Onaji: Armed Forces Alone Cannot Maintain Peace

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The outgoing Commandant of the Nigerian Navy Basic Training School, Onne, Port Harcourt, Commodore Peter Agu Onaji, who has been reassigned by the Chief of Army Staff to assume a new office at the Naval Headquarters Abuja as the Director of Transformation recently celebrated a successful tenure in Onne. He shared his experiences, challenges and achievements with Uchechukwu Nnaike and Chris Asika, as well as the need for collaboration between the public and the armed forces to ensure peace in the country

The peace and progress of Nigeria, which have in recent times, been threatened by the activities of insurgents, as well as several internal agitations and attacks across all the geo-political zones of the country, has continued to generate reactions in all quarters, while efforts are being intensified by the armed forces to achieve a lasting solution.

For the outgoing Commandant of the Nigerian Navy Basic Training School (NNBTS), Onne, Port Harcourt, Commodore Peter Onaji, who recently celebrated a successful 15-month school with a send forth parade, most of the civil disturbance in the country cannot be fought conventionally so the public needs to play a huge role by supporting the armed forces.

According to him, the armed forces exist to serve the public and are trained to fight conventional wars, but not trained to fight asymmetric war fares (fighting faceless enemies).
“Conventional wars are meant to know the enemies at the other side and we have our own enemy we use our training and equipment to fight and subdue our opponents to our own will.

Now the kind of wars we fight in our society now like the one in the north-east and the one in the maritime environment, the coastal areas, pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft and all that, these are wars that cannot be fought conventionally.
“I enjoin the public to be part of the wars; to be patient and help the armed forces, the navy in particular in the task of defeating the enemy, the common enemy of our society. The public should help us with useful information and the civil leadership or the political leadership to also help out the security agencies in carrying out their duties in their areas of jurisdiction.”

Recounting his experiences during his 15-month tenure, his achievements and challenges, Onaji said: “I’ve had a very historic experience serving as the commandant here. During my tenure, the NNBTS Onne had all its training infrastructure transformed and through our efforts, the chief of naval staff lived up to his mission statement which is to deploy a force that is well trained, motivated and highly organised to perform the constitutional roles of the Nigerian Navy and to ensure that the products of the NNBTS receive the best training.”

He said he relocated all the accommodation blocks for the trainees to a standard hostel and embarked on the construction of new accommodation blocks specifically three 40-room accommodations which will soon be completed. On completion, he said there will be 120 large rooms in those places in addition to nine buildings already existing.

“It is a thing of joy for me that this transformation of NNBTS training infrastructure is taking place during my tenure. We also have a dining hall of the school that is being transformed into an ultra-modern cafeteria courtesy of the Chief of Naval Staff. We on our own have successfully trained 1,250 trainees; these are the recruits that undertake trainings with us here. And at the end of the training period of six months 1,205 successfully completed and we did their graduation in grand style with a partner parade that is unprecedented. So that is a very big experience for me as the commandant of the school.”

Also, during Onaji’s tenure, the school signed a first of its kind Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Port Harcourt to undertake a diploma programme for senior ratings who have spent upwards of 15 to 20 years, some of them 30 years in the service, to study a leadership and management course.

He said 86 of the participants would get an academic diploma which will qualify them for a university direct entry admission, and they can now serve in strategic offices like that of the chief of naval staff, flag officers commanding brand chiefs. “The university diploma certificate is an improvement from the one issued to naval personnel and this will enable them to fit into the civil society properly with recognised academic qualification.”

As part of his efforts, Onaji said he also invited the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to inspect the sick bay for consideration to accredit into the national health insurance programme. He said investigations have been carried out and the report indicates that the clinic facilities satisfied the requirements, while awaiting the final approval for the final accreditation of the sick bay into the NHIS scheme.

The commodore pledges his commitment to his new office, just like previous ones by giving first class service that would contribute to the realisation of the vision and mission of the Chief of Naval Staff which is to contribute and to serve in whatever capacity to the professional and efficient discharge of the Nigerian Navy’s constitutional role so as to bring about prosperity and national security.

He therefore charged younger officers to acknowledge the efforts of the naval chief to transform the navy and provide good working tools, adding that they must be prepared to provide the best service and make the best use of resources that would be given to them to produce results that will help the navy to discharge its constitutional responsibility professionally and efficiently. “So that requires a whole commitment, rededication and change of attitude by everybody.”

In the area of community relationship with host communities, he thanked the traditional ruler of Ipokiri Community, HRM Victor Nangibo, and members of Onne community who were present for the parade, for a cordial relationship that has existed over the years. He reiterated the commitment he made to naval headquarters to ensure that members of the communities enroll in the next batch of the training.

On his part, the Director, School of Government, University of Port Harcourt, Professor Eme Ekekwe, who witnessed the send forth ceremony, lauded Onaji’s achievements during his tenure.
“For us from the university’s point of view the MoU has been very good, very enriching because it gives us an opportunity to interact with people who are otherwise professionals in the security area, with UNIPORT being in the Niger Delta and the school being based here, the interaction has been mutually supportive.

“We have run through batches of training for them and the last one under commodore Onaji, we had 56 ratings who came in for the diploma programme. It is an intensive programme and our evaluation of their work so far has been very good, the idea is to give them an orientation so that when they eventually retire from service, they will have some qualification that will allow them to find their way in the civil society in a way that will allow them live normal lives that they will be proud of the navy and what they gave to them professionally.”

Ekekwe tasked the civil society on the need to have continuous and mutually supportive collaborations with the armed forces as they are an integral part of the society.

“In other climes the interchange between army and civil institutions is very common, you find people who have sent their senior military officers going back to teaching in higher institutions, and you find people in institutions of higher learning going to give instructions to various military colleges and institutions. That is the normal thing, we have not quite pushed in that direction far enough in Nigeria, but it is a direction we need to be working towards.”

He stressed that the Navy and the university want to see that relationship develop so that “we gain mutual synergy from each other’s work. You give them the civilian perspective on their work which is meaningful because without the civil society, their work is de-conceptualised. And also from the civil society angle recognise the critical importance of the role that they play, everybody is playing a role provided we all work towards a common purpose which is the development of our nation.”