I recently read a story about a conservation group who uses aggressive tactics to apprehend wildlife poachers. In this particular story, they sent out a quadcopter drone equipped with thermal night vision camera to detect and track some poachers on the sea who typically came out at night where they could operate under the cover of pitch black. Once the poachers realized there was a drone watching them, they tried to flee, but the conservationists had the drones follow the poachers, while relaying the geo-coordinates to the local Navy who then took over the chase and apprehended the poachers.
If a small group of people with limited funds and resources did all this to protect ‘fish’, why then is a nation with a defense budget ranging in billions of dollars, unable to protect its critical infrastructure from vandals?!
Video: Night vision camera footage used by Sea Shepard conservation group to monitor marine wildlife poachers who were operating in the middle of the ocean during hours of darkness. The use of drones fitted with night vision and thermal cameras can be effective in monitoring day or night time activity in remote areas where the country’s pipeline infrastructure cross.
Nigeria has been dealing with pipeline vandalism for many years now, the effect of which can be felt throughout every strata of society. Earlier this year, a group who identify themselves as the ‘Niger Delta Avengers’, bombed the Forcados export terminal in Delta state. The bombing of this particular infrastructure has been blamed for the severe power outage currently being experienced around the country. In other words, this damage has led to revenue loss for the entire country, affecting payment of salaries and has also led to millions of citizens and businesses struggling to stay afloat due to poor power availability.
Nigerian Government Solution to Vandalism
The Vice of Nigeria offered up possible solutions to the pipeline vandalism issue stating that the country was going to set up a special force that who will focus on targeted action against vandals. The only issue with this is that an organization already exists for this reason and setting up another special force will be a duplication of effort. One of the primary roles of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC) is to provide protection to Nigeria’s public infrastructures. If the agency is effective, there shouldn’t be a need to set up another special force to do the job that a whole agency has already been tasked to do. On the other hand, the continuous destruction of critical national infrastructure highlights the inability of the agency to effectively carry out its duties. The government could consider merging it with some of the other existing security agencies in the country.
In September 2015, the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) stated that the agency was going to utilize drones to monitor pipelines and patrol offshore locations. For this to be effective, the NNPC would have to overcome the hurdle of those who have prevented the use of remote aerial tools in the first place. These hurdles come from some within the agency itself, the various security agencies, government officials, community stakeholders and so on.
Vandalism is a Form of Terrorism
The reality is that protecting critical national infrastructure is not so much about having the assets (the drones) or even about the agency (NSCDC or any other special force. It is about a willing government and a willing security force, being able to run effective operations day in, day out.
For example, there was a recent investigative article which revealed that three surveillance and reconnaissance aircrafts acquired by the Nigerian Immigration Service for the purpose of countering illegal immigration, were not being used for their intended purpose and had been abandoned in their northern base. To make matters worse, all the special surveillance equipment fitted on the aircrafts had been removed!
Protecting critical infrastructure from vandals truly is a vital matter of national security in just about every country. For instance, the U.S Intelligence Community understands that successful attacks on a country’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) constitutes a major threat that could inflict significant harm on the targeted country. That is why as part of their national security strategy, all efforts are put into protecting their CNIs.
In other words, attacking a country’s critical national infrastructure such as their “water management, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power distribution, and mass transit”, is one of the first things you do when you want to invade a country, or what you do when you want to bring a country to its knees and is considered an act of terrorism. It is perhaps through this reasoning that President Buhari said his administration was going to deal with vandals with the same level of force and intensity like Boko Haram.
However, some people from the Niger-Delta interpreted the president’s comments adversely. Some elders said it was inflammatory and could start another crisis in the region because they felt that the use of force would mean innocent citizens would also end up being casualties. Also, they didn’t think Boko Haram and pipeline vandals should be considered on the same criminal level. They believe that Boko Haram just killed, and destroyed properties for no reason, whereas, pipeline vandals were simply disrupting oil production and nothing more. Another group which believes President Buhari has ulterior motives for their region saw his statement as confirmation that he truly intends to annihilate them.
Need For Better Communication Strategy
The people’s response to the President’s statement highlights the need for a more effective national communication strategy. First of all, it shows that community members in the region who aware of the people involved in vandalism, choose not to get involved, but think it unfair to end up as casualties in the war against vandals. Second of all, some community members believe vandals are doing the right thing and are helping them ensure development is brought to their communities.
The people need to understand that the actions of these vandals are extremely unpatriotic. They need to understand that oil spills as a result of vandalism make deplorable conditions in the Niger Delta even worse. They are unable to farm, water supplies are contaminated and it causes fatal medical conditions. On the economic end, vandalism affects electricity supply around the country including their own region, affecting their own locally run businesses.
Thirdly those who took the president’s comments as a sign that he has no good intentions for the region feel further vindicated when they hear that the use of force is going to be employed. Based on past experiences, most security experts agree that militarization of the Niger Delta is not entirely effective. What this does in essence is encourages innocent victims of any military operations taken in the region, feel more compelled to fight against the government and further destabilize the area.
While I agree that direct action should be taken against individuals or groups that insist on destroying critical infrastructure and crippling economic activities of the nation, more effort should be put into countering the current narratives in the region that perpetuate destructive actions. These narratives must also be coupled with concrete development in the region. State governments in the region must be held to a high standard of performance and the people need to understand their right to demand progressive results from their leaders.