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OBANGAME Express Would Enhance Growth Of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) – Navy


Jan 27, 2023

The Nigerian Navy has expressed confidence that the annual multinational maritime security exercise code-named OBANGAME Express would enhance the growth of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, stated this on Friday in Lagos, at the flag-off ceremony of OBANGAME Express 2023, which took place on board the Nigerian Navy Ship KADA, at the Naval Dockyard in Lagos.

During the OBANGAME Express 2023 opening ceremony held at the Naval Dockyard, Ishee delivered remarks alongside U.S. Consul General Will Stevens and the Flag Officer Commanding of Nigeria’s Western Naval Command, Rear Adm. Yakubu Wambai.

“The global importance and vast scale of the waters surrounding Africa provides an opportunity to work with our African partners to solve transnational issues,” said Ishee.

According to the Commander US 6th Fleet, Vice Admiral Thomas Ishee, “33 countries were participating in the exercise, which is building partnerships aimed at building capabilities to combat criminal activities that threaten the nations’ ability to support its own people.

Ishee said 250 personnel would be manning the maritime operations onshore- local personnel within the zones, to maintain maritime domain awareness and skills necessary for maritime awareness.

He said there would be exercises to teach nations to police their own waters. And the exercise would improve search and rescue as well as continue to improve the nation’s ability to counter piracy, illegal fishing, and trafficking.

“The work accomplished during Obangame Express strengthens regional cooperation and trust, ensuring African nations can continue protecting their coastal resources and sovereign waters.”

Over the last decade, the United States has steadily increased maritime security cooperation with partners on Africa’s Atlantic coast to improve maritime domain awareness capability and ability to protect their sovereign waters.

A robust partnership between the United States and African nations is vital to achieve our shared priorities of strengthening free and open international order.

“Maritime security is not a one nation obligation. Military exercises such as Obangame Express are part of a long-standing comprehensive strategy by the U.S. government to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that address maritime security concerns such as trafficking in persons, narcotics, illegal fishing, and piracy,” said Stevens.

Nigeria maintains the largest navy in the Gulf of Guinea region and is critical to security and stability in Africa.

Conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) and sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), OE23 is designed to improve regional cooperation, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing and other sea-based illicit activity.

The 33 nations participating in OE23 include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon,

Others includes The Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, and the United States.

Also participating will be the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

For the exercise, which is taking place from 27th January to 3rd February 2023, the Nigerian Navy has assigned 10 Nigerian Navy ships, eight boats, two helicopters, one maritime patrol aircraft, a detachment of the special boat service and the use of the maritime domain awareness capability.

Exercise OBANGAME Express was established in 2010 by the United States Africa Command, as an annual maritime security exercise aimed to protect the maritime domain within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) area through joint operations among the regional navies working within harmonized legal frameworks to enhance collective capability the Gulf of Guinea nations against maritime crimes.

OBANGAME, a word with origin in Cameroon, means  togetherness.

The CNS who appreciated guests for attending the event said that the essence of the exercise is to strengthen the security architecture of the maritime domain within the region for  freedom of navigation without fear of attacks by criminal elements.

“This year’s exercise is particularly instructive considering effort of the African Union at establishing and operationalizing regional taskforces. This will no doubt enhance the African Continental Free Trade Agreement as well as development of sustainable Blue Economy.

“According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the African Continental Free Trade Area has potentials to boost Intra-African trade by 33 per cent and cut the continent’s trade deficit by 51 per cent.

“Notably, the maritime industry and the shipping sector in particular constitute a critical driver in implementation of the ideals of African Continental Free Trade Agreement,” Admiral Gambo said.

He also disclosed that the GoG countries were already collaborating for the establishment of a Maritime Taskforce to further facilitate security and enhance international commerce, and that the Nigerian navy would expectedly play a lead role for necessary action.

A key point in his speech was that Nigeria had not expressed any attacks in her territorial waters since the 3rd of March 2022, when the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) delisted the country from list of piracy-prone countries.

In his welcome remark, the Officer Conducting Exercise (OCE) and the Flag Officer Commanding Western naval Command, Rear Admiral YB Wambai, said that the occasion of the exercise would enable the Nigerian Navy showcase its prowess as well as have the opportunity for further learning, in order to continue giving its best services as constitutionally required.

His words: “EXERCISE OBANGAME EXPRESS 2023 presents another opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to exercise its fleet with other navies and coast guards in the sub-region as well as navies of our international collaborators in line with the Yaoundé Architecture Accord.”

According to Wambai, the 7-day exercise would cover among other activities, anti-human trafficking,  drills on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU),  illegal oil bunkering, various gunnery and communication exercises, fleet manoeuvres, simulate firefighting and flooding exercise, conduct anti-arms and anti-drugs smuggling , and thereafter conduct anti-piracy exercise in conjunction with other navies in Zone E.

Wambai said that the Task Group would embark selected staff of the Ministry of Justice, Fishery Department of Ministry of Agriculture, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, Immigration, Customs and National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to witness the conduct of the exercises.

FOC Wambai expounded on the importance of the exercise and continued regional cooperation among Gulf of Guinea nations during the exercise’s opening ceremony.

“The challenges in the maritime domain require more collaboration and information sharing. We are requesting our partners improve this — particularly members of the public, to bring forth credible information needed to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain,” said Wambai.

The flag-off exercise was well attended by top government functionaries including the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, and several foreign guests.

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