Mr. Robinson Elerubo is a security expert and a member of the Nigerian Port Facility Security Officers Forum. In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus, he proffers some pragmatic approaches to curtailing the growing dilemma.
In recent times, there has been a frightening increase in criminal activities on Nigerian waters, what’s your perspective?
It is no longer strange to hear of attacks coming from the water front. When we talk of waterfront, we are not only talking of the waterways but also jetties, warehouses, businesses and properties located within 300 meters from the waterfronts. All these fall within the definition of water front.
Sometime last year, we had incidences of robberies of some banks within Ikorodu, Lekki phase 1 and also in Festac. All these were through the adjoining waterfronts. If you want to relate it with port facility and port environment, incessant attempts by pirates to board ship and attacks by criminal elements have also been recorded. They may not necessarily be tagged pirates but however, they still fall within the criminal activity. It is not by chance that we find ourselves at this point, but we must understand that security itself is dynamic.
The kind of threats that we face today is different from the kind of threat that we had last year. The capability of criminals to carry out their threats is not the same as their ability in the past during the early 70s, 80s, and 90s. Now even criminals have degenerated from mere attacks to terrorist activities.
So what do we do, how do we resolve this anomaly?
We must start putting structures in place. I read your (MMS Plus) report on the plans of the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr Dakuku Peterside towards securing Nigerian waters. Apparently we are thinking in almost the same line, although mine is a little bit different. We must start by putting structures in place to secure our waterfronts from unauthorized access, and devise means to counter those threats that we fear. These include criminal activities; such as pirates, piracy, stowaways, vandals, terrorists, thieves, etc.
What do you think about a coastal guard?
Coastal guard is America’s name for Marine patrols but we have them in Nigeria. The Marine Police, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) security, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and others are performing the functions of a coast guard.
Don’t you think this multiplicity of security agencies responsible for the port and waterways security has become a problem?
Personally, I think that the security outfits are not enough but the most important thing is not the numbers but getting the job done. Who is responsible for ensuring that all these security agencies work? Who is there to oversee their operations? We have the office of the National security Adviser (NSA), Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transportation, even the Presidency, but how do all these different groups synergize to achieve the common goal of securing our waters, ports and its environs. It’s not just having the names, there should be clear rules on who does what and this can be achieved through a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). There should also be clear rules that should be jealously guarded. This has nothing to do with hierarchy but doing the job in a professional manner.
What approach would you suggest in order to resolve this problem?
There are several issues to look at such as port security, design of our operations, port environment, etc. Security agencies can strategically form a chain of barriers at the various locations. So, whenever an intruder breaks one barrier of a security agency, that one should be able to prompt others to prevent the actual damage from occurring. In Nigeria, you find a man who wants to attack a facility sails without being detected until he gets to the facility and he attacks and goes away. It shouldn’t be like that, the moment one shot is fired, it should be able to trigger a lot of response from all the security agencies.
If the hub for Customs is on point A, it will be wise for Navy’s hub to be at point B and the next security agency strategically positioned so that whenever an issue occurs the closet could react while others follow suit. We should be able to contact each other at such times where there is a breach. It’s not all about seeking glory.
There ought to be exclusive zones where people aren’t allowed to stray into. How do we know if that canoe driver isn’t more than a fisher man but a spy for deadly group? Why does he need to catch fishes between two vessels berthed at the port? We need to reconsider our security strategies.
CCTV cameras and Intrusion detection systems are good but the human intelligence is required to react and operate these equipments. We also need to look at our port environment. Who comes to the port and why? We also need to get someone who has the final word on the security issues at the port. How do we operate our security devices? When someone is spotted in an exclusive zone, who reacts first and who should be next? After the arrest is made, what are the enabling laws for prosecution?
Who should be able to get access into the port and how are their activities monitored at the port?
You can’t just get a port pass and be allowed to venture into everywhere in the port. If you are the Port Facility Security Officer (PFSO) of a port, it should give you the right to patrol everywhere in the port. There is also a need to strike the balance between land and water-front threats. We have to review the way we work. The different security outfits at the ports must be structured in such a way that it doesn’t affect port operations or compromise safety and security.
Security must also be cost effective and it should not be seen to cause delay and complacency must change. No more business as usual. Watch keepers should work for 24 hours everyday because they should be prompt to trigger an alarm when anything occurs.
One last Word…
All stakeholders such as NPA, Customs, Navy, etc must come together to ensure a proper design for security. I think the DG NIMASA has a very good plan with regards to security of our waters to improve the reputation of the country at the global maritime sphere, but we must recognize that the port is a critical national asset and its security should be guarded jealously by all security agencies. Apart from oil, the biggest source revenue of revenue generation is the port.