Collective global response, panacea to maritime crimes in Gulf of Guinea –Agbana, envoy

Collective global response, panacea to maritime crimes in Gulf of Guinea –Agbana, envoy

From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja              

The Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Ekpebike Steve Agbana, has said that only a collective global response will address criminal acts in the Gulf of Guinea.

In this interview with Daily Sun, Agbana also said while collaboration at the bilateral level was important in mitigating crimes in the Gulf of Guinea, there was need for a collective internationalized approach to solve the problems. Agbana stressed that  the Gulf of Guinea Commission needs to be consistent in delivering on its core mandates.

Among other issues, the envoy disclosed the collaboration between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea in various sectors.

 

How has it been since you assumed duty as Nigerian ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea?

My deepest appreciation to His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR), President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for appointing me Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. I arrived Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, towards the end of April 2021 to assume duty. The grand airport reception left no one in doubt as to the warmth and depth of the bilateral relations existing between the two countries. The Nigerian community associations were allowed into the airport precincts with their cultural troupes to add colour to the event.

It took us just five days to present our copie d’usage to the Equatoguinean Foreign Minister, and, by August 2021, we presented letters of credence to His Excellency, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. Since then, we have been strategically engaging with top officials of Equatoguinean government and cabinet ministers, captains of industry and other personalities to create better understanding and put in place the needed building blocks and engender our relations across all strata, be it bilateral, sub-regional, regional, continental, global and in other multilateral bodies such as the Gulf of Guinea Commission. We have also undertaken maiden working visit to Mainland Equatorial Guinea, where we met with governors and officials of the littoral states and members of the organised private sector. As you are already aware, Equatorial Guinea is composed of two parts – an island part where the capital Malabo is, and the mainland littoral part where the commercial city of Bata is located. We have also met with members of the various Nigerian community associations in Equatorial Guinea, and assured them that their welfare and interests remained the primary thrust of our engagements with the host authorities. All in all, it’s been a very busy period for us as a mission.

What are the cultural similarities between both countries?

Nigerians and Equatorial Guineans have had historic contacts that preceded independence of the two countries. As a matter of fact, during the Spanish colonial rule of the country, Nigerian farmers were brought from Nigeria as plantation workers in the cocoa, plantain, palm and other plantations in the country. Most of these farmers eventually settled in the country with their families. In addition, during the Nigerian Civil War, a number of Nigerians also settled in the country. It is, therefore, not surprising to find a lot of similarities in dance, names, and cuisines, and in some districts, you find some similarities even in the dowry payment system of marriage. It would interest you to know that some Equatoguinean families live and school in Nigeria, and in the process, assimilated some of our own values.    

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Equatorial Guinea maintains warm relations with Nigeria. What efforts are you making to deepen Equatorial Guinea-Nigeria diplomatic ties?

As you already know, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea are not just members of the same continental and international bodies, but neighbours, hence ties that are very historic. We share a common maritime boundary, hence same kinds of challenges along our common maritime domains. By virtue of our geostrategic locations therefore, both countries have every reason to engage. A number of bilateral agreements were signed by the two countries many years ago. Needless to say that some of these agreements have become moribund. In addition, the Joint Commission was last held over eight years ago. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictions and protocols further exacerbated the level of contacts, and by implication, implementation of bilateral instruments.

Since arriving Malabo, we have been engaging with the Government. The 6th Ministerial Joint Commission will be hosted by the Nigerian Government in Abuja in March this year. We are working assiduously to ensure a successful event. We expect that all subsisting bilateral agreements will be reactivated with templates for their implementation clearly indicated.

We are working towards full implementation of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between the two countries, and some Nigerian airlines have already indicated interest in operating combined daily flights to Malabo and Bata (in Equatorial Guinea) and other destinations in Central Africa. Such a move will undoubtedly enhance people-to-people contacts, boost tourism and trade, as well as encourage cultural exchanges, thereby creating better understanding amongst people. The multiplier effects are better imagined.

We are also reactivating Nigeria’s Technical Aid Corps (TAC) programme in the country, and plans are underway to bring together, members of the Organized Private Sectors of both countries under the auspices of a Business Investment Forum (BIF). These are just to mention a few.

What is the volume of trade between both countries?

Although the current volume of trade can be said to be low, the interesting thing is that Nigeria has now moved up to occupy the topmost position, displacing traditional trading partners from Europe. According to the latest Foreign Trade Statistical Report issued by Instituto Nacional De Estadistica De Guinea Ecuatorial (INEGE), which is the National Bureau of Statistics in Equatorial Guinea, for the year 2020, Equatorial Guinea spent 206,504.9 million Francs (equivalent to USD344.18 million) on imports from Nigeria, while exports to Nigeria was put at 3,860 million Francs (equivalent to USD6.43 million).

We expect trade volume to skyrocket in the next few years, with higher performances on goods and services, agricultural produce and so on. Another major contributor to the high trade volume is when the ongoing collaboration in the hydrocarbon sector becomes fully operational.

