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This study examined the impact of conflicts on the level of maritime insecurity in the West Africa. It was observed that despite the vast natural resources in this region, underdevelopment, poverty and environmental degradation continued to persist, leading to the emergence of several ethnic militant groups as self-help mechanisms for environmental and political agitation and also for more equitable distribution of revenues in favour of most of the people living around the coastal areas. Hence, the objectives of this study were to examine the impact of weak governance on the level of insecurity; identify and discuss how the ineffectiveness of maritime security strategies tends to lead to the armed extortion of vessels and kidnapping of seafarers; and to ascertain how the activities of non-state actors have tended to contribute to the rising trend of piracy attacks in the region. To achieve the above, data were collected through secondary sources like books, journals and conference papers. The findings of this study revealed that there is a clear indication of the inability of the states involved to use their state apparatus to nip in the bud the security challenges that seafarers face on daily basis in this West African maritime region. It was also revealed that country in the West African region have not been able to exploit the benefits of the pluralistic security architectures where countries in the region would pull resources together for effective maritime security thereby minimizing the level of armed extortion of vessels and kidnapping of seafarers in the West African region. Moreso, it was also revealed that the activities of non-state actors have contributed to the increasing trend of piracy in the West African region. Based on the above findings, it was recommended amongst others that government of these states to live up to expectation in terms of delivering the benefits of good governance to its citizens. Again, political leaders of the various states in the West African region should cultivate the political will to collaborate with the international communities to ensure that criminality in the West African waters is curtailed to the barest minimum.
1.1 Background to the Study
Africa is replete with security challenges which have continuously challenged continental development. At the onset of the 21st Century, barely a decade after a wave of violent conflicts swept across the West Africa, offshore discoveries of petrochemical resources along the Gulf of Guinea have added a new twist to the sub-regions’ security concerns. West African states have traditionally been defined as weak states and security complexes, mainly as a result of the heterogeneity of their people and the attendant ethnocentrism, perennial political instabilities, underdevelopment and poverty, as well as their susceptibility to land-based internal sources of threats (Gunther, 2015). Security in the sub-region is, thus, conceptualized principally in land-centred terms.
Contemporary deteriorating maritime security conditions along the Gulf of Guinea have engendered a paradigmatic shift in the conceptualisation of threats to the sub-region that is gaining a great (geo) strategic and political economic interest. An array of maritime threats such as piracy and sea-based armed robbery, arms trafficking, human and trafficking, illegal fishing, and dumping of toxic wastes and pollution of the sea, as well as, emerging maritime terrorism threaten to undermine maritime livelihood, travel, trade, and exploitation of resources of the region. The phenomena and dynamics of these maritime threats bring to the fore the currency that non-state actors and organised crime have gained in today‘s world of globalization, and international political economy, especially in terms of transnational security threats (United Nations, 2011).
As observed by Chatham House (2013), maritime security is essential to maintaining the flow of revenues from oil and gas, which have the potential to contribute significantly to development in the region. At the same time maritime resources such as fish, aquaculture and intact ecosystems directly contribute to the livelihoods of many Africans.
However, one area that continues to draw international attention and concern is the insecurity in the West African maritime environment. This region depends heavily on the sea for food, trade particularly imports and for industrial and mineral resources which when exported generate much needed foreign exchange revenue. It is note-worthy that the maritime security challenges facing countries in West Africa are not peculiar since their manifestation represents some profound contradictions. This is because despite substantial revenues from natural resources, virtually all the countries in the region face daunting governance and social deficits.
For instance, some of these West African countries are not only some of the worst in terms of human development indicators but grossly deficient on most governance indexes such as open and transparent government, respect for the rule of law, free press and the conduct of regular and crisis-free elections. The very fact of resource abundance has, paradoxically, become a “curse” on the ability of these states to build effective and sustainable governance structures and institutions. A case in point is the oil-rich Niger Delta area of Nigeria where militants have continued to breed conflicts of all sorts in protest of the poor government presence in the area despite the long years of oil exploration, coupled with the attendant environmental degradation and without any major development that is commensurate with the abundant resources exploited from the region. This also applies to other politically unstable polities across the West Africa region faced with one political crisis or the other.
The indicators for the region are troubling, but it is the consequences of such instability that attract the attention of the wider community. Issues on land have spilled out into the Gulf of Guinea itself, fuelling maritime concerns that are showing few signs of improvement half way through the second decade of the 21st century. Evidence of many major maritime security issues like human trafficking, arms trafficking, drug trafficking and piracy can all be found in the region.
