By Rotimi Amaechi
When I assumed office as the Minister of Transportation in 2015, I carefully evaluated the transportation requirements of the country and the overall state of the Nigerian economy. I came to the conclusion that the development of the maritime sector was the future of the Nigerian economy. The reality of climate change precipitated a scramble for alternatives to the use of fossil fuels and the frenzied research into renewable energy sources became the priority of developed nations with immediate and future consequences for the oil dependent Nigerian economy. Oil industry uncertainties created by the Shale oil revolution in the United States of America only compounded the problem.
Based on these realities, I developed an agenda to secure the channels of maritime trade, reduce shipping costs and expand indigenous participation in the sector, in order to facilitate increase in sector contributions to national revenue and the gross domestic product. To achieve this, the Ministry of Transportation developed a comprehensive Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure framework, otherwise called the Deep Blue Project.
However, as soon as this project was presented, all hell was let loose. I was accused of all manner of things from corruption to treason. But I must commend President Muhammadu Buhari, who approved the project despite all attacks and numerous attempts to frustrate it. Which is why I must make it very clear: This is not Rotimi Amaechi’s project or NIMASA’s project. This is about Nigeria’s ability to secure its future by exercising sovereignty over its territorial waters, protect maritime trade in the Gulf of Guinea and position the country for the post-oil economy.
The contract for the Deep Blue Project was signed on 27th July 2017 between the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Home Land Security International with NIMASA as the Discharge Agency. The actual implementation of the contract commenced in early 2018 and is today fully completed and operationalized with the full support of the Ministry of Defence and all arms of the military, particularly the Nigerian Navy. A symbiotic relationship was carefully put together to ensure that whereas NIMASA retains ownership of the Deep Blue Assets and determines operational needs in line with the International Maritime Organization [IMO] conventions, the military takes charge of its operational deployments.
The Deep Blue Project comprises of four key components. The Marine Assets, the Aerial Assets, the Land Assets and the Command and Control Communication Information Centre otherwise called the C4i. The Marine Assets include two special mission vessels and 17 interceptor boats. For the Aerial Assets, there are two special mission aircrafts, three helicopters and four unmanned air vessels. The Land Assets include 16 armoured vehicles and 340 fully trained intervention team drawn from the Armed Forces.
The C4i. is the command and control communication computer and intelligence system which provides coastal radar up to 300 nautical miles and external system integration with the Navy Falcon Eye and the Lloyds List and was indeed the first of the assets to be operationalized and commissioned on the 16th of August 2019. Meanwhile, these are huge, sensitive and very expensive assets which must be run efficiently in a sustainable manner. The Project Management Team shall work out a framework for administrative, maintenance and operational sustainability.
The scope of the Deep Blue project covers Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is 0-200 nautical miles off the coast but with the approval given by the president for NIMASA to take over operations of the Secure Anchorage Area in Lagos from a private company called OMSL, a quick operational adjustment had to be made.
I made it clear when I assumed office as Minister of Transportation that once you have a situation where an individual is offering protection to a country, that is clear evidence of failure of that system. I moved against it and suspended the contract of OMSL over the Lagos Port Secure Anchorage Area. This time, something worse than hell was let loose. But we were resolute and once again, the president gave approval for NIMASA to take over the SAA. Some of the assets for the Deep Blue Project designed for the EEZ were immediately deployed to SAA of Lagos and the results are there for everyone to see. There is therefore the need to expand the project to cover the additional scope of the SAA of Lagos and possibly Bonny.
With the launch and full deployment of the Deep Blue Project Assets and the passage of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, 2019 by the National Assembly, security of maritime trade in our territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea are largely guaranteed. The unnecessary security costs borne by shipping companies running into millions of dollars annually has been finally removed. We shall now focus on the expansion of indigenous participation in the maritime trade.
With the foregoing investments, President Buhari has laid the foundation for a robust maritime sector and paved the way for a smooth transition to a post oil economy. I am convinced that despite the difficulties being experienced in Nigeria today, history will be kind to him and his government.
• Amaechi is the Hon Minister of Transportation