The Director of Nigerian Naval Information, Commodore Chris Ezekobe, recently paid a courtesy visit to THISDAY’s corporate headquarters in Apapa, Lagos, and spoke about the achievements of the navy in protecting Nigeria’s maritime borders, its forthcoming diamond jubilee anniversary, and how proper funding of the navy can keep miscreants at bay. FUNKE OLAODE reports
On the purpose of his visit to THISDAY
When I was appointed as director of the Nigerian Naval Information on February 14, I quickly drew an action plan, and one of the major objectives of that plan was to engage and interact with the media. We also want to engage with the media in terms of advocacy and letting Nigerians know the consequences of crimes in the Maritime sector. It is common knowledge that 70 to 80 per cent of our wealth come from the maritime domain. So we need to secure these assets.
And there is no better way than to partner with fellow security maritime agencies, the media and other stakeholders. Essentially, this is why we are here to solicit the media’s support and foster a cordial working relationship that will help and better secure our maritime space, which will enhance the prosperity of our nation, Nigeria. We also want to showcase our achievements. For instance, in the last few weeks, the Nigerian Navy has acquired about 30 boats and we are expecting 50 more by the end of May. This is in a bid to saturate the Creeks of the Niger Delta. That is another terrain that is often misunderstood because when you talk about Niger Delta (the region), it is made up of about 6,000 rivers and creeks.
It is a very difficult terrain, so we need to carry out operations to police our assets there. With the new boats that are coming up stream, it is hoped that it will better contain the activities of miscreants in that domain. The Chief of Naval Staff has also instituted the use of houseboat with organic platforms to serve as a command post in major junctions of these riverine domains. This will make it more difficult for criminals such as pipeline vandals, crude oil thieves and illegal bunkers to move stolen products from the internal to vessels waiting offshore. The Chief of Naval Staff has also said every operational command, that is the Western, Eastern and Central Naval command, must have one capital ship at sea each day, irrespective of the various boats that operate from various operational bases. This increases the presence of the Nigerian Navy out there at sea.
On the current administration’s efforts to ensure that Nigeria’s maritime borders are secure
Well, what the current administration is doing is to improve upon our surveillance systems. The regional maritime awareness visibility headquarters is here in Lagos but the satellite stations are along the coasts, and we have increased them to about nine, and we employ radars that have ranges of 25 to 35 multiple miles, which means our territorial waters are adequately covered by surveillance systems. The challenge would be the funding, but the good news is that the Nigerian Navy has a project that is being funded by the office of the National Security Adviser.
Through this project, we employ the use of high frequency to transmit over the horizon. Once that project is completed, we should be able to see beyond 200 multiples miles. The Navy also has special forces that are on maritime fields. These forces carry out specific missions but because of the nature of those missions, we deliberately do not reveal the identity of the personnel involved and the mission they are engaged in. So the activities of these forces are highly unsung but they are contributing enormously to the operations in the North-east.
On the attitude of the Navy towards awarding security sensitive Navy contracts to private individuals
Well, we are subject to our political masters and can’t challenge what is considered as right or wrong. But I can tell you there is something we call Economy Sub-Maritime Security. This will say what the cost of the various losses we have made is, compared to the cost of funding the Navy. If, rather than funding the Navy, you are funding a contractor to buy platforms under the auspices of the company to secure your maritime space, it is like throwing money into the dustbin.
Like I said, the decisions are above us. But what I can simply say is that the government has done a lot for us in terms of acquisition of platform, recapitalisation of our capital ships, but a lot more still needs to be done. There is a Malaysian Model that talks about policing of maritime spaces and says a medium offshore patrol vessels with helicopter attached to it could actually police about 6,000 square multiple miles. Our maritime space is about 84,000 square multiple miles. This means that we need about 14 offshore patrol vessels. Having said this, a lot more needs to be done. So funding contractors to me is a distraction. So many sentiments have been weaved around the Maritime sector and if you ask me, most of them are geared towards personal help and not the better interest of our nation or the well-being of Nigerians.
On the bombing of Lagos’ Atlas Cove, why such an incidence could happen again, and how to prevent it
An incidence like the Atlas Cove happened and such unfortunate incidence can still happen again. And why can it happen? It is because it was an action that was carried out by Nigerians who woke up one morning and fired their speed boat into the Lagos area – findings revealed that they didn’t come by sea, but came from the creeks in the Ondo axis. They stormed the place, killed some people and zoomed off. We need to do a lot more in terms of intelligence gathering and that is not the military’s responsibility. For instance, we need to profile these individuals, the known War Lords of Niger Delta, get some data base to unveil their activities. I think the armed forced should deal more with the issues of external aggression on how to protect our maritime fields from sabotage. The Atlas Cove is a domestic issue that needs to be countered or addressed domestically.
On measures being put in place to avoid missing of seized vessels, like the African Pride
The African Pride was a major embarrassment to the Navy and the nation at large. Right now, the Chief of Naval Staff is advocating for Special Maritime Courts. The problem is that when you arrest a vessel at sea, so much happens. From the time you arrest the vessel to the point you bring it into the harbour. You arrest the crew and most likely you conduct preliminary investigations in the base, you hand over the crew to the police or the EFCC or to some other policing agencies of government. What about the custody of vessels? Most times, these agencies don’t really have where to keep these vessels. These vessels now remain in the custody of the Navy, where you keep your men on board to ensure that the vessel is secured.
It is not as easy as people think. Even the missing African Pride, people said a lot of things, that the Admirals were involved in illegal crude oil trade. This wasn’t true. The issue was that the vessel was in our custody, and at a time, certain elements in the vessel got missing, and eventually the vessel disappeared. All I can say is that if the processes and procedures in effecting arrest and dispensing of those cases are highly minimised, there won’t be issues. We have had cases where a vessel was arrested, and 18 months after, the vessel is still in our custody. It is a challenge because you need to commit men and resources to protect these assets.
On the Navy’s efforts to develop a cordial relationship with civilians
Since we changed from military rule to democratic rule in 1999, most of the services have either actively or passively promoted civil-military relations. This is on-going where we talk to our men on how to win the hearts and minds of the public, and to keep a posture that is friendly enough for the exchange of information. Within the service itself, we have what we call divisional system, where a day in a week is set aside to talk on issues. There is no organisation that is as disciplined as the military. The only thing is that sometimes people don’t know how to go about seeking redress. I can assure you, if you write officially to the Army, Navy or Air force that somebody has infringed upon your rights in any form, we would take it up. The military is so structured in such that an investigation must be carried out, and if our men are guilty, the person is in for trouble. Very often we have demoted, dismissed and imprison depending on the level of the offense. And if it is a minor offense we will call the person involved to fix it up.
On the Navy’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration
The Nigerian Navy would be holding its Diamond Jubilee this year. It is turning 60 precisely on the 1st of June. There are activities lined up. We are also currently having recruitment going on which was advertised in the newspapers and the electronics media. But some elements are still going about that they have the magic wand to get people into the navy. I want to use this opportunity to say that the forms are free and we have a portal nigeriannavy.com, where people can download and fill the form. The form is free and I want to advise Nigerians to resist these miscreants and use the right channel.