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The Nigerian Navy: 2021 in Review

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Last year was, indeed, a busy one for the Nigerian Navy, on several fronts. The year kicked off with a change of guard at the helm of the service – the appointment of the Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo (who was at that time the Director, Procurement at Defence Space Administration (DSA)) as the 21st Chief of the Naval Staff.

Upon assumption of office, the new Naval chief unveiled his vision for his strategic vision – “to leverage on all factors of national location, technology, training, teamwork and synergy to re-energize the Nigerian Navy and enhance her as a well-motivated and ready Naval Force in the discharge of her constitutional mandate and other assigned tasks in fulfilment of national security objectives.”

Implementation of the vision, which has been described as timely, is anchored on Comprehensive Strategic Directive 2021-2025, and the Strategic Plan 2021-2030, covering nine focal areas, which are operations, fleet renewal, logistics, infrastructure, human resource management/administration, concepts/organisation, doctrine/training, information and communications technology as well as inter-agency and sub-regional cooperation.

To the admiration of the African powers, it hosted the Exercise Grand Africa NEMO, the largest Annual multinational maritime activity in the Gulf of Guinea

Of course, the strategic focal points are the measures of the success of institutions of the status of the Nigerian Navy. These have been the foundation of the success story of the naval chief in recent months. And what the Navy has made out of the simple yet strategic vision Gambo has been running with are numerous much as they are significant.

Last year, the navy secured the presidential approvals for the establishment of a new Naval Base in Ogwuta, Imo State; a new Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Lekki, Lagos State and a new Navy Logistics College in Kano just as a very strategic Naval Base Lake Chad (NBLC), in Baga, Borno State, was also reactivated. It is also significant to mention that last year the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that piracy incidents on Nigeria’s coastal waters dropped to the lowest levels in 27 years.

In April, the Naval High Command convened a management retreat in Abuja, during which the service’s commanders endorsed the Performance Bonds. In the same month, the Navy took delivery of its new purpose-built Offshore Survey Vessel, NNS LANA, a replacement for the previous one decommissioned a decade ago.

June witnessed the launching of the Nigerian Navy’s Landing Ship Tank-100 (LST) at Damen Shipyards in Sharjah, the United Arabs Emirates (UAE). The new LST will be replacing the two old ones that were decommissioned between 2012 and 2014. Shortly after, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, formally unveiled the ‘Falcon Eye Alignment’, a state-of-the-art maritime surveillance and intelligence system, comprising radars, cameras, sensors and satellite. They were deployed across the entire length of Nigeria’s coastline, up to 200 nautical miles seaward.

In October, the Navy launched four semi-ballistic gunboats locally constructed by the Naval Shipyard Limited, for the Defence Headquarters, in line with Presidential Executive Order Five, which was in line with President Buhari’s Military-Industrial Complex vision for the Ministry of Defence and the Nigerian Armed Forces. October also saw the landmark seizure of two vessels attempting to traffic more than 45kg of cocaine into the country by the NNS BEECROFT.

The signing of a contract for the purchase of two brand new High Endurance Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) with an Israeli firm was done by Rear Admiral Gambo in November. The delivery is to be executed within 37 months and in the same month, the Naval Chief flagged off the survey and charting of the Lower Rivers Niger and Benue.

In December 2021, President Buhari formally commissioned several new ships and boats, including the 43-meter-long Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) III designed and built by the Naval Shipyard Limited (NSL) – the second of such locally-built SDB to be commissioned by the President since 2016.

The force was also up-and-doing in strategic collaborations in the year, a renewed focus on building and consolidating partnerships with the African Union (AU), various sub-national governments, federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), foreign governments and their militaries as well as the private sector.

In August 2021, Aiteo Group set a very laudable example of how corporate entities could partner the force on the security of the country’s territorial space. It donated patrol boats, drones and other assets, worth billions of naira, to the Nigerian Navy, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The Navy also rose to security challenges at the international scene. For instance, the Nigerian Navy took part in Exercise Obangame Express 2021 as well as hosted the first Royal Navy Vessel to be deployed in the Gulf of Guinea in three years, HMS TRENT. It went on to strengthen its operational partnership with foreign navies, including the Ghanaian Navy (with a bilateral cooperation agreement signed in July) and the Russian Navy.

To the admiration of the African powers, it hosted the Exercise Grand Africa NEMO, the largest Annual multinational maritime activity in the Gulf of Guinea in November. The event featured navies from more than two dozen countries in the Gulf and beyond.

The Nigerian Navy was not missing in efforts to bridge the knowledge gap in regional naval operations. From November 30 to December 2, the Navy Headquarters hosted the maiden edition of the Sea Power for Africa Symposium held virtually. It brought together navies from across the African continent to discuss 21st-century security and the power of collaboration.

It should also interest observers to note that for the first time in its history, the Nigerian Navy has a codified and documented Doctrine. This was unveiled at the 2021 Chief of the Naval Staff Annual Conference (CONSAC) held in Kano in September.

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The Doctrine, in the words of the Naval Chief, “seeks to bring the key concepts and themes of maritime power together with the hindsight of enduring traditions and practices, clearly and straightforwardly”. 2021 saw a sustained focus on infrastructure projects, across Naval Bases nationwide. While a large number of construction projects are in the works, some have been completed and are already being commissioned. For example, the HQ Eastern Naval Command in Calabar, Cross River; the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Bonny, Rivers State and HQ Central Naval Command in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State have been commissioned.

On a non-kinetic note, sports has been getting some exciting attention from the Nigerian Navy. Last year witnessed the establishment of the Nigerian Navy Polo Team, drawn from naval personnel who are players and enthusiasts of the game. The team has won its debut tournament trophy. The Navy also commissioned its third 18-hole Golf Course, Karshi, in the FCT.

An existing partnership with the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) is also being renewed and reinvigorated. The parallels between team sports and military service, of course, cannot be overemphasized. Both are underscored by a beneficial mix of comradely and competition.

For the Nigerian Navy, sports offers a veritable opportunity for the strengthening of civil-military relations, and a platform for building and deepening fraternity within the service.

To close out the year, the Nigerian Navy on December 21, 2021, announced the promotion of 56 senior officers to the ranks of commodore and rear admiral.

As the 21st Chief of the Naval Staff celebrates his first anniversary in office, as well as prepares for the 66th Anniversary of the Nigerian Navy, later in the year, there is no doubt that the Service today is remarkably different from the one that existed when President Buhari assumed office in 2015. Today’s Nigerian Navy is much better equipped, more confident, more in tune with the civil populace, and more determined than ever to fulfil its operational mandate as part of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.