By Kenneth Jukpor
Rear Admiral Francis Akpan is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of Maritime Security Providers Association of Nigeria (MASPAN). He is also the Managing Director of Fradan Iquoson Services Limited. In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, Francis speaks on several pertinent maritime sector issues. Enjoy it:
How would you rate the efforts so far put in by all the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Navy and other security agencies involved in safeguarding the nation’s territorial waters?
Firstly, maritime security is crucial and sets the pace for other maritime activities to thrive. We have seen that maritime security is becoming the buzzword from the statistics around the world. Currently, the maritime sub-sector should contribute more to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria than it is doing right now. Presently, it is less than 3% which is not good and this implies that there are more opportunities that should be tapped into.
We have good laws and policies; but the nation is losing across various aspects of maritime business. When it comes to fishing, we are losing on that side; in the area of cargoes, the nation is also losing because people don’t prefer Nigerian seaports as a port of destination. Some of the problems are related to tariffs, infrastructure and policies; however, the biggest issues are connected to maritime security.
To address this challenge, the government has to partner with private operators in the area of security. Private operators are always better positioned to act as the main drivers of the policies so as to mark up the GDP of the nation from the maritime sector.
On the aspect of security, the government agencies have been pulling the strings over the years, but more work needs to be done. Nevertheless, there is a role for the private sector. The various maritime security agencies and institutions from NIMASA to Navy, Immigration, Customs, Marine Police all need to up their game.
With the NIMASA C4i platform and the Nigerian Navy’s Falcon Eye, they can watch the activities on the territorial waters. This is really a good development as we can begin to be more offensive with regards to protecting the nation’s maritime domain. As pointed out by the lead paper presenter, it is not enough to just see these activities onshore, these security agencies need to be able to have more platforms for speedy interventions. The Navy needs to be encouraged because it has a 10-year plan to have 20 helicopters, offshore patrol vessels, among others. We need more of these assets, especially vessels that can carry helicopters and launch them at sea against pirates and sea robbers.
It is also important to note that most of the illegalities at sea aren’t just pirates and sea robbers. We also have transhipers, which are people who carry out illegal ship-to-ship (STS) transfer of cargoes on the high seas. In my opinion, transhipers are the worst offenders because they wreak more havoc on the nation’s economy and they usually get away with it. They don’t pay any duty as they transfer cargoes from mother vessels to small ships and the smaller crafts dock into town to sell the cargoes. These are criminals, but the new maritime surveillance platforms provide an opportunity to track such operations. Nigeria hasn’t reached Uhuru in terms of maritime security yet. There is a lot of work to be done, more assets have to be acquired; but the good thing is that we have started working.
The fact that Nigeria is losing cargoes to Benin Republic and Cameroon is worrisome. While there is a need to look at the policies and port infrastructure shortcomings, we also have to ensure that maritime security is addressed. That’s why conferences like this are germane as government agencies and private operators explore opportunities to partner with the single goal of ensuring maritime security.
Given the fact that the federal government recently banned private operators from securing the anchorage areas; how significant is public-private partnerships with regards to maritime security?
This partnership is important because when policies are churned out without the partnership of the private sector, it won’t turn out well because it gives the idea that the sectors are being coerced into accepting such policies which shouldn’t be the case.
It is also important to note that the private sector represents the engine room and most developed nations understand this and they develop policies with the private sector involved. This also ensures that they are able to provide as many job opportunities as possible whilst collaborating with the both sectors.
Government can’t handle the issue of maritime security alone. Most leading maritime nations have recognized this and they partner private operators.
Ship-owners want a guarantee that there will be protection of their vessels and this is someone’s responsibility. We must identify the institution responsible and be able to hold them accountable if there is a misdemeanor. This doesn’t mean that such an institution can’t enter partnerships with private operators for certain aspects of maritime security.
How would you ensure that the resolutions arrived at this conference would be properly communicated to the government and subsequently implemented?
The reason we have the Navy, NIMASA, Police, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other crucial stakeholders at this summit is to be able to ensure that the deliberations here don’t terminate at the conference. These are the key stakeholders in maritime security. So, we are speaking with the key actors and we expect them to go back with these thoughts and strategies discussed at the summit.
You might say that this isn’t the first time a conference is holding with similar resolutions, but that’s not enough reason to give up. We can’t give up. We must continue to engage and strive to improve the system in a bid to attain excellence. We can’t say that we wouldn’t try anymore because we tried it the last time and it failed. I was at the Nigeria International Maritime Summit (NIMS) and I delivered a paper where I highlighted some of these issues. Today, I’m reiterating them because continuous engagements and partnerships are needed in order to push this motive forward.
You recently launched a book which focuses on leadership and military strategies. What inspired the book and what does it hope to achieve?
The book; “An Admiral’s Compass (reflection on leadership, military strategy and maritime security)” is for anyone that is involved or wants to be involved in maritime security and the likes. It encompasses all that needs to be known and more.
It could set the course for those who will be responsible for leadership nationally and those who will manage the various maritime organizations. It is like a plea to say that we have to cooperate so we can have a conducive maritime environment for the economy to thrive and for the country to develop.
We cannot do anything without good leadership either in the services or within other maritime organizations, so we must fit in the right kind of leaders in the 21st century that we are.
In the Navy, we start grooming leaders from the Ratings once you’re a leading seaman you know you’re a leader, we apportion people under such a person for mentoring, guidance and see to their progress. If we adopt this, we should be able to breed the kind of leadership we expect in the service and the nation at large.
What word of advice do you have for the newly elected MASPAN executives and what are your expectations?
I congratulate the newly elected executives and admonish them to not only keep the high level professionalism of the body, but also build upon it.
The present crop of leaders as MASPAN executives has over 80 percent Managing Directors. This means they are veterans and I expect that they would bring their wealth of experience on maritime security and administrative acumen to take the association to greater heights.