Nigerian Navy at 64: A Sustained Fight against Maritime Crimes

Chiemelie Ezeobi, who reviewed the scorecard of the Nigerian Navy as it clocks 64 today, writes that the force has come a long way from the colonial marine department of the Royal Navy to one of the best navies in Africa, which has primarily sustained its fight against maritime illegalities in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea

With a coastline of about 420 nautical miles (nm) and 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), translating to about 84,000 square nautical miles (nm), Nigeria’s maritime area of interest includes the entire Gulf of Guinea (GoG )which is about 574,800 square nm and spans a total coastline of about 2,874 nm.

However, the rich endowment of Nigeria’s maritime domain, its networks of oil and gas installations and associated shipping are threatened by maritime crimes such as piracy, sea robbery, crude oil theft, illegal oil bunkering, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, militancy and hostage taking.

Given that Nigeria relies on the sea for about 90 per cent of its import and export with oil being a major part of the trade, the thorny issue of insecurity in its maritime domain is undeniably a major source of concern. These challenges are what the Nigerian Navy (NN) under the leadership of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok Ete Ibas, are tackling one crime at a time.


According to Wikipedia, the origin of the Nigerian Navy could be traced to the colonial marine department of the Royal Navy. This department was established in 1887 as a quasi-military organisation combining the duties of the present day Nigerian Ports Authority, the Inland Water Ways and the modern day navy.

The colonial administration did not consider it necessary to establish a proper navy, as they considered it the duty of the Royal Navy to give naval protection to Nigeria and that the Maritime Department was adequate to look after security of the ports and coastal approaches as well as provide harbour services for Royal Navy ships on West African patrols. This was the situation until the end of the Second World War in 1945.

After the war, the colonial administration preferred that emphasis be placed on port-related duties for Marine Department. A proposal was then made to establish the Nigerian Ports Authority. The officers of the Marine Department who were Royal Navy Reserve officers did not give up on the idea of a navy and continue to press for the establishment of a naval force.

Their efforts eventually led to the 1956 policy statement by the government for the establishment of a Nigerian Naval Force (Sessional paper No.6 of 1956).

On 1 June 1956, the NNDF commenced operations with 11 assorted ships and craft comprising two survey vessels (PETREL and PATHFINDER), two training boats (DIGNITY and NYMPH), one patrol craft (CHALLENGER), three VIP boats (VALIANT and FRANCES with her Launch), one tug (TROJAN) and one general purpose launch (JADE).

Similarly, on 1 August 1956, the first naval legislation was passed by the House of Representatives and was assented to on September 5, 1956 by Sir James Robertson, the Governor General. It was called the Nigerian Navy Ordinance.

The NNDF as a result of the legislation was designated the Royal Nigerian Navy. In 1963, when Nigeria became a republic, the prefix “Royal” was dropped and the name became Nigerian Navy (NN). The Ordinance that set up the NN had several limitations, the principal one among them was the limitation placed on the Navy to patrol only three nautical miles, which was the limit of the territorial waters.

The shortcomings were corrected by the post independence Navy Act of 1964. This Act removed the principal limitation of the NN to the country’s territorial waters. In these early years, the NN had only a few patrol boats but has now grown significantly into a multi-mission maritime arm of the Nigerian Armed Forces with various wartime and peacetime roles.

Tripartite Role

With its establishment, the NN, according to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 is charged with the territorial defence of Nigeria by sea. Its tripartite roles cover the full spectrum of military, policing and diplomatic functions.

Under these spectrum, its roles include enforcing and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all customs, immigration, bunkering, fishery protection and pollution laws (coastguard duties), including enforcement of all national and international maritime laws ascribed to or acceded to by Nigeria.

Its roles are backed by the Armed Forces Act which charged the NN to enforce and assist in coordinating the enforcement of all national and international maritime laws ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria. Other duties include making of charts and coordinating national hydrographic surveys as well as promoting, coordinating and enforcing safety regulations in the territorial waters and the EEZ of Nigeria.

Past Icons of the Navy

Often referred to as Icons of the Navy, the past list of of CNS since the inception of the NN includes Captain FW Skutil, who was CNS from 1956 to 1958 and Commodore AR Kennedy who held the helm of affairs from 1958 to 1964. Others were Vice Commodore JEA Wey from 1964 to 1973; Vice Admira NB Soroh, from 1973 to 1975 and Vice Admiral MA Adelanwa from 1975 to 1980.

Not left out were Vice Admiral AA Aduwo from 1980 to 1893; Vice Admiral AA Aikhomu from 1984 to 1986; Vice Admiral Patrick Koshini from 1986 to 1990; Vice Admirak Murtala Nyako from 1990 to 1992; Vice Admiral DPE Omotsola from 1992 to 1993; Rear Admiral S. Sa’idu who was appointed in 1993 and removed same year.

