Senator Chris Anyanwu, Chairman Senate Committee on the Navy
After four days criss-crossing naval formations in five southern states, members of the Senate Committee on the Navy got a first-hand feel on the state of the Nigerian Navy. Kunle Akogun, who was on the tour, reports
T he Nigerian Navy, like other arms of the Nigerian Armed Forces, is in dire need of government attention in terms of adequate funding to maintain its naval fleet and equipment, acquire new modern ones, and generally motivate its officers and men as a means of enhancing its combat readiness.
Even though there is currently no visible external threat to the country’s sovereignty, except for occasional incursions by Camerounian gendarmes, reports of maritime crimes like oil bunkering, kidnapping and other internal insurgencies in the country have made a combat-ready navy an imperative at all times.
In its sustained effort to fortify the territorial integrity of the country, the Senate, last weekend sent members of its Committee on the Nigerian Navy to five southern states on an oversight tour of naval formations located in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa and Abia States. The tour, which took the Senator Chris Anyanwu- led committee four days, was indeed an eye-opener as the committee members – Senators Ganiyu Solomon (ACN, Lagos), George Akume (ACN, Benue) and Bashir Muhammed (PDP, Kano) – had a first-hand feel of the strengths and weaknesses of the Nigerian Navy.
From the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State to the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command, Calabar to the Nigerian Navy School of Finance and Logistics, Owerrinta, Abia State, to the NNS Pathfinder and the Nigerian Naval Shipyard, both in Port Harcourt, to the temporary headquarters of the newly created Central Naval Command at Camp Porbeni in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State, the lawmakers were confronted with the stark reality of a force reeling under the pangs of inadequate funding.
This singular reality, described by the chairman, Senator Anyanwu (APGA, Imo State) as “unacceptable and dangerous,” has translated to an almost grounded marine force with inadequate sea-going vessels to carry out its statutory duty of policing the nation’s waterways to prevent and curb maritime crimes such as oil theft, kidnapping and foreign incursions through the nation’s littoral borders.
Added to this, was the obvious loss of revenue from oil exports due to the fact that most of the oil loadings for export are done without proper monitoring by security agencies. This is because of the lack of adequate vessels to navigate the high seas platforms where crude oil is mainly loaded for export.
She, however, praised the commitment of the officers and men of the Nigerian Navy for what she described as their “visible commitment, enthusiasm and intensive training,” attributes that were unmatched by the right type of equipment to do the job.
At the end of the tour, Anyanwu gave her impression to THISDAY, stating, “The visit has been an eye opener and I am very glad that we ventured out. Members of the committee could as well have stayed back in our offices in Abuja and ask the naval authorities to bring briefs and then ask them questions on the basis of the briefs.
“But the real thing is going out to the fields and seeing things for ourselves. We have come here with the navy’s budgets in the last two to three years. We are looking at those budgetary items, trying to identify how much progress has been made on each of them. And we are satisfied, except for the road going to Ibaka that hasn’t been done.
“But beyond that we are trying to gain understanding. You know we went to Ibaka, for instance. Ibaka is one of the few Forward Operating Bases. Ibaka is very strategic because it faces Cameroun and is next door to Bakassi. And there is a lot of traffic between Cameroun and the Nigerian side and quite often there have been attacks coming from that side or people coming to the Nigerian side to engage in illegal things and then running over to the Cameroun side knowing full well that our men do not have the permission to encroach on the Cameroun side.
“So, that area will need very strong policing. But to do the job, the shoreline is very wide for the command and they do not have adequate vessel inventory to have a strong presence because if the navy was everywhere and if people were sure that in every 30 minutes they are in the waters, they are going to see a navy boat pass, this would serve as a deterrent to illicit activities on our territorial waters.
“But because the naval presence is not very strong, people are free to do what they want to do. And we understand that a lot of the illegal traffics happen at night when they are certain that the navy is not usually out there. And they are not there not because they do not want to be there but because they don’t have the right sort of equipment.
“And we keep talking about equipment. But I have also seen something in Lagos that was replicated all through. We saw too many Navy vessels broken down. And that is a big problem here. I think we have to find a solution to it. The navy is a fighting force. It’s not an engineering firm. It’s not a manufacturing firm that builds vessels. It cannot do all of that by itself. So I think we have to think about ways to deal with the maintenance of our fleet, may be enter into an arrangement; may be farm them out; may be outsource them. We have to think out of the box to find the right solutions for contemporary challenges. There is no way in the world that we will continue with this level of inadequacy that is going to augur well.
“Even if we are to bring all the money and buy a completely new fleet, after three years, each one is going to need serious maintenance. But do we have the spare parts? Do we have the capability to do it and do it on time and do it right? So these are areas that we are going to look into,” Anyanwu stated.
