In the last one week, the officers and men of the Nigerian Navy have been engaged in activities to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the force, Davidson Iriekpen writes
So far, the celebrations have been elaborate. Apart from Lagos where most the activities took place to other parts of the country where naval formations are, the mood is felt – 60 good years of defending Nigeria. From the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, to the lowest rank man in the force, there is every need to celebrate the diamond anniversary. To them, though the force is not where it should, there is every need to appreciate what is on the ground, and look forward to a better future.
Because a huge chunk of Nigeria’s borders are flanked by the open sea, on June 1, 1956, the Nigerian Navy Defence Force (NNDF) commenced operations with 11 assorted ships and craft comprising two survey vessels, two training boats, one patrol craft, three VIP boats, one tug and one general purpose launch. It was the humble beginning of a force that is, today, one of the largest and most sophisticated naval command on the African continent.
In 1963, after Nigeria became a republic, the NNDF metamorphosed into the Nigerian Navy and was tasked with the primary responsibility of keeping the nation’s waters safe and free from illegal and nefarious activities.
So far, the force has recorded huge successes in carrying out this primary responsibility, some of which include its valiant role in keeping the country together during the civil war, one of Nigeria’s darkest moments. It continuously policed Nigerian territorial waters to enforce the Federal Military Government’s order of banning shipping in the Eastern part of the country. This effectively blocked the Atlantic seabed and made it impossible for large-scale importation of much-needed arms and ammunition into eastern Nigeria, which could have prolonged the needless war. There were also the several amphibious landings it carried out that were hailed all over the world.
This June, the Navy clocks 60, and it is stronger than ever. Under its 20th Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibas, who was appointed by the Buhari administration on July13, 2015, the navy has gone from strength to strength.
Since May 29, 2015, the navy has intensified its efforts in countering illegalities, in sustaining surveillance and intelligence for preemptive and proactive actions; 16 piracy attempts have been foiled, a total of 42 vessels were arrested, over 221 illegal refineries were destroyed, 34 barges were destroyed and 167 wooden and Cotonou boats were also destroyed.
Besides its increasing siege on militants in the Niger Delta, the navy is also set to deploy its platform and Special Forces in the fight against insurgency in the North-east, in the Lake Chad region. The exercise is designed to supplement the military operation code-named as Operation Lafia Dole, and it is expected to deploy troops and equipment to Tongeji Island by the Nigeria-Benin maritime border.
During this short period, the navy has equally commenced a choke point control regime, to ensure that no vessel goes in and out of the creeks/channels without being interrogated; two houseboats have already been deployed at Akassa and Ezeotu long Num and Pennington rivers, while another four are at the verge of deployment. This has enabled enhanced presence at the estuaries, where vessels transiting in and out of the country’s backwaters can be interrogated, in order to checkmate illegal oil bunkering, crude oil theft and other forms of maritime crimes.
The Nigerian Navy has also continued to ramp up its ship-building efforts, saving the nation precious foreign exchange which would have been used to acquire the ships from other countries and improving the technical and technological skills of the force. The construction of the SDBII is currently at an advanced stage. The main hull is about 95 per cent complete, while painting works are about 90 per cent complete. The Navy has also completed the construction of a tugboat, which is earmarked for the celebration of its 60 years. Another 50 boats, also manufactured locally, are expected to be inaugurated during its Diamond Jubilee celebrations which kicked off in May.
Even more, the navy under its current leadership has been involved in the renewal of its fleet with the launching of 30 riverine warfare boats which have been deployed to fight crude oil theft in the creeks of the Niger Delta. Also, as a strategic asset and force multiplier, the Navy is currently upgrading Naval Shipyard Limited at Port Harcourt.
Under the current administration, two mine sweepers, NNS Ohue and NNS Barama, which have not been operational since the mid-nineties, are currently undergoing trials before being re-launched into service.
Under the Buhari administration, the navy has maintained effective maintenance activities leading to availability of ships, boats and helicopters to confront threats to the country’s maritime security. Among the ships are NNS Centenary, NNS Okpabana, NNS Prosperity, NNS Andoni and NNS Obula while helicopters NN08, NN09 and NN10 are operational.
Nevertheless, several challenges continue to haunt the Nigerian Navy. Some of them are inadequate platforms, degraded operational support infrastructure, low level of Research and Development (R&D) efforts and low national industrial capacity. Others include poor maritime culture, inadequate Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) infrastructure, inadequate facilities for operational training, requirement for improved personnel welfare and inadequate funding.
The source of the constraints that continues to plague the navy is inadequate funding. The navy’s proposed overhead, amount appropriated and released have grossly been inadequate in relation to her needs. In the last four years, the Nigerian Navy had not received up to 25 per cent of her budgetary proposals for overhead. The capital vote has been far worse, where the Service has not got up to two per cent.
Expectedly, this lack of needed funds creates a lot of gaps in the force’s effectiveness, especially in the area of technology and research. The navy is a highly technical force that needs to constantly adapt to global changes in technology and bring same to bear on countering challenges in the nation’s maritime environment. However, poor research and development, linked to inadequate funding, has affected development and discovery of new technologies. This has led to poor adaptation of NN sensors for group integration initiatives.
Also, it would be noted that globally, developed Navies attained their heights through mutual cooperation with their national technological sectors. So, the Nigerian Navy’s progress, in this regard, can be put side by side with the nation’s low industrial and scientific capacity. Hence, a major constraint to the Nigerian Navy has been the low level of technology resources, most especially in terms of maintenance of equipment, fabrication of spares for own platforms and ships’ building efforts.
But these challenges have not stopped Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, from moving the Navy forward. Today, 60 years after it was created, the Nigerian Navy has never been better placed for ultimate greatness.