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With the support of Project AGWE – implemented by the International Criminal Police Organization and funded by the US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs – the US Navy, US Coast Guard and US Army conducted an exchange of expertise on forensics collection , combat defense tactics and first aid with partners from Benin, Nigeria and Togo at the Joint Maritime Security Training Center during Exercise Obangame Express 23, West Africa’s largest multinational maritime exercise, on January 25, 2023.
Interpol’s AGWE project focuses on building capacity in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo to more effectively counter all forms of maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea.
Among the participants was Nigerian Judicial Police Officer Samuel Odeh, a national expert who has been trained and certified by Interpol under the AGWE project. Odeh also serves as the lead crime scene instructor during the exchange and teaches classes on investigative practices, evidence collection and arrest procedures.
“Piracy and hostage-taking are prevalent maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea. We are working with the Nigerian government to pass a law that will allow these crimes to be prosecuted and other Gulf of Guinea nations to transfer custody to Nigeria if they do not have laws in place in their own country,” Odeh said.
The Nigerian Navy has established a dedicated maritime crime investigation bureau in Abuja that provides biometric data of suspects for cross-checking against Interpol databases.
INL also provides foreign assistance to international partners, including several Gulf of Guinea countries, to combat illegal crimes at sea.
Craig Nixon, INL’s maritime security adviser based in Lagos, works closely with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria’s federal anti-narcotics police agency, to combat piracy, smuggling and wildlife trafficking in Gulf of Guinea. Nixon attended the exchange of expertise on crime scene management and led collaborative discussions among participants.
“Crime scene preservation and management instruction is designed to teach not only how to identify crimes, but also how to prosecute them. We need evidence-based prosecutions to bring perpetrators to justice,” Nixon said. “The Obangame Express exercise is a force multiplier. What they learn today will aid law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts in these types of crimes.
Along with African partners, U.S. service members also participated in hands-on demonstrations of combat defense tactics and life-saving medical care under fire.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Nicholas Didiano runs a simulated ship boarding a small patrol vessel of the Nigerian Navy. The demonstration rehearses techniques for entering a ship, cleaning and securing, and containment.
“The exercise is important because it allows forces to learn how to defend themselves and protect their units and boarding teams. If they encounter any type of illegal activity, they will be better prepared for the risk and the threat,” Didiano said.
African partners have found the exchange of experiences and practical demonstrations useful for the operations they conduct with their respective nations.
“This exercise is very interesting – rehearsing some methods we already know while learning new techniques is incredibly useful from a practical point of view,” said Major Herman Hounge of the Benin Navy. “Especially self-defense techniques – you have to know them to protect yourself to do your job – I can’t stress how important it is in a very practical way.”
OE23, one of three U.S. Naval Forces Africa-assisted regional exercises, provides collaborative opportunities for African and U.S. forces and international partners to address shared transnational maritime challenges. NAVAF’s ongoing maritime security collaboration with African partners focuses on addressing maritime safety and security challenges in the region.
The exercise is taking place in five areas in the South Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea – stretching from the West African island of Cape Verde to the Central African coast of Angola, including the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States.
The United States shares a common interest with African partner nations in ensuring security, safety, and freedom of navigation in the waters surrounding the continent, as these waters are critical to Africa’s prosperity and access to global markets.
For more than 80 years, US Naval Forces Europe and US Naval Forces Africa have built strategic relationships with allies and partners using a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.