For a Sea-going Navy
Lamenting the funding problem, especially on its impact on the navy, Anyanwu acknowledged that “we have to find a solution to it.” She, however, noted that the solution does not lie in the annual budget. She said: “This year, for instance, the navy is getting about N11 billion for capital expenditure. And given the high cost of these vessels, how many can they buy? They can only buy three or four vessels.
“Even at that, they have the big ones that they have to pay for over four years. About N7 billion this year is going for part-payment of two of those big ones that they ordered. But it doesn’t really help. So we really have to find a solution on how to fund the navy; how to recapitalise it.
“We have been told here, for instance, that most of the vessels they have, apart from ‘NNS Thunder’, cannot go into the high seas where the oil tankers load crude oil. And I asked them, is the navy at the loading platforms where these tankers load crude oil, they said there was no naval presence there. So we don’t know what happens there with respect to loading; we don’t know what is happening to our oil and that’s the beginning of a problem.
“However, the navy has to have the capability to be there where oil is being loaded to be out there in the high seas where the tankers are moving, to make sure that people don’t steal our oil and transfer it to other tankers on the high seas, which is what has been happening. They don’t have that capability and that is tragic. “If we must have a navy, it has to have considerable presence on the high seas and in fact that is the classical duty of the navy, because it must be on the high sea. But if we cannot put them on the high sea, then it is a big problem.
Another problem, of course, is the illegal fishing. Foreign trawlers come into our country so easily and take our fish and other sea resources and go away without any challenge from anybody. Too much is happening and I think there is the need to put a stop to all that.”
On the recent attempt to farm out the security of the nation’s territorial waters to a private maritime security outfit, ostensibly because of the perceived ill-preparedness of the Nigerian Navy to take on the responsibility, Anyanwu said the navy is adequately prepared to carry out its statutory responsibility. She explained, “The move is like cutting our nose to spite our face. We wouldn’t like to see that happen in our time. And that is why the attempt failed.
“The navy is ready to carry out its statutory duties. They have men who have been trained at home and abroad. They have special teams trained intensively to man our territorial waters. But they don’t even have the vessels to do the job. It’s so sad that somebody would be trained, and is enthusiastic and able but he doesn’t have the equipment to do the job. They are ready, but they don’t have what it requires to do the job.”
On the way forward, Anyanwu hinted that the committee was planning a stakeholders meeting to hold soon in Abuja. She said the forum would bring all the stakeholders together, adding that “it will afford us the opportunity to think together. Let us think out of the box, because old solutions cannot tackle contemporary challenges.
“We must think about imaginative ways of getting through these problems: problems of funding for instance and problems of even fuelling the boats that you have. Now, why would the navy spend all the money that they have buying fuel, fuel that we produce here? In other countries, there is an arrangement where the navy is supplied fuel to fire its vessels. So, we have to rethink these arrangements and work them out so that what is in the budget is used to run the navy.”
She said the planned stakeholders meeting would bring together the best brains in the industry including some of the past leaders of the Nigerian Navy to proffer solution to the present challenges.
She pledged the preparedness of the National Assembly and especially the Senate to “give the navy that quantum leap forward to become a more relevant force; so that Nigerians can sleep well, knowing that they have a navy that can deter aggressors and also defend the nation’s territorial integrity.”
Anyanwu, however, described as "a waste of national resources" the ongoing move to establish a Navy Research Institute at Amasoma, Bayelsa State, on which more than N250 million has so far been spent.
Vowing that the Senate would halt the project, she said rather than wasting money on the construction of the research institute, the naval authorities should channel available resources into "operational imperatives" that would enhance the combat readiness of the navy in the face of the current challenges.
Anyanwu described the institute as an "emotional investment" that will add nothing to the operational capacity of the navy, adding, "This research institute in Amasoma is just a waste because it is just a PR move and was politically motivated to have a naval presence in Bayelsa State. It will not serve any purpose.”
She said: "If the National Assembly has been allocating money to that institute, we have to stop it because it makes no sense to continue to invest in it.
The place is not up to the standards of the Nigerian Navy.”
Anyanwu stated that the navy must desist from engaging in wasteful projects, explaining that "we don't have enough funds to invest in projects that will not improve the fighting capacity of our navy."
She said, “Even if they have allocated money to the institute, the National Assembly will stop it because I don't see its essence.” Anyanwu, however, expressed satisfaction with the speed at which the new command headquarters is taking shape.
Pointing out that the new command headquarters at Brass, Bayelsa State “is very strategic,” Anyanwu noted that the duty of the Central Naval Command is “to make sure that the place is effectively policed in order to deliver a clear message to those who want to engage in illegal activities like oil theft and abduction that their days are numbered.”
Briefing the lawmakers earlier, the Flag Officer Commanding, Central Naval Command, Commodore J. O. Olutoyin said the establishment of the new command to complement the existing Western and Eastern Naval Commands was “necessitated by the recent threats within the nation's maritime domain.”
Olutoyin said the command, with headquarters in Brass, and covering 156 nautical miles, has naval formations in Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Kogi and Anambra States under its coverage area.