How many Nigerians are in Equatorial Guinea, and in which areas are they making a mark?

I cannot give you a categorical or accurate figure, but, working with the various community associations, I can conveniently put the number at between 4,500 and 5,000 Nigerians residing in different regions of Equatorial Guinea. Majority of these Nigerians are involved in trade and commerce. However, some are working in the oil and gas sector, while a few are working in the hotels, tourism, and hospitality and educational sectors. There are also a couple of medical doctors in private practice.

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It is pertinent to indicate that the Embassy recently commenced an exercise for the registration of Nigerians in the country, as we are in the process of establishing a database of our citizens in the country. So far, over a thousand Nigerians have come to the Embassy for the exercise, and they keep coming on a daily basis.

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Just recently, in November, 2021, to be precise, I made a passionate appeal to the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) over the issuance of Nigerian passports to our compatriots residing in Equatorial Guinea, as neither the Embassy in Malabo nor the Consulate General in Bata has the facility. The CG of NIS responded by promptly sending a three-man intervention team for the exercise. Over 700 Nigerians were enrolled and their passports are being processed.   

Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria signed an agreement on the establishment of a combined Maritime Policing and Security Patrol Committee in 2016. How has this impacted on the security in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly in curbing maritime crimes?

It is quite true that both countries signed an MoU on the establishment of a Combined Maritime Policing and Security Patrol Committee (CMPSPC) in 2016. Both sides have met a number of times and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were developed since 2019. Both countries are collaborating to ensure that maritime crimes and criminality in the Gulf of Guinea are addressed squarely.   

Issues such as piracy, crude oil theft, sabotage of oil rigs and arms smuggling have impacted negatively on both countries. What further measures can the countries take to nip them in the bud?

While collaboration at the bilateral level is important in mitigating these crimes, there is need for a collective internationalized approach to solve these problems. By their nature, some of these crimes are transnational in nature, and so, only a collective global response would be adequate to address them. The Gulf of Guinea Commission would need to be consistent in delivering on its core mandates. The Federal Government of Nigeria has done a lot in supporting countries of Central Africa in tackling these menace. Special thanks to His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR), President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for the enormous support and personal commitment to the Nigerian Armed Forces with needed financial and logistical support to ensure continuous support to these countries. The Nigerian Navy, in collaboration with NIMASA, have equally done a lot jointly in tackling these crimes. It is, therefore, not surprising that the International Bureau of Maritime Security, in its recent publication, indicated that maritime incidents along the Gulf of Guinea has reduced by 30 percent towards the end of 2021. I can tell you that the successes recorded was due to Nigeria’s efforts, in conjunction with the European Union International Task Forces that was established in the last quarter of 2021 and supported by the United States government.

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Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria also signed an agreement on the consolidation of new opportunities for the hydrocarbons sector. How far have both countries gone in this regard?

The necessary legal and administrative framework has been done, while the technical details are being streamlined at the level of experts. The prospects are very good. It is going to be a win-win for both countries.

The supply of gas from Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea was also discussed; has it taken effect?

Just in 2021 alone, His Excellency, Chief Timipre Sylva, the Honourable Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, visited Equatorial Guinea twice to follow up on the implementation of the MoU. Additionally, President Mbasogo sent Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, Equatoguinean Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons as his Special Envoy to the Nigerian President on same issues. The issue is therefore on the front burner of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources of Nigeria and their Equatoguinean counterparts, the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons. They are both fully committed towards ensuring the successful implementation of the MoU.

As an oil-producing country, what can Nigeria learn from Equatorial Guinea in terms of national development?

Nigeria is at least two decades older in the discovery of oil than Equatorial Guinea. We, therefore, have a comparative advantage in terms of institutions and human capital. On their part, they have adopted an integrated national development paradigm that works beautifully for them.       

How many Nigerians are in detention centres in Equatorial Guinea, and for what offences?

Nigerians in Equatorial Guinea are generally law-abiding, hardworking and resourceful, with most engaged in commerce. Visit any of the markets, and retail outlets, and you would be amazed at their enterprise.  It is not surprising that we have very few Nigerians in correctional facilities in the country. The Consular Section of the Embassy is working with the host Ministry of External Affairs and Cooperation, various Nigerian Associations and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) in the country to update the data of Nigerian inmates, including those awaiting trial.

How many on death row?

I can, however, categorically say that no Nigerian is on death row in Equatorial Guinea.

What legacy do you want to leave behind in Equatorial Guinea?

As Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, the primary legacy I would want to be remembered for is the projection of Nigeria’s interest in this country. As you are ware, the Joint Commission has not held for about eight years and most agreements and MoUs have become moribund, with an unenviable level of implementation. It is my desire that the Commission holds and all existing bilateral and defence cooperation agreements are sustained and even surpassed, with clear implementation timelines.

I would like to see a return of the TAC Volunteers to provide the needed services in the country.

With implementation of BASA, we expect higher frequency of flights between the two countries, enhanced people to people contact, and boost in trade between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, etc. We pray to move our relations to enviable heights.



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