A Revealing Tour of Naval Formations

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The House of Representatives Committee on Nigerian Navy (NN) recently toured several naval formations in Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt. Damilola Oyedele who was part of the tour writes that the challenges caused by gross under-funding threaten the Navy’s capabilities to execute its mandate of maritime security

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A head of the presentation of the 2017 budget, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Nigerian Navy, led by the Chairman, Hon. Abdussamad Dasuki, embarked on an inspection tour of naval formations and facilities in Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt. The exercise is crucial to providing the committee, as critical stakeholders, with first hand experience of the available resources of the force.

The Nigerian Navy is considered one of the largest on the African continent. It is charged with the responsibility of maritime security in its territorial waters. This has become critical in protecting the country’s economic zone particularly in recent times with issues of illegal oil bunkering and militancyin the creeks and the high seas.

Obvious challenges caused by under-funding

In the last four to five years, the level of release of funds to the navy has been considered deplorable. According to former Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin, the navy’s 2014 proposed capital estimate was slashed from N174.1billion to N7.9billion, sadly at a time when the force needed huge expenditure in infrastructure.

This has however been the trend for a long time, manifesting in decaying infrastructure including jetties, obsolete equipment and training materials, lack of maintenance of ships resulting in some being un-usable, lack of funds to properly maintain naval bases, etc.

At the Eastern Naval Command, the lawmakers were conducted round the premises of the base by the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Rear Admiral James O. Oluwole, who showed them several spots where erosion continues to threaten the structure of the base. At a point, gully erosion had practically cut off a road. The FOC noted that major reconstruction and preventive work had to be executed at the site to stop part of the base from collapse.

One of the major jetties at the base is also no longer usable as corrosion has eroded the irons and steel used in its construction. The lawmakers also observed several broken down gun boats.

The FOC harped on the need for more accommodation for officers and ratings, for more platforms and for more boats for the command to effectively police the waters.

At the naval bases in Lagos, the situation was the same. At the Headquarters Western Naval Command, the FOC, Rear Admiral Ferguson D. Bobai led the committee members round the premises. He highlighted the challenges being experienced by the command, particularly in the area of funding,

The lawmakers encountered one of Nigeria’s largest ships, NNS Aradu, which was commissioned in 1982 by the Shehu Shagari administration. The ship requires 33,000 litres of diesel to operate at full speed. Regaling the committee with exploits of the ship, the FOC however lamented that she had been docked for over seven years, and would require millions to be put back to use.

The committee visited the Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, which is the only integrated dockyard in the West African coast, and has arsenal and electrical workshops. It was however clear that the potential of the dockyard which has been fully commercialised is not being harnessed. The Dockyard Apprentice School for training technicians has been out of operation, and is just in the process of being rehabilitated.

The FOC, Rear Admiral Abdullah Danladi, disclosed that the dockyard was grappling with shortage of skilled manpower, lack of fenders along its jetties, ageing equipment, defective cranes, collapsing jetties and other challenges, all of which are caused by under funding.

He added that the monthly bills from the electricity distribution company runs into an average of N4 million monthly.

Hon. Dickson Tarkighir (Benue APC) however noted that the dockyard needed to harness its potentials by advertising its ability to merchant ships in the maritime sector. He also urged them to explore alternative sources of energy.

At NNS Pathfinder in Port-Harcourt, lawmakers were also presented with the challenges of the unit in the face of fighting militancy, piracy and oil theft.

The lawmakers were scheduled to visit Onne, base of the Navy Basic Training School by navy boats. On the way, three of the boats conveying the committee members broke down while in the creeks, and the passengers were transferred to the other three boats. The three boats were fixed by the technicians on board, and later joined the others at Onne. On the way back to Port Harcourt, one of the two engines on a boat failed, slowing down the entourage, and dragging a 45 minutes journey into two and half hours. Disembarking at NNS Pathfinder at about 8.25pm, torchlights were used to illuminate the ladder path for the lawmakers, as the generating set could not power the floodlights at the dock.

At all the bases visited, the Chairman and committee members assured of commitments to ensure that the navy gets better funding, particularly for welfare and infrastructure.

An officer, who pleaded not to be named told THISDAY that while the spirit of the ratings generally remains high, they were also aware that their equipment and facilities were not standard.

“For instance, the Special Boat Service (SBS) receive very good training, they are special forces, they are tough, they know it and they are proud of themselves because to be in SBS is purely on merit. They can board any ship, even when there is some resistance. They can swim under water, fully kitted for long. But they are not well equipped,” the officer said.

“For instance, if we sight a vessel in our waters and we are not aware of its business, before even communicating with them, we can find out electronically from our patrol boat, the name of the vessel and origin. But the equipment for doing that is broken down in most of our boats, so we have to radio the ship to identify herself,” a rating said.

