Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Auwal Gambo, yesterday at the Naval Dock Yard in Lagos, kicked off Exercise Obangame 2023 (OE23) with the US Navy leading 450 participants from thirty other regional and friendly navies in the spirit of the Yaoundé Accord.
Exercise Obangame Express was established in 2010 under the United States Africa Command sponsorship as an annual multinational maritime game bringing together Gulf of Guinea navies and coastguards for cooperation in regional maritime safety and security stipulated by the Yaounde Code of Conduct.
This year’s exercise is taking place across five zones in the Southern Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea, from the West African Island of Cabo Verde to Angola in Central Africa.
In a welcome speech, Vice Admiral Gambo emphasized the role of the games in enhancing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and intelligence sharing among the region’s naval forces.
In his words, “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.”
The exercise was programmed to feature maritime operations center familiarization, exchanges on medical care, search and rescue operations, boarding techniques and other port and sea training scenarios such as anti-human trafficking, drills on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, illegal oil bunkering, various gunnery and communication exercises, fleet manoeuvres, simulated firefighting and flooding exercise, anti-arms and anti-drugs smuggling, and anti-piracy exercises.
The Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, Adm. Stuart B. Munsch, reiterated that “Illicit maritime activity threatens regional development efforts, weakens state security, and robs our African partners of the precious resources upon which they rely for economic growth and effective governance”.
The U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, lauded OE23 as a reflection of the US’ commitment to the security of the peoples and economies of the Gulf of Guinea countries noting that “We are delighted that Nigeria is hosting this military exercise, as we firmly believe that maritime security in Nigeria and its neighbors will lead to greater prosperity for the region as a whole.”
The participating countries and organizations were Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, 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).