Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo assumed office as the 21st indigenous Chief of Naval Staff of Nigeria, in January 2021. In the ten months since then, he has worked hard to advance the Navy’s efforts to effectively discharge its constitutional responsibilities, chief of which is the protection of Nigeria’s vast maritime environment.
One of the first things the new Service Chief did upon assumption of office was to develop the Service’s Strategic Directive 2021-5 towards realising the Nigerian Navy’s Strategic Plan 2021-2030.
This Strategic Plan 2021-2030 is organized into 9 areas, or “milestones”, as follows: Operations, Fleet Renewal, Logistics, Infrastructure, Human Resource Management and Administration, Concepts and Organisation, Doctrine and Training, Information and Communications Technology and Inter-Agency and Sub-regional Cooperation.
In addition, as Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Gambo’s guiding philosophy of command is centered around three principles, which for him define the intended outcomes of a commitment to implementing the vision and strategic direction for the Service: credible deterrence, synergy and a ready naval force.
Credible deterrence means a Navy that is proactive and assertive, that takes full charge of the maritime operation and consistently demonstrates its superiority to all threats and sources of threats.
Synergy refers to active collaboration, internal and external, to achieve maximum results. A ready naval force is one that is optimally motivated and resourced, possessing everything necessary – personnel and equipment – to fulfill its mandate.
In his nine months in office, Vice Admiral Gambo has lived and led according to these principles. And the reinvigoration from the rollout of the Strategic Directive is already paying off.
Already President Buhari has approved the establishment of new Naval Base in Ogwuta, Imo State and FOB Lekki, Lagos State, to tackle issues of sabotage of oil and gas facilities, theft and protect critical infrastructure.
The third presidential approval was for the establishment of a Nigerian Navy Logistics College in Kano, news of which caused needless controversy recently. Many people took the commentators’ stands without bothering to listen to or understand the issues, and the facts of the matter.
Indeed, what was being interpreted as a controversial decision was nothing of the sort. According to Vice Admiral Gambo, “For clarity, the Nigerian Navy has a Finance and Logistics College in Owerrinta, somewhere (between) Aba and Owerri. This College is responsible for training of personnel in the areas of logistics and finance. But due to growth and development imperatives, it was considered that the Colleges should be separated and the logistics college will now move to Kano. So what is established in Kano is logistics college, and the finance college remain in Owerrinta.” In addition, the Naval Chief has explained that the new Base in Kano will help provide oversight to the entire spectrum of naval operations and interventions in the North West.
The wider context to this is that in recent years the Nigerian Navy has been implementing what can be called a diversification agenda, ensuring greater representation in its presence across the country.
This also means that landlocked cities are able to benefit from the presence of Naval establishments that do not require access to water, for example administrative and logistics bases.
So, for example, there is a Naval Provost Training School in Makurdi, Benue State, Nigerian Navy School of Music in Otta, Ogun State, Nigerian Navy Communication and Information Technology School (NNCITS), in Ile-Ife, Osun State, and Nigerian Navy School of Armament Technology (NNSAT) in Kachia, Kaduna State. All of these cities are in the hinterlands of Nigeria, away from the coast, but these Bases and Schools are able to function optimally and contribute to the overall strategic and tactical goals of the Nigerian Navy.
Across Northern Nigeria, the Nigerian Navy has its personnel involved in all the major security operations ongoing. Naval personnel do not only fight on or in water, they also contribute actively to land operations as well. Many will recall that it was a Naval SEAL team that neutralized Osama Bin Laden in the compound where he was hiding out in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Yet it was not a ‘water’ operation – it was fully carried out on land.
Operation Hadin Kai in the North East has more than 170 Naval personnel involved, Operation Hadarin Daji in the North West has more than 250, and Operations Safe Haven and Whirlstroke in the North Central have more than 100 Naval personnel. The Nigerian Navy has also contributed personnel to Exercise Swift Response, Operation Safe Corridor, and other ongoing operations.
Understanding these contexts will help to convey a greater appreciation of the Navy’s efforts in national security. Even as the primary mandate of the Nigerian Navy is to fights all forms of criminality that take place in Nigeria’s maritime environment (sea robbery, piracy, crude oil theft, poaching, human trafficking, illegal fishing, trafficking of drugs and weapons, etc), it is also expected to actively collaborate and synergize with sister agencies to ensure the all-round protection of Nigeria’s territorial integrity, regardless of terrain or geography.
Central to discharging these responsibilities adequately are the milestones of operations, fleet renewal, and technology. One example of a project in which all three overlap is the game-changing Falcon Eye project, a sophisticated maritime surveillance system domiciled at the Naval Headquarters and the operations commands. This asset constitutes a veritable force multiplier to Nigerian Navy’s operations.
The effects of the operationalization are already being felt. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), piracy incidents in Nigeria’s coastal waters have in 2021 dropped to the lowest levels since 1994. Similarly, the Defence Web maritime security report of 15 Oct 21 noted further decline in reported cases of piracy and armed attacks against shipping. The report further noted that the overall reduction in piracy and armed robbery incidents in the GoG bears testament to enhanced maritime security in the region. And, most recently, in October 2021, the Nigerian Navy, working with other partners across Government, seized 32.9kg of cocaine being illegally shipped into Nigeria. It is easily one of the largest such discoveries ever, in the country.
Since he assumed office, the new Chief has also overseen the re-activation of the critical Naval Base in Baga, Borno State, and (in line with Milestone 9 of the Strategic Plan 2021-2030, which is “Inter-agency and Sub-regional Cooperation”), the arrival in Nigeria of the first Royal Navy Vessel to operate in the Gulf of Guinea in three years, the HMS TRENT, which is currently on a three-month deployment to the region.
The CNS acknowledges that the journey has only just started, there is plenty of ground – and water – ahead to be conquered.
– Bolokor is a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja, Nigeria