Others after his include Rear Admiral AA Madueke from 1993 to 1994; Rear Admiral OM Akhigbe from 1994 to 1998; Vice Admiral J. Ayinla from 1998 to 1999; Vice Admiral VK Ombu from 1999 to 2001; Vice Admiral SO Afoloyan from 2001 to 2005; Vice Admiral GTA Adekeye from 2005 to 2008 and Vice Admiral II Ibrahim from 2008 to 2010.

Ibrahim was succeeded by Vice Admiral OS Ibrahim from 2010 to 2012; Vice Admiral DJ Ezeoba took over in 2012 and handed over to Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin in 2013. In 2015, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete Ibas took over as the 20th Chief of the Naval Staff.

Navy at 64

Over the years, the navy has grown from a mere marine department to a fighting force that is capable of withstanding external and internal threats to Nigeria’s territorial integrity. This year, exactly on this day, the navy marked its 64th anniversary.

As part of activities to mark the milestone, the

Nagy reviewed its celebration in line with the current COVID-19 Pandemic. On the first day of the week-long celebration, all ships were dressed overall from Monday, May 25 to Monday June 1,2020.

The navy also distributes palliatives and donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to their host communities. This took place last Thursday and Friday. Today, the NN will commission a COVID-19 Isolation Centre in Lagos with a view to supporting the FG’s fight against COVID-19 Pandemic. Lastly, a modified and highly restricted Ceremonial Sunset will also be held at command level on Monday, 1 June 2020 to mark the end of the week-long activities of the NN 64th Anniversary.

In a briefing to mark the year, the Chief of Policy and Plans (CPPLANS), Rear Admiral Ifeola Mohammed, recapped the successes recorded by the navy, especially in the last five years that the present Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, has been at the helm of affairs.

Policy Thrust

On assumption of office in 2015, Mohammed said the CNS placed a high premium on operational availability of ships, training and motivation of personnel. In fulfillment of the operational availability of ships, with the help of the federal government, the navy has taken delivery of numerous ships including recent acquisitions of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), Seaward Defence Boats, patrol crafts and training ships as well as helicopter.

To man and operate these high value assets, he said the NN parades crops of professionally competent personnel, who are given qualitative training, both locally and abroad on regular basis.
According to Mohammed, the NN personnel undergo professional military education and most of the courses being run at the training schools and colleges, are given requisite accreditation for improved performance of the under training officers and ratings.

Additionally, he said the NN training schools are being affiliated with tertiary institutions and relevant professional schools as well as bodies in the Country. The NN also benchmarks training in line with international best practices for the enhanced maintenance and operations of the Fleet. These have assisted in no small measure, the building of further capacity and human resource development.

As regards manpower generation, the NN in the last five years, commissioned a total of 944 officers and enlisted 7,465 ratings. Currently, 1,226, who have completed basic training are scheduled to join the Fleet shortly while another set comprising 1,250 trainees, will commence training at the NN Basic Training School, thereafter.

Furthermore, he said the NN has equally reinvigorated its welfare programmes to further motivate personnel. The development and welfare of NN personnel is a core aspect of NN administration. Overtime, the NN has sustained existing efforts and also put in place new schemes to improve personnel welfare. Some of the NN welfare schools have also been rehabilitated, with new schools being built at both primary and post primary levels.

Also, he noted that NN has set up various loan schemes to assist personnel achieve their personal goals. These include the Nigerian Navy Microfinance Bank, Nigerian Navy Multipurpose Cooperative Society, Navy Exchange and Welfare Loan amongst others. For housing of personnel, construction of barracks accommodation and renovation works are ongoing in all naval establishments, adding that all these have enhanced productivity with resultant improved operational efficiency of the NN.

Operational Achievements

In terms of operational achievements, Mohammed said the NN over the years has been focused on capacity development in order to improve maritime security in Nigerian waters, and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The maritime threats that have significant effects in Nigeria’s maritime environment are piracy/sea robbery, crude oil theft, illegal oil bunkering, smuggling, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF), insurgency, hostage taking, human and drug trafficking.

He said: “In order to combat these threats, the NN adopted the Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy (TSMS) to guide its operational engagements. The strategy is based on a proactive layered response to 5 conflict spectrums characterised by distances to and from the coast.

“Within the last five years, the NN conducted and also participated in over 60 exercises and operations. Pertinently, 35 major exercises and operations were game changers. Some of the game changers are Ex TSARE TEKU, Ex EAGLE EYE, Op RIVER SWEEP, Op CALM WATERS and Op SWIFT RESPONSE geared towards combating illicit activities in Nigeria’s territorial waters especially the back waters.

