEZ. It’s not too late however to remedy the problem.


The Nigerian Navy flagship, the high endurance Hamilton Class frigates NNS Thunder, and NNS Okpabana have no business carrying out shoreline patrol missions. These ships requires $1 million worth of fuelling for basic operations. It’s just too expensive to operate for basic shoreline operations. They are blue water assets and should be tasked and armed primarily with anti submarine capabilities.

What Nigeria need is a fleet of at least a dozen Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) tasked solely with patrolling and defending Nigeria’s EEZ. OPVs displaces less than 3,000 tons, are capable of operating in open ocean, which are the maritime presence equivalent of the ‘police foot-patrol’, fulfilling a similar position in terms of maritime security.

Make no mistake, these vessels can not do not have blue water capabilities and lack the endurance for extended operations, nor can they ever be, ‘frigate replacements’ but they are vessels which have a different mission spectrum that brings its own requirements in terms of armament, equipment and sensors at a much cheaper rate. For country like Nigeria, OPVs should constitute the primary surface vessel types.


In 2015 the Nigerian Navy requested a $300 million funding for the purchase of diesel submarines for coastal defence. In the 80s the Nigerian Navy was among the elite few in Africa with anti-submarine capabilities. Six Augusta Westland Lynx   anti-submarine helicopters. In the absence of a credible blue water adversary, the fuel guzzling Ex Hamilton Class vessels NNS Thunder and NNS Okpabana should be transformed into an anti-submarine platform and put to good use, for training and operations.


The waters of West Africa are some of the richest in fishery and is rife with illegal fishing vessels, majority of which are Chinese. This is therefore a mission which requires an OPV to maintain very good situational awareness of its patrol area, and the ocean beyond that. Yes the Nigerian Navy have a fairly sophisticated surveillance system. It fields the Falcon Eye Surveillance System.

The Navy will still require a lot of vessels, and of course when they do find ships breaking the laws by carrying out illegal fishery, smuggling oil or look suspicious they need to be able to deploy and support ship search teams in order to examine that vessel more forensically than is possible by radar systems like the Eagle Eye Falcon System.

Protecting Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone has developed a harder edge in recent years as the Navy’s deployable number of ships shrinks. It probably started with the Bakassi territorial dispute.

The loss of Bakassi was a damnation on the Nigerian government. Not only did Nigeria lose the oil rich Bakassi peninsula and prolific fishing ground, the Nigerian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command lost access to the Atlantic. Ships from Calabar must now seek permission from the Cameroonian government to have access to the sea.

The Nigerian navies security imperatives has significantly progressed with events in the Gulf of Guinea where fishing vessels face constant attacks from pirates, add to that their protection of fishery rights has become almost a proxy for territorial (or EEZ) expansion at the expense of Nigeria because the Nigerian Navy is quite frankly challenged.

Fish though are not the only bounty of the sea. Potential oil deposits and minerals in the Lake Chad Basin are all located and extracted Nigerian waters.

With the modern understanding of the impact of Pirate  activities, and combined with their sometimes great distances from land mean that for the Nigerian governments the mission of oversight is both very vital. OPVs  is Nigeria’s primary asset in keeping over watch over these activities.

There has also been in recent years, growing examples of nations using Rigs, as well as fishing fleets, to try to expand or strengthen their claims to Nigeria’s watery territory. This has been most recently seen in the Gulf of Guinea. Keen on establishing their presence and ownership of rich fishing grounds and oil deposits, Equatorial Guinea has in the last ten years acquired well armed warships and patrol craft and is now boasts having a Navy powerful enough to challenge the Nigerian Navy and now has plans for several oil rigs on contested waters.

Not long ago, such boasts would have been dismissed as the bravado of a second-string military. No longer. The fact is once rigs are in place they are very difficult to remove without damaging that which a nation would wish to preserve or causing an all-out conflict; therefore the best method of dealing with these threats is to abandon the long-held ” Fire Brigade approach ” and focus on prevention – which requires more ships.

Equatorial Guinea has been using its substantial oil wealth to rejuvenate and expand its armed forces, especially its Navy and has acquired a significant amount of warships. As piracy and robbery at sea is a significant threat in the Gulf of Guinea, the country is investing in the Navy to protect its oil installations.

In 2010 Equitorial Guinea embarked on a modernization program, focused on well armed naval ships. This has shifted the balance of power in the Gulf of Guinea in ways Nigeria is beginning to digest.


To address the challenges posed by a small and overstretched navy, the Navy needs to review its naval maritime policy and look into incorporating merchant marine for naval operations. In the event of massive escalation attack from state and non-state actors the Nigerian Navy is going to need a lot of help. If troops are deployed the already overstretched navy is going to need ships to support troops deployed.

During this period Nigeria’s Merchant Marine will be called upon for support. They can take on inshore duties or crew other vessels. This allows the navy to release seasoned mariners so they can be dispatched for offshore, or possibly blue water operations.

In 2007 President Olusegun Obasanjo authorized the establishment of a Nigeria Merchant Navy Corps. But as is often the case politics seems to get in the way of meaningful development. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) undertook an investigation after hearing of this development.

In November 2007 the Director General of NIMASA said in a letter to the Presidency that “the so-called Nigerian Merchant Navy is not known in the law establishing the NIMASA (NIMASA ACT 2007) nor the Nigerian Merchant Shipping Act 2007 that delegated the function of the Maritime Safety Administration to NIMASA”, and in 2010 the Nigerian police announced a ban of an organization calling itself the “Nigerian Merchant Navy” in July 2010, due to alleged illegal activities of some members of that organization.

The threat and killing suffered by sailors as a result of the insurgence of sea pirates in the Nigeria/Cameroon was has risen exponentially. Yet the same NIMASA which is meant to protect merchant marine vessels has actively seeking to undercut the Merchant Marine ad wn institution despite sll the money receivef by NIMASA to protest the mariners. In May 2011 the Nigerian Senate was considering a bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of the Nigerian Merchant Navy Security and Safety Corps.


The Nigerian Navy should create a Merchant Marine Academy to train cadets in navigation and operations. In times of conflicts Merchant Mariners can be used for logistical purposes, delivery of relief materials hundreds of miles away. These vessels will be crewed by civilian Nigerian Merchant Mariners. When the bell rings, Nigerian Merchant Marine will answer the call. They will deliver goods in every theater of operations across the ocean.


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