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Assessing Vice Admiral AZ Gambo’s first year in office

By Samuel Olorunniwa

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2021 was indeed a busy year, on many fronts, for the Nigerian Navy. The year kicked off with a change of guard at the helm of the Service; the appointment of the then Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, at the time the Director, Procurement at Defence Space Administration (DSA), as the 21st Chief of the Naval Staff.

Immediately upon assuming office, the new Chief unveiled his Vision for the Service: “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 fulfillment of national security objectives.”

The implementation of the vision is hinged on a comprehensive Strategic Directive 2021-5, and a Strategic Plan 2021-2030, covering nine “Milestones”: 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.

Everything that has been accomplished since then has been laid out on top of this foundation. And what a year it has been! The highlights have been numerous and significant.

Presidential approvals were received 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; while the very strategic Naval Base Lake Chad (NBLC), in Baga, Borno State, was reactivated. 2021 was also a year in which the respected International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that piracy incidents in Nigeria’s coastal waters dropped to the lowest levels in 27 years.

In April, the Naval High Command convened a Management Retreat in Abuja, at which the Service’s Commanders were made to endorse Performance Bonds. Also that 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 2021 saw the launching of the Nigerian Navy’s Landing Ship Tank-100 (LST) at Damen Shipyards in Sharjah, UAE. The new LST will be replacing the two old ones that were decommissioned between 2012 and 2014.

In July, Vice President Osinbajo, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, formally commissioned the ‘Falcon Eye Alignment’, a state-of-the-art maritime surveillance and intelligence system, comprising radars, cameras, sensors, and Satellite, deployed along the entire length of Nigeria’s coastline, up to 200 nautical miles seaward.

In October, it launched 4 semi-ballistic gunboats locally constructed by the Naval Shipyard Limited, for the Defence Headquarters, in line with Presidential Executive Order 5, and 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, by the NNS BEECROFT, of two vessels attempting to traffic more than 45kg of cocaine into the country.

In November, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral AZ Gambo signed a contract with an Israeli firm for the purchase of two brand new High Endurance Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), which will be delivered within 37 months. Also in November, the Naval Chief flagged-off the survey and charting of the Lower Rivers Niger and Benue.

In December 2021, President Buhari formally commissioned a number of 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 such locally-built SDB to be commissioned by the President since 2016.

2021 witnessed a renewed focus on building and consolidating partnerships, with the African Union, with various State Governments, with Federal MDAs, with foreign governments and their militaries, the private sector, and so on. In August 2021, Aiteo Group set a very laudable example by donating patrol boats, drones and other assets, worth billions of Naira, to the Nigerian Navy, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.

On the foreign scene, 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. The Service also strengthened its operational partnership with foreign Navies, including the Ghanaian Navy (a bilateral cooperation agreement was signed in July) and the Russian Navy.

It also hosted, in November, Exercise GRAND AFRICAN NEMO, the largest Annual multinational maritime activity in the Gulf of Guinea, featuring Navies from more than two dozen countries in the Gulf and beyond.

Between November 30 and December 2, the Navy Headquarters virtually hosted the maiden edition of the Sea Power for Africa Symposium, which brought together Navies from across the African continent.

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

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, in a clear and straightforward manner.”

2021 was also about a continuing focus on infrastructure projects, across Naval Bases nationwide. A large number of construction projects are in the works, some have been completed and are already being commissioned, for example in November at the HQ Eastern Naval Command in Calabar, Cross River, and in December at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Bonny, Rivers State, and HQ Central Naval Command in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

On a non-kinetic note, Sports has been getting some exciting attention from the Nigerian Navy. 2021 saw the establishment of the Nigerian Navy Polo Team, drawn from Naval personnel who are players and enthusiasts of the game. The Team has since gone on to win its debut tournament Trophy.

In 2021, the Navy commissioned its third 18-hole Golf Course, in 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 being underlined by a beneficial mix of comradery 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 fraternal bonds 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 a very different one 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 fulfill its operational mandate as part of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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