“Some combined Exercises such as Ex OBANGAME EXPRESS, Ex NEMO and Op JUNCTION RAIN were conducted in collaboration with regional and international navies and other maritime stakeholders for the good governance, law and order in the GoG.”

Acquisition of Platforms

In order to enhance response capability, the CPPLANS noted that within the period under review, the NN acquired three capital ships. These are NNS UNITY (an OPV), a new survey vessel and a Landing Ship Tank (LST). The survey vessel is expected to join the fleet before the end of the year while the LST would join in 2021.

Furthermore, 11 River Town Class boats were acquired. Out of these, seven have been inducted into the NN fleet namely NNS NGURU, SHIRORO, EKULU, OSE, GONGOLA, CALABAR and OSUN, while four more are programmed to join the fleet later this year.

He said: “Additionally, in the last five years, the NN also invested in local content development through the local construction of Seaward Defence Boats (SDB). The second locally built SDB, NNS KARADUWA was commissioned in 2016 while her sister ship, a third locally built SDB is programmed to join the service this year.

“In an effort to boost operations, 12 Manta Class boats and Inshore Patrol Craft were acquired and will be inducted into the fleet, this year. For riverine operations, the service took delivery of 148 River Patrol boats, with another 24 expected in the later part of 2020. Thirty six Rigid Inflatable Boats were also procured, with another batch of 56 programmed for delivery in 2020 ending.

“The renewed emphasis on fleet renewal under the able leadership of V Adm IE Ibas was further underscored with the acquisition of three Whaler boats that are also expected to join the fleet this year. Other acquisitions under this ambitious fleet renewal effort are the acquisition and deployment of 11 houseboats for the Choke Point Management and Control operations.

“One houseboat is also expected to be deployed in 2020. One tug boat has been inducted into the service while two others are expected to join the fleet in 2020. Similarly, one water barge and one fuel barge are expected in 2020. The NN equally committed enormous resources to equipment availability to support its operations.

“Accordingly, the NN took delivery of a total of 168 outboard engines with requisite spares. As part of the Ministry of Defence’s critical intervention, the NN just took delivery of one Leonardo AW139 helicopter and is currently being inducted.

“In support of FGN policy on local content, the NN engaged local companies such as Messrs Epenal, TUWASCO, HABTOB and Sewa to build platforms for the Service. This has not only enhanced local content development but facilitated capacity building in Nigeria’s maritime industry.”

Anti Piracy Operations

According to the CPPLANS, the NN instituted dedicated operations and initiatives to enhance its policing capability towards the peaceful use of the nation’s maritime environment. These initiatives, he noted have engendered several recorded successes in the operations of the bases.

For instance, 2016 which recorded the highest piracy attacks in the past five years recorded 70 incidents of piracy attacks. Out of these, 51 were successful while 19 were unsuccessful. Also, in 2017, there were 48 piracy related cases out of which 27 were successful while in 2018, there were 36 reported cases and only nine successful.

Furthermore, in 2019, 21 piracy related cases were reported and only seven of these attacks were successful. As at 20 May 2020, there were nine pirate attacks of which only 2 were successful and seven unsuccessful.

With the above statistics, Mohammed said it is evident the rate of successful pirate attacks has been on the decline from 2016 – 2019. “The success rate of pirate attacks which was 72.86 per cent in 2016 decreased to 56.25 per cent in 2017. However, in 2018, the success rate of pirate attacks decreased to 25 per cent. The seven successful pirate attacks out of 21 reported piracy cases in 2019 denotes a considerable reduction in reported cases of pirate attacks may be adjudged to override the percentage increase in the rate of successful pirate attacks in 2019.

“It is worthy to mention that in May, June, September, October and November 2019, no piracy related incident occurred in the Nigeria’s maritime space, a feat that attracted the commendation of the International Maritime Bureau.

“This is attributed to NN increased number of hours and sustained presence at sea. Last month on April 18, 2020, the NN rescued 11 crew men onboard a Portuguese flagged container ship, MV TOMMI RITSCHER that was attacked by pirates in the Republic of Benin waters. More recently, the NN recorded a remarkable achievement in anti-piracy operations in the rescue of a fishing vessel, MV HAILUFENG II which was hijacked off the coast of Cote D’Ivoire on May 15, 2020. The feat further demonstrated our capability and brings to fore the leadership role of the NN in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The improvement in Nigeria’s maritime security due to anti-piracy operations was attested to by the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, who stated that the increase in maritime activities is evident in the 10,673 vessel calls at Nigerian Ports with a gross registered tonnage of over 329 million between 2016 and 2018”, he added.

Anti-Crude Oil Theft Operations

The NN performed credibly well in the fight against COT and illegal oil bunkering through ops conducted by ops bases and FOBs within the period under review.

