As Nigeria recently celebrated its 60th independence anniversary, experts in naval operations have taken a deep look into the operations of the Nigerian Navy within the last five years, with the conclusion that the service has performed creditably in its statutory role of policing the country’s waters.
According to the experts, the success of the service is manifest in the fight against crude oil thieves, illegal bunkering and sea pirates who disturb the smooth operations of legitimate maritime operators.
On the whole, it was learnt that as much as N695 billion was saved for Nigeria by plugging the holes through which crude oil was being stolen from the country’s oil wells.
Before now, pirates, sea robbers, crude oil thieves, illegal oil smugglers and other persons involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) had held the maritime space by the jugular, as many vessel operators likened the Nigerian waters to the Gulf of Aden, where pirates hold sway.
The vessel owners dreaded to do business within the Nigerian maritime space for fear of pirates who often hijacked their vessels, stole their products and in some cases killed and wounded ship crew who refused to cooperate with them.
However, since the coming of the present administration in the Navy, experts say, the tables have turned against the pirates, following a new path designed by the authorities to ensure that the war against crude oil theft, piracy, sea robbery and other criminality at sea was won.
That path, it was learnt, was part of the strategic mandate handed out to the service by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, for the Armed Forces to brace up and continuously team up with other stakeholders to come up with a coordinated joint effort to address the nation’s insurgency and insecurity, making judicious use of resources and treat the welfare of troops and professionalism as uppermost priority.
This strategic mandate, it was gathered, gave birth to new approaches of combating the spate of insecurity in the maritime environment. This, it was learnt, is embedded in the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete Ibas’s vision of developing a credible naval power in fulfilment of the Nigerian Navy’s constitutional roles towards enhancing national prosperity and security.
What it means, according to experts in naval operations, is for the Nigerian Navy to ensure security within the maritime space and make sure that maritime business in Nigerian waterways thrive.
To give teeth to the vision of the naval chief and the strategic mandate of the Commander-in-Chief, several operations were launched by the force, the reporter gathered.
From 2015 to August 2020, a total of 38 operations were conducted by the navy, with no fewer than 364 vessels suspected to be involved in various crimes within the maritime domain arrested. It was learnt that 13 of these vessels have already been forfeited to the Federal Government while 224 others have been handed over to prosecuting agencies.
To achieve this feat, the Nigerian Navy said that three dedicated operations of the service, Tsare Teku, Calm Waters and River Sweep, among others, have reduced piracy in Nigerian waters from 70 in 2016 to 11 attacks as at August 2020.
Apart from that, the Nigerian Navy anti-piracy operation was said to be responsible for the arrest of a total of 116 pirates and the rescue of numerous vessels from pirate attacks at sea.
The recent joint rescue of a merchant tanker, MT Tommi Ritscher, by Nigerian and Benin Republic navies in Benin Republic waters gave effect to the activation of the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E, among member states of Benin, Togo, Nigeria and Niger Republic.
From 2015 to date, the Nigerian Navy also increased routine patrols at sea, with its vessels clocking an annual average of 25,574 hours at sea and the constant presence of the force has led to appreciable decrease in maritime criminal activities.
In the last five years, the Nigerian Navy has made considerable gains in its anti-smuggling operations and stakeholders say that these efforts redoubled in the past four years due to closer collaboration with other stakeholders under the auspices of Operation Swift Response.
Within the period the importation of rice was outlawed in Nigeria, the Navy said a total of 89,166 bags of foreign rice valued at about N2 billion were impounded.
The Maritime Domain Awareness facilities made up of the Falcon Eye (established by the FGN – Office of the National Security Adviser) and Regional Maritime Awareness Capability have greatly improved the Nigerian Navy’s surveillance capacity while serving as force multipliers.
Presently, the service carries out round-the-clock surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime space using surface vessels, helicopters and robust Maritime Domain Awareness infrastructure. This has increasingly assisted patrol efforts, particularly quick response capability and effective tracking and arrest of many vessels involved in maritime-related crimes.
The Nigerian Navy has launched two indigenously produced hydrographic charts, which have been internationally certified.
The Nigerian Navy has effectively checked the incursion of illegal fishing within the five nautical miles of the nation’s maritime environment to protect artisanal fishermen. There has also seen progressive increase in fishing from 2016 after years of decline due to insecurity at sea.
Under the Buhari administration, the Nigerian Navy witnessed extensive procurement of platforms of different types and mix. The government funded the procurement of 267 flat bottomed, assault, rigid hull, riverine patrol and whaler boats. Importantly, about 170 of these riverine patrol boats were built in-country, thus complementing indigenous shipbuilding capacity, employment generation and skills acquisition. Following the successful commissioning of a second locally built Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) NNS Karaduwa in 2016, local shipbuilding is being further enhanced through the indigenous construction of a 43m SDB and two logistic supply vessels which are programmed to join the service later this year 2020.
The Nigerian Navy has also deployed 12 Naval Security Stations along the nation’s coastline in areas prone to illegalities under the Choke Point Regime and Control Operations. Additionally, the Buhari administration facilitated the procurement of 25 fast attack craft, seaward defence boats and inshore patrol craft. Furthermore, one survey ship, one offshore patrol vessel and one landing ship tank are being expected to join the Nigerian Navy fleet soon while one AW 139 Leonardo helicopter has already been delivered to the Service.
Similarly, the NN built two self-propelled barges, three tug boats and acquired a total of 168 outboard engines. Cumulatively, the fleet renewal effort of the Nigerian Navy under the present administration has led to the procurement of well over 300 platforms of various types and mix.
As part of efforts to enhance Nigerian Navy’s capacity to effectively deliver on her mandate to protect the nation’s maritime environment and motivate her personnel for improved output, the Service embarked on numerous infrastructural, administrative and welfare projects.
For instance, over 400 construction and related projects have been undertaken from 2015 to 2020 with over 80 per cent of these projects completed and others are at various stages of completion. A key infrastructural project is the reconstruction of NNS BEECROFT Jetty Apapa, Lagos which provides a berthing facility for the bulk of Nigerian Navy ships within the Western Naval Command area of responsibility. Jetties at Naval Shipyard Limited Port Harcourt, Underwater Warfare School Ojo, NOP KOLUAMA and other Forward Operating Bases are at various stages of completion, the reporter learnt. The activation of a joint venture between the Nigerian Navy and China Ship Building and Offshore International Limited for the construction of an integrated workshop at Nigerian Naval Shipyard and provision of floating dock has further boosted Nigerian Navy’s infrastructural capacity to build and maintain its platforms.
The Nigerian Navy has also within the period under review engaged in the extensive housing development for personnel accommodation and other welfare projects. These include the construction of over 2,500 housing units across the country, several of which have been completed and commissioned.
Some completed projects include hundreds of compressed earth bricks buildings at Atimbo Barracks in Calabar, Kuje Barracks in Abuja and NNS Lugard in Lokoja. There are also various units of accommodation for officers and ratings at Kubwa, Navy Town Asokoro Abuja and Navy Town Lagos. Institutional houses are also under construction for Commanders and Chief Boatswain Mates of operational commands as well as armouries, sports centres and worship centres at most Nigerian Navy bases, Forward Operating Bases and Nigerian Navy schools, it was further learnt.