MILITANTS AS COAST GUARDS? DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!
I was taken aback, in fact shocked, when I saw the Vice President mooting the possibility of using the Niger Delta militant rebels as members of what he termed as Members of Nigerian Coast Guard. The action of even it is constitutionally right cannot be established with such rapidity. Even during military regime such an action that affects the security of the nation need deeper studies by defence and security experts and with the current democratic regime the national assembly as well as the Council of State must approve and ratify such a change in the defence set up of the nation. To start with, a coastal defence unit must be part of the Ministry of Defence Staff for operational purposes. Its responsibility cannot be limited to only safeguarding the various platforms in the riverine areas but the entire security of the coastline from Lagos to Bakasi. It will be responsible for the effective security of the coastal areas against internal and external threats. Coastal Defence involves the defence of naval bases, ports, coastal and littoral areas and coastal maritime activities from attack or interference from the sea. Now to enable a nations offensive maritime forces to operate freely and with the flexibility required of them it is necessary that they are provided secure based and are not diverted to missions of secondary importance to the aims of maritime security. The principle of war on security accordingly underscores the need for the protection of all vital and vulnerable targets such as bases, oil producing rigs as well as lines of communications.
Now, the defence of these bases and other littoral areas if inadequate would compel the diversion of the nation's forces toward this role to the detriment of their offensive capability. Coastal defence is therefore an important adjunct to maritime power and strategy. Thus one can see in our case in the Niger Delta we have been employing the regular forces of the Navy and the Army to conduct such roles in some cases alien to their training and detriment to their primary assigned responsibilities. So it is very right to establish a separate force to cater for the services enumerated above, but haphazard creation of a force to carry out such functions will be counterproductive now and in the long run. To start with, the referred to Militants were declared as those that rebel against the federal republic of Nigeria which led to the amnesty granted them by the late President. How can we now empower them to safeguard what they have been vandalizing?
This tantamount to leaving your herd of coats under the care of a hyena, and expect it not to eat them at will. Create a Coastal Defence Force by all means and in fact it is well overdue, but it must be properly established and legally constituted. As part of the nation's security and defence organs it must have normal federal representation and to be allocated to any section of the country. As was done on the creation of the Nigerian Air Force whereby members of the Nigerian Army were seconded or transferred to form it, so the same procedure can be carried out by using some officers and sailors from the Nigerian Navy to form the nucleus of the newly formed force while recruitment can take place to build up a formidable force. It is and had been the responsibility of the navy to carry out these duties in the absence of an established Coastal Defence Force. Relieving the Nigerian Navy of this creek operation which technically is not conducive to normal naval activities will allow it to concentrate in the deep sea/blue water operation in providing total maritime defence, unless we want to be like the Horn of Africa, where pirates operate at will because the navy was tied in the creeks dealing with internal security. Naval responsibilities are being neglected in favour of the fire brigade activities of internal conflict which is expected to be concluded soon.
Mr Vice President's proposal of establishing a coastal security is very much in line with current security situation, but due process must be followed and certainly not by rearming the militants. Ideally, Ministry of Defence is to be instructed to prepare and present necessary documents for onward transmission to the National Assembly and National Council of State for necessary approval and ratification before assent by Mr President. We are presently overcrowded with numerous civilian parastatals wielding weapons, many of them with no knowledge of their potentials. This tends to encourage the arms race between the security agents and the armed undesirable hoodlums in our society.
Admiral Saidu is a former Chief of Naval Staff.