Compounding on increasing incidents of criminal activities is incapacity of the region’s states to effectively respond to the issue. The maritime domain is one that is not only difficult, but also expensive to police. The only real solution for the immediate prevention of such activities (save the long-term resolution of the economic and social issues that lead to and facilitate crime) is heavily resource-dependent maritime patrols, which are well beyond the means of most of the region’s actors.
Accordingly, in most of the West African countries, the exercise of state control is very lean and pales as one moves away from their capitals into the hinterland, or towards the coastline and into the territorial waters. Besides Nigeria, no other country in the West African region boasts of any significant naval or coastguard capability to constitute effective deterrence or counter-measure against growing maritime crimes. This is a debilitating weakness if one considers the pivotal role that West African waters play in the extractive industries that underpin most economies in the region. In addition, the West African waters have become a breeding ground and safe haven for a network of local and international criminal elements whose transnational criminal activities undermine security in the entire region and threaten the supply of critical resources to the global market.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The failure of successive regimes in West Africa to timely address underdevelopment, poverty and environmental degradation in the region enabled the emergence of several ethnic militant groups as self help mechanisms for environmental and political agitation and also for more a equitable distribution of revenues in favour of most of the people living around the coastal areas. However, to a great extent, the objectives of these militant groups have been eroded by corruption and greed. Militant groups now engage in organized criminal activities that cause maritime insecurity such as pirate attacks, armed robbery, hostage taking, armed extortion of vessels, oil bunkering and oil theft, armed extortion of vessels and kidnapping of seafarers, unabated.
These groups easily recruit youths due to massive unemployment and the poor social economic situation in these West African countries. It is noted that these militant groups are usually backed by powerful politicians, government officials and members of the armed forces to engage in the theft of crude oil. Consequently, the government appears to lack the political will to tackle acts of maritime insecurity where such will affect the vested groups.
Another major factor that is responsible for piracy and illegal activities on West African waters is that the security apparatus in these countries lacks the capacity to provide an effective and credible deterrent for such acts. It is noted that this lack of capacity is linked to lack of planned and preventive maintenance, lack of equipments and spare parts, lack of adequate training (such as coxswain and seamanship skills), lack of fuel, poor maintenance of weapon systems and poor supply of ammunition.
This state of affairs has also been linked to the overwhelming neglect of maritime security forces in terms of funding and personnel strength when compared to land-based forces. Another notable factor is that the law enforcement and justice systems are very weak in these West African countries as there has not been any remarkable effort to investigate or prosecute individuals suspected of taking part in or sponsoring acts of piracy and other illegal activities on West African waters. This appears to have encouraged organized criminal groups to continue their activities with impunity.
In view of the above, the research problem in summary is what is the impact of conflicts on the level of maritime insecurity in West Africa?
1.3 Objectives of the Study
To critically evaluate the impact of conflicts on the level of maritime insecurity in West Africa.
i. To examine the implications of weak government institutions on the level of insecurity in the West African region.
ii. To identify and discuss the consequences of weak legal and maritime security strategies in fuelling armed extortion of vessels and kidnapping of seafarers in the West African region.
iii. To ascertain how the activities of non-state actors have contributed to the increasing trend of piracy in the West African region.
iv. To suggest measures that should be put in place to stem the tide of insecurity in the West African region.
1.4 Research Questions
The following research questions guided the formulation of the objectives and research hypotheses for the study:
i. What are the implications of weak government institutions on the level of insecurity in the West African region?
ii. What are the consequences of weak legal and maritime security strategies in fuelling armed extortion of vessels and kidnapping of seafarers in the West African region?
iii. How have the activities of non-state actors contributed to the increasing trend of piracy in the West African region?
iv. What measures should be put in place to stem the tide of insecurity in the West African region?
1.5 Significance of the Study
This study will benefit policymakers and stakeholders at the Nigerian Defense, Naval Headquarters, and Naval Authorities of member states who are responsible for defense and security within the West African sub-region. It will assist the formulation of appropriate policies for the maritime defense of the sub-region in general and Nigeria in particular. The study highlights the importance of protecting economic resources within the West African maritime environment. Empirically, this study will bring to bear the challenges faced by the management of the security architecture of the countries in the West African maritime region. Finally, the study is expected to contribute to knowledge, fill gaps in the literature on maritime defense and serve as resource material for future studies on the West African maritime domain.
1.7 Scope and of the Study
This study focused on the conflict and its impact on maritime insecurity in the West African maritime region from 1999 to 2016.
1.8 Definition of Key Concepts
i. Conflict: This can be referred to as a state of disagreement between people or groups that result in often angry argument with regards to divergent ideas and interest.
ii. Insecurity: This can be referred to the state of being deficient in protection, harm and safety.
iii. Maritime region: This refers to an area relating to or bordering on the sea.
iv. Piracy: This refers to the act of attacking and stealing from a ship at sea.
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