By Philip Agbese
The announcement did not come as a surprise. It was greeted with widespread jubilation in the Naval headquarters. They sang and praised him to high heavens. Even though not much was known about this gentleman officer in the public space, there was no doubt that a new sheriff was in town in the Naval headquarters.
Vice Admiral Auwal Gambo, the Chief of Naval Staff, is a man of few words but many actions. He walks the talk and abhors mediocrity. His penchant for work is infectious. I recall instances when our paths crossed at several forums. He always painted a picture of an introvert.
He would make comments in passing and leave it there. But to my astonishment, most times, the recommendations or takeaways from such gatherings would manifest in a week or weeks in the operations of the Nigerian Navy. That was how proactive he could be.
The primary responsibility of the Nigerian Navy is to protect the nation’s maritime environment of about 84,000 square nautical miles. The nation’s maritime area of interest includes the entire Gulf of Guinea, about 574,800 square nautical miles spanning a total coastline of 2,874nm from Senegal to Angola.
It would not be out of place if the Chief of Naval Staff is labelled a silent achiever. His style is different and a departure from the past. He is uniquely different in his style. This much has been responsible for the successes recorded in the operations of the Nigerian Navy in securing our waterways in recent times.
For example, the efforts of the Nigerian Navy in the protection of our waterways have been outstanding. It is on record that the smuggling, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, insurgency, hostage-taking, human and drug trafficking have been reduced to the barest minimum.
Given the sustained operations and exercises the navy has continuously carried out against numerous maritime illegalities, the latest piracy report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded a drastic reduction of piracy in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
According to the report, piracy in the GoG and Nigerian waters is now on a record low, as pirate activities in the first nine months of 2021, were the lowest reported in 17 years. And this bears testament to enhanced maritime security and response coordination measures adopted by the Nigerian Navy in recent times.
In my opinion, this is in line with the renewed operational policy of the Nigerian Navy that emphasizes “leveraging all factors of national location, technology, training, teamwork and synergy to re-energise 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.”
On record, the Nigerian Navy has contributed tremendously to the freedom of navigation in the GoG by strengthening coordination in the fight against insecurity for socioeconomic activities among member states to thrive.
There have also been collaborations between the Nigerian Navy and other strategic partners to enhance maritime security. For example, in the last couple of months, the Nigeria Navy has brought to bear its dominant status in the West African region by sustaining an aggressive presence in the nation’s maritime environment, leading to the drastic reduction in acts of criminality in the GoG.
The Nigerian Navy has concluded collaboration with the Ghana Navy to combat piracy and maritime crime in the GoG, as plans are ongoing for the establishment of a standing multinational task force in the GoG. The Nigerian Navy recently hosted the maiden virtual sea power for Africa symposium. The symposium brought together 33 African navies and six other foreign navies.
Since his appointment, these and many more initiatives were embarked upon by the Chief of Naval Staff, Gambo. Lest I forget, the contributions of the Nigerian Navy in the war against insurgency in Nigeria have also been commendable.
It is thus necessary to state that the last year has been a beehive of activities in the Nigerian Navy. The various operational reforms introduced within this short period have placed the Nigerian Navy in a prime position to fulfil its constitutional mandate. These are indeed no mean feats. The Chief of Naval Staff has been able to demonstrate that we can make a difference in every endeavour only if we are committed and patriotic.
For Vice Admiral Auwal Gambo, he has lived up to expectations. He has displayed an uncommon commitment to improving the operations of the Nigerian Navy, and some of us are not surprised with the turn of events. I can bet that President Muhammadu Buhari is as much impressed.
I also gathered from reliable sources within the navy that, in the annals of the Nigerian Navy, Gambo has proven to be one of those that prioritized the welfare of naval officers and ratings. Under him, it was stated that there has been a sustained emphasis on training and sophistication of operations.
For example, the Nigerian Navy recently acquired a new hydrographic and oceanographic research vessel, NNS Lana, to replace the previous one, which was decommissioned 10 years ago. The vessel is expected, among other benefits, to allow the Nigerian Navy have better knowledge of its maritime territory and its exclusive economic zone, enhance coastal and deep-sea scientific research and studies, provide assistance and supplies to other boats, as well as helicopter winching and towing of ships.
It is also capable of conducting geophysical studies, search-and-rescue operations and patrol duties. The ship is equipped with state-of-the-art modern survey equipment and a well-equipped 7.6m surface vehicle for shallow water surveys. Furthermore, the ship has an automatic weather station, wet and dry laboratories, scientific and technical workshops, and operating and processing rooms for survey data.
Another area worthy of mention is the U.S. Coast Guard training exercise with the Nigerian Navy in maritime law enforcement, a part of a series of cooperation efforts between the countries in the fight against piracy. The training explored a variety of internationally recognized techniques and procedures for maritime law enforcement at sea safely and professionally.
To think all of these happened in just one year of Gambo in the saddle is most notable that one wonders what to expect in the months and years ahead. Be that as it may, I wish to state that Gambo has written his name in gold in one year in the saddle. He has set the navy on the path of progress and helped to ensure that the nation’s territorial waters are not only safe, but also that economic saboteurs are denied the opportunity of constituting themselves as barriers to progress. This is on the basis that maritime security has become a global concern around the world. Severe threats could be posed if maritime security is jeopardized, as proven by many incidents of such kind.
In conclusion, the Nigerian Navy made significant strides in its operational activities and exercises in the past year under the dynamic leadership of Gambo. Notable successes were recorded in the number of hours at sea, anti-piracy/sea robbery, anti-COT/illegal bunkering, and anti-smuggling operations, as well as in Nigerian Navy’s contributions to joint operations in the hinterland.
Gambo is indeed a lesson in leadership. The past year has proven this, and we must give credit to whom credit is due. I say a big congratulations to this silent achiever.
•Agbese is a security and human rights expert based in the United Kingdom