Not All Sour News

At the Western Naval Command NN Ugbu, a tugboat built in Nigeria, and named after an officer who died in the hands of militants during the Niger Delta crises, was presented to the lawmakers. She is awaiting commissioning alongside NNS Unity which is being expected from China in less than two months.

The command is currently working to get NN Ugbu and other indigenous boats registered with the International Maritime Organisation, so that they can be exhibited and showcased as proof of Nigeria’s ability to build boats.

“Why go abroad to spend $40,000 when we can do it for $10,000,” he queried.

At the Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC) also in Apapa, which the FOC, Rear Admiral Ifeola Mohammed described as the ‘engine room of the Nigerian Navy,” the lawmakers also toured the facilities. They encountered ratings and officers learning difference languages such as Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

The lawmakers paid an unscheduled visit to the Navy Barracks, Mobil Road in Apapa, and were received by Surgeon Commodore G.S Ugwuadu at the medical centre. The centre seemed well equipped, and is primarily used by navy personnel and their families. It however also entertains patients from sister forces with their barracks nearby.

The committee was particularly impressed with the facilities at Onne: Navy Basic Training School and the Nigerian Naval College. Massive renovations were ongoing as at when the committee visited.

The Committee’s Position

Speaking with THISDAY in an interview at the end of the five-day inspection tour, Dasuki lauded the zeal, patriotism and commitment of the officers and ratings of the Nigerian Navy, and also praised the efforts of the commanding officers at keeping their men motivated.

The committee chairman however harped on the need for the country to do better for its naval force in terms of welfare.

“These are people sacrificing their lives to ensure the safety of our exclusive economic zone, the overall maritime domain, and we are here giving them inadequate equipment, that is very unfair to the nation itself,” Dasuki said.

Weighing in on the discourse on the need for the establishment of an outfit similar to the United States coast Guard, the lawmaker emphasised that the country does not need another outfit to police its waters, as it is already part of the duties of the Nigerian Navy.

“We have an existing structure which covers that, we have not empowered them, yet we are trying to create another problem. We should not even have that in mind, so anyone thinking that way is not doing justice to the Navy. If it is being considered as a means to empower people through employment, it has already been stated that the Navy needs more personnel. Considering the size of our waterways, they need more ” he said.

It all however boils down to funding, the lawmaker from Sokoto noted, adding that proper funding of the Navy would lead to an increase in personnel which would come hand in hand with accommodation and equipment demand.

Still on funding, the House Committee chairman lamented that there has been gross underfunding of the Navy over the years which is now manifest in obsolete equipment, deteriorating ships, jetties on the verge of collapse and other signs of neglect.

“Every ship is supposed to get at least 30 percent of its total cost of purchase to maintain it annually, this is the standard practice. So if you make just five percent, it means you are just waiting for the doomsday,” Dasuki said.

He added that a Trust Fund was being considered through legislation to entitle the Navy to a certain percentage of what is being generated from the maritime sector. This would assist in maintenance of ships and procuring equipment.

Despite the challenges, Dasuki expressed pride in the Navy, Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibot- Eke Ekwe Ibas, the FOCs, officers and ratings.

“…irrespective of the situation, they are giving their very best to the country. There is discipline and with the meagre resources and welfare, they are in high spirits. So we need to commend them for their service to the motherland,” the committee chairman said.

Hon. Diri Donye (Bayelsa APC) also weighed in on the ‘coast guard’ conversation, insisting there is no need for such outfit.

“If you bring in a coast guard, would they not suffer the same fate? Then the second question is, can the Navy effectively police the whole waterways, do they have the personnel,” he said in an interview.

Any gaps which require such outfit, can be filled by the NN, if there is adequate funding, he said.

“Under-funding is a cause for worry, and that is why we have criminality in the waterways. Yes, the terrain is difficult, but again if the navy is adequately funded, and the federal government lives up to its expectations in the area, criminality would be reduced. In fact the criminality has a direct relationship with under-development of the area,” Donye added.

Another member, Hon. Henry Nwawuba (Imo PDP) also noted that he was impressed with the Nigerian Navy, despite the challenges being experienced.

He however noted that the inherent danger of under-funding the navy was that it may not be able to prosecute a war, should there be war, in addition to defending the economic zone.

“It is important that we prepare, even when we do not need it, because if the situation arises where we need it, we may have to face which one we think is more important,” he said.

He also harped on the need to holistically treat all issues affecting the navy, including welfare for the ratings and officers who risk their lives on a daily basis in service to the country.

Conclusion

The current state of the Nigerian Navy gives cause for worry, at a time the nation needs all the proceeds from its natural resources to assist it get out of economic recession.

The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) noted that $11 billion worth of crude was stolen between 2009 and 2011 while $5.9 billion was lost to oil theft in 2013. According to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria lost N12.56 billion to oil theft and vandalism in March 2016 alone.

Considering the scale of these losses caused by the theft of crude usually transported through the waters, it is therefore pertinent that the navy’s capabilities be strengthened to better police the maritime domain.