According to information provided by Mohammed, the bases cumulatively destroyed a total of 2,287 illegal refineries between 2015 -2019. These activities, he said were complemented with series of swamp buggy operations in the areas were illegal refineries were discovered.

He said the breakdown of the destroyed illegal refineries from 2015 to 2019 shows that in 2015, about 140 illegal refineries were destroyed and 128 illegal refining sites in 2016. “However, in 2017, a total of 1,218 illegal refineries were destroyed, while 383 and 418 illegal refining sites were destroyed in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

“From records, 2017 recorded the highest number of illegal refining sites destroyed. This figure decreased in 2018 and later increased slightly in 2019. The reduction in the number of illegal refining sites destroyed from 2017 – 2019 could be attributed to the ongoing swamp buggy operations in the Niger Delta which makes it difficult for perpetrators to reactivate destroyed illegal refining sites”.

The NN also recorded successes in anti-COT and illegally sourced petroleum product which has reduced illegal oil dealings within the Nigerian maritime environment from 2017-2019.

Citing instances he said: ”In 2017, the NN denied criminal oil entrepreneurs dealing on illegal oil about 218,057 barrels of crude oil valued at about N3,724,413,560 and 60,553,415 litres of AGO valued at N11,807,915,925. Similarly, in 2018, illegal oil dealings of about 295,028 barrels of crude oil valued at about N5,039,078,240 and 23,991,325 litres of AGO valued at N4,678,308,375 were denied the criminal oil entrepreneurs by the NN.

“In the same vein, in 2019, the NN denied criminal oil entrepreneurs dealing on illegal oil 296,192 barrels of crude oil valued at about N5,058,959,360 and 42,729,530 litres of AGO valued at N8,332,258,350. It is evident that the number of barrels and ltrs of crude oil and AGO denied the criminal oil entrepreneurs by the NN increased from 2017-2019. This could be attributed to the increased effort of the Ops Bases and TOPs Branch sensitisation and directives to all Bases on zero tolerance to COT and illegal bunkering activities.

“The reduction in the number of illegal refineries located since 2018 is attributable to the success of Op RIVER SWEEP, which resulted in the impounding of approximately 9,406,810 barrels of crude oil, 130,517,570 litres of AGO, 897,475 litres of PMS and 3,407,500 litres of DPK from 2017 to 20 May 2020. The yearly details of the products impounded are as shown on the screen.”

Anti-Smuggling Operations

According to Mohammed, in the area of anti-smuggling operations, OPS SWIFT RESPONSE and CALM WATERS resulted in the arrest of a total of 82 smuggling boats and 22 vehicles cumulatively laden with a total of 61,719 bags of rice.

He said a total of 449 suspected smugglers were arrested and their boats with products were handed over to Nigeria Customs Service for further action. These achievements he added, also reinforce NN drive towards eradicating rice smuggling in support of the FG policy on local rice production.

Increased Maritime Domain Awareness

In this regard, the CPPLANS said the NN carries out round the clock surveillance of

Nigeria’s maritime space using the Regional and Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) and Falcon Eye facilities in addition to the use of vessels and helicopters.

He said: “The NN has 24Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Centres located across the Nigerian coastline. Due to their availability, NN patrols are now more mission oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistic costs.

The infrastructure has been instrumental in several rescue operations.

“For instance, the MDA infrastructure was instrumental to the rescue of the crew of the Bristow helicopter that crashed in Lagos on 3 Feb 16 and many other classified operations.”

Increased Collaboration

“The NN recognises the centrality of collaboration with other maritime nations and international maritime agencies for successful maritime security operations. Accordingly, it holds regular international conferences and sea exercises with navies of other nations and major maritime stakeholders for the purpose of capacity building, intelligence and information sharing.

“For instance, the NN successfully hosted International Maritime Conference and Regional Maritime Exercise in 2016 and 2018 and would have hosted the 2020 edition but for the COVID-19 Pandemic. These have led to shared responsibilities with improved international and regional cooperation and synergy of efforts in tackling the myriad of challenges in Nigerian maritime environment.

“A critical achievement in terms of collaboration during the period under review is the operationalisation of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedure (HSOP) on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment,” Mohammed disclosed.

Hydrographic Successes

Finally, the NN also recently recorded another operational milestone as the second indigenous navigational chart of some parts of Nigerian waters was produced by the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Office (NNHO). The new chart covers parts of Badagry Creek, from Ogunkobo, through Navy Town and Mile 2 to Tin-Can Island in Lagos waters. Work on the chart started in 2019. With the completion of the chart, the NNHO has commenced work on its electronic version which will be forwarded to the International Centre for Electronic Navigational Charts for validation and release.

Although these operations have contributed in enhancing maritime security with significant economic gains, it is imperative to sustain and possibly improve the level of security in order to optimise the potentials in the nation’s maritime domain.

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