One of the Books of Wisdom- Ecclesiastes- says that “there is time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…” Death is the “finality of accomplishment.” Once death knocks on the door, we cannot add anything more to our experience. That is life!
Life in itself can be likened to travelling through a tortuous and slippery road. There are potholes and bends that jolt us, alternative routes that can make us alter course, traffic lights and signs warning us of dangers ahead. The destination of the soul and the spirit is of utmost importance to our Creator. So, he offers daily guidance. Some pay close attention to His direction; others ignore them and speed past flashing traffic lights. Whatever the situation may be, everyone will eventually arrive at the final destination: death’s door.
Vice Admiral Patrick Seubo Koshoni, the former Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of the Nigerian Navy (NN) died on 25 January 2020. He was 76 years.
This article is to say “goodbye forever” to an Admiral; “a prodigious professional sailor and a cerebral leader,” who spent the best part of his naval career articulating maritime security concepts. Just like Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan of the United States Navy, Admiral Patrick Seubo Koshoni was one of the foremost Nigerian naval thinkers and maritime strategists of his time.
When Admiral Patrick Koshoni was the CNS in the late 1980s, this writer was a junior naval officer, who from engine rooms of warships, classified the three-star admiral as a leader made of pure gold, in accordance with Plato’s allegory of the metal. This is because of the Admiral’s outstanding contributions to the development of the NN and maritime defence of Nigeria. An advocate of sea power, he was convinced beyond measure that appropriate sea power is the answer to many maritime security challenges facing Nigeria, and indeed Africa.
But before Patrick Seubo Koshoni, it was Alfred Thayer Mahan. Affirmative! It was Alfred Thayer Mahan who first coined the term “sea power,” while at the US Naval War College after analysing a number of naval battles. Mahan, an Admiral, naval strategist, and author of The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1660-1783) which was published in 1890, argues that national prosperity and power depends on the control of the world’s sea-lanes. The forte of Mahan’s scholarship is that whoever rules the waves, rules the world. And that sea power is necessary to facilitate trade and peaceful commerce. That is why a few maritime nations value and respect their navies.
Admiral Koshoni’s tenure as the CNS gave the NN a renewed sense of direction. While in office, he professed maritime strategy as he led a very dynamic and vibrant team of senior naval officers who chalked up many innovative and transformational operational orders and directives. This include the often-quoted Nigerian Navy Trident Maritime Strategy, which articulates Nigeria’s maritime strategic imperatives while streamlining the acquisition of platforms for the appropriate size and shape of the NN. The Trident Maritime Strategy was the main guiding principle of Nigeria’s maritime defence for 25s years until 2012 when it was reviewed. The review of the Trident Maritime Strategy gave birth to the Nigerian Navy Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy.
The Admiral’s far- reaching impacts include the Manpower Rationalization Plan, training programmes, logistics reforms and morale boosting welfare schemes. He encouraged robust debates through the Chief of the Naval Staff Annual Conference (CONSAC) which he inaugurated in 1987 to fish out best ideas, engender esprit de corps, and promote camaraderie within the Nigerian naval community. He used the CONSAC to do what navies in democratic societies do: “Take the navy to the people.” He also strongly and repeatedly advocated for uncompromising loyalty of officers and ratings to the Navy and the nation.
A cursory look at some of the Admiral’s notable quotations show that the NN should be accorded high priority because:
“The economic lifeline of this country is and will be for a very long time to come, maritime-based. If we are therefore to maintain law and order, to protect this economic maritime-based resource, if we are to ensure no illegal expropriation of this resource, if we are to further ensure that international maritime trade passing through the sea lanes……the role of the Navy in establishing and maintaining law and order within our coastal zone of national jurisdiction becomes high on our national defence agenda.”
He advised the nation that: “If you do not fund your navy adequately, you will not get your navy to discharge its roles optimally, we are hazarding, willy-nilly, the economic lifelines of this country, which are predominantly offshore based.”
On the Code of Conduct for the NN, the Admiral states:
“Time was, say about a decade ago, when incontrovertibly the Navy had the best image; as far as the public is concerned anyway. But it seems that over the recent past, we have gravely dented this image. Perhaps, this is a reflection of the general national indiscipline. Naval personnel have acquired very grave anti-social behaviour. If we must redeem the image of being officers and gentlemen, we have to impose very strict code of social behaviour on ourselves.
On coast Guard: “I do not believe that in the short term there would be a need to deliberately carve out another service, more or less to be labelled the Coast Guard.” I do not believe the economic situation in the country today can comfortably sustain another service to be labelled the Coast Guard. So long as we (the Nigerian Navy) can configure our own platforms and come up with Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) we should effectively be able to prosecute the roles that will be expected of any coastguard.”
Vice Admiral Patrick Seubo Koshoni was a trailblazer, a public policy analyst and three times federal minister during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. He held sway in the ministries of Health; Transport and Aviation; as well as Employment, Labour and Productivity before his dramatic appointment as the 6th Nigerian Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) from October 1986 to January 1990.
During his lifetime of service, he was an accomplished seaman officer with many military honours and national awards. He regarded his coming back to the NN after those extra-military appointments as a return to his “natural professional habitat” where undoubtedly, he left a lasting legacy of service.
Three outstanding qualities which Admiral Koshoni was noted for, according to a former Director of Naval Information who worked closely with him are: His intellectual capacity- which he exhibits whenever opportunity permits; his athletic poise, simplicity and boyish look which belie his official status especially in civvies; and lastly, the Admiral’s administrative and procedural strategies for carrying out his official and professional assignments. These skills according to the former Director of Naval Information, made Admiral Koshoni an attractive choice to head many naval and extra-military challenging appointments, committees and task forces.
Family, friends, the NN and the nation mourn the loss of Admiral Patrick Seubo Koshoni. The Admiral was a true warrior, a man of honour and committed patriot. The NN has truly lost a great leader and shipmate. He would be remembered for his legacy of service and top-notch contributions to sea power in Nigeria. Adieu great Admiral!