October 05, 2011
It was cheers and feeling of ease for the President of Benin Republic Thomas Boni Yayi as the Nigerian Navy combat vessel, the NNS Nwamba, arrived Cotonou to begin a joint patrol of the country’s territorial waters in search of sea pirates.
President Boni Yayi had cried out to Nigeria over the activities of pirates, operating along the West African coast, which he said had almost crippled the economy of the country, whose survival is dependent on resources at sea.
Shipping, Daily Sun learnt, was not the economic mainstay of the country; the economy of country is largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production and regional trade. Cotton, it was learnt had accounted for 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and roughly 80 per cent of official export receipts, but that was then.
Today, the Benin’s seaport accounts for over 40 per cent of the country’s official receipts but with the continuous perpetration of acts of illegality by pirates, the country appears doomed.
Key government officials told Daily Sun that, “at this pace, if nothing is done, shipowners will boycott Cotonou Port, which accounts for 90 percent of exchanges with foreign nations.
They added that the higher revenue earned for the country by the port justifies the determination of the country’s president to secure the Benin port and rid the territorial waters of pirates and sea robbers.
That determination by President Boni Yayi had led Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to call out Nigeria’s naval force with specific orders to search for the pirates and deal with them.
Led by a very senior Commodore (one star general), the Nigerian Navy at the instance of President Jonathan arrived Benin to begin collaboration with that country’s navy on how to end sea robbery.
Indeed, Commodore Mufutau Bola Ajibade, immediately after getting the presidential orders, forwarded tough words to the pirates, warning them to stay clear of both Nigeria and Benin territorial waters or be ready to contend with the force.
Code-named “Operation Prosperity”, Commodore Ajibade said he and his team would implement to the letter the presidential directives handed out by the two countries, adding that there was no hiding place for sea robbers and pirates within the littorals of the Benin and Nigeria.
Commodore Ajibade had assured that the end has come for the pirates, emphasizing that, “My mission as Commander Task Group 11.1, is to secure the maritime environment between Nigeria and Benin Republic territorial waters up to the outer extremes of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the two countries.
“Let me quickly use this opportunity to sound a solemn note of warning to all miscreants and criminals within our territorial waters and at sea to say that, the Sheriff is now at sea and there would be no hiding place for criminals.”
He said the Joint Maritime Patrol had been structured to leave no room for any illegal activity at sea and possesses total Maritime Domain Awareness of the environment.
To exhibit his readiness and that of over 100 Nigerian Naval officers on board the NNS Nwamba and also that of the troops of the Benin Navy, Commodore Ajibade pulled dignitaries at the flag off ceremony to sea.
With the continuous flypast of a Nigerian Navy Agusta helicopter and some assets of the Benin Navy, it is expected that calm would return to the waters of Benin and Nigeria and economic activities will flourish.
President Boni Yayi had explained the need for the joint patrol, saying the move was to repair what the pirates had destroyed, noting that “because of pirates, merchant vessels have avoided the seaport of Cotonou and economic activities have dropped to an all time low level.’
“We have been at the mercy of pirates, who are gradually reducing us to a very poor country by preventing the proper harvest of our investment at sea.”
Daily Sun learnt in Cotonou that pirates had indeed held the port of the country by the throat, particularly its shipping and fishing industry. For instance, it was gathered that some weeks back, pirates operating off the coast of Benin, seized a Cyprus-flagged tanker with 23 crew members on board.
According the port operators in that country, the crew, including Spaniards, and the tanker was freed once the pirates had left the ship after unloading its cargo of oil.
The increased attacks prompted discussion between Nigeria’s president and his Benin counterpart on ways to check the insurgents and calm the troubled waters of the West African coast.
Apart from Nigeria, the country, according to the President Boni Yayi, talked with France, her former colonial master, and efforts are also underway by France to assist Benin stem the tide of piracy.
However, the most potent effort, the Country’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brigadier General Boni Matthew said was the collaboration with Nigeria because a large percentage of the country’s trade is through the sea.
The Chief of Naval Staff of Benin Navy Captain Ahoyo Maxime told Daily Sun that three patrol vessels, the first of which should be delivered in January, were expected to join the initiative soon.
It was also gathered that the country is planning a radar surveillance centre in Grand-Popo (southwest), near Benin’s border with Togo.