By Jibrin Baba Ndace
On Thursday, September 9, 2021, one of Nigeria’s foremost journalists, Dare Babarinsa’s weekly column in the Guardian Newspaper focused on
the Nigerian Navy, with a tittle “Our Navy’s NNS Absurdity.”
For those who may not be familiar with this writer who has been plying his trade long before some of us were born – Babarinsa is a journalist, columnist, historian, author and politician, who has, for more than four decades, remained consistent in commenting on national and international issues.
A 1978 graduate of University of Ife and University of Lagos (1981), Babarinsa has seen it all, as staff writer, defunct Drum magazine, 1982, National Assembly correspondent, Concord Newspaper 1982-1983,
Chief Correspondent, Concord Newspaper, Akure, 1983-1984, founding member of Newswatch, 1984, Associate Editor, Newswatch, 1990, Executive Editor, Tell 1991-2005, Editor-in-Chief, The Westerner Magazine.
He is also a politician, who was gubernatorial aspirant of Ekiti State on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD). He is the author, House of War, “a chronicle of the bitter and bloody struggle for political power in Nigeria’s Second Republic, especially among the
followers of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo.
Despite his reputations and decades of experience as a renowned columnist, I also know that he is human, who is “entitled to his opinion, but certainly not his facts”. It is on this basis that I write to put in context and perspective issues raised in his last column titled: “Our Navy NNS absurdity.”
Let me say from the onset that I write this as a much younger journalist, columnist, Public Relations practitioner, public affairs commentator on national issues, who has remained consistent as defence/security reporter in more than one decade covering counter
insurgency operations of the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies. I also consider myself qualified to react to the column having also over the years, served as Research Assistant to officers on junior and senior division courses at Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji and officers on strategic course at the National Defence College, Abuja, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, and similar institutions around the world. I also belong to the category of what Americans call ‘military brats,’ having spent some of my formative years in various military locations across Nigeria. I was also one of the participants at the just concluded Chief of Naval Staff Conference, (CONSAC) 2021 which held in Kano from 1-5
September. I also felt obliged, recognizing that we are in are in the age of social media where every issue goes viral and is amplified from religious, regional and ethnic colourations.
To a layman, who may not understand the working of the military and particularly, Nigerian Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Airforce), it will be easy to, like Dare Babarinsa noted, see the ‘absurdity’ in citing a naval base in Kano, considering that it is located far off any sea or ocean, apart from Tiga Dam. It will also be expected for people, like the columnist noted, to ‘raise eyebrows and even bewilderment (about) the news of a naval base in Kano’, because we live in a country and within the historical moment when decisions taken by strategic leaders are viewed from the prism of ethnicity, region and religion. Many things have come to pass and various decisions have been taken or not taken, not because it should or shouldn’t be, but due to the political will or the lack of it by strategic leader to take bold decision in implementing order of battle based on the changing times, current and emerging security challenges as well as responding to demands of the times.
The highly respected columnist is correct to say that, “the Chief of Naval Staff in most dispensation is often regarded as a thorough professional man…man of the sea and the vastness of the space allows the seafarer a larger outlook of life.”
Like all the past chiefs of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo is a thorough-bred professional who has paid his dues before appointment as the 21st indigenous chief of the Nigerian Navy. Like his predecessors in other services of the Armed Forces, Admiral Gambo fulfilled all requirements necessary to be a service which include: command, staff and training appointments, junior, senior and strategic courses among other considerations.
Again, the columnist is correct to say that “the navy’s
constitutional duty, just like the army and the air force, is to defend the territorial integrity of the nation.” This role is clearly spelt out in the constitution to include the full spectrum of military, policing and diplomatic functions of a modern navy. In line with this, it participated in the Nigerian Civil war, Niger Delta conflict, Liberian and Sierra Leonean wars, Boko Haram insurgency and ECOWAS military intervention in Gambia.
Based on the current and emerging security challenges, the Nigerian Navy has, in addition to safeguarding the maritime domain, been very active in the joint operations in the North East, North West, North Central, South East and other troubled spots in the country. Indeed, Nigerian Navy personnel are part of the Nigerian Armed Forces personnel trained as special forces in Belarus. It is also on record that the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service, SBS has also been conducting special operations in the counter insurgency operations.
I am sure, the writer and indeed, many Nigerians may not be aware of the efforts of the Nigerian Navy in all operations across the country, because it is subsumed in the overall defence headquarters operations and therefore, many assume that it cannot, and does not participate in operations outside Nigerian territorial waters. But in the last twelve years of the counter insurgency operations, the Nigerian Navy has a naval component embedded within the theatre of operations which continues to increase its manpower and currently has a naval base in the Lake Chad Basin.
May I also state categorically, that there are always land, maritime and air components as well as components of other security agencies, Nigerian Police, Department of State Services, DSS, Nigerian Security
and Civil Defence Corps, in joint services and theatre of operations in Nigeria.
I therefore make bold to say that there is nothing absurd about the establishment of a naval base in Kano. Indeed, history shows that globally, regionally and domestically, nations including Nigeria, have naval bases that are not necessarily located onshore or offshore by
sea or ocean. In the United States, there are “over 75 naval bases, mostly situated on the water, (but) not all navy bases have that oceanside charm”.
The decision by US first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, in 1798 to take advantage of shore establishment led to formation of
“first six navy yards located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C, Norfolk and Portsmouth which played historic role in supporting fleet through the World War 2 to date. Additionally, there are naval bases located in landlocked state the United states such as
the Naval Construction Battalion Centre is located in Mississippi, the Naval Air Station Fallon is in Nevada, the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic Detachment LaMoure is in North Dakota while the Navy Information Operations Command – Sugar Grove is in West Virginia.
The United Kingdom, a naval power, is considered the precursor to modern day naval establishment on land and originator of the coinage stone frigate, a naval terminology used as reference to naval bases on land. The term was first used by British Royal Navy after its use of Diamond Rock, an island off Martinique, as a ‘sloop of war’. “An early stone frigate was the engineering training college HMS Marlborough, moved ashore to Portsmouth in 1880. The gunnery school continued to be named HMS Excellent after it moved ashore to Whale Island in 1891. By World War 1 there were about 25 ‘stone frigates in the United Kingdom.” Similarly, Her Majesty Ship (HMS) DRYAD and COLLINGWOOD are located. In Germany, the Logistikschule der Bundeswehr (The Logistics School of the German Armed Forces) is located in Garlstedt, a landlocked city.
It is also important to note that “stone frigates continue in the Royal Navy and some other navies of the British Commonwealth, including Royal Canadian Navy, the Indian Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Additionally, research also indicate that contrary to Babarinsa’s submission, even landlocked countries have naval bases. Some of these countries include Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Laos, Paraguay, Rwanda and Uganda amongst others.
In line with global best practices and in tune with national demands, previous leadership of the Nigerian Navy have established stone frigates (Naval bases on land) in the Nigerian Navy in the past decades.
For instance, when the Nigerian Navy took a strategic decision to decongest its presence in Lagos area by expanding to other locations than Lagos, Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt, other stone frigates were established. This strategic and futuristic decision led to the establishment of the Nigerian Navy Finance and Logistic College in Owerrinta, Abia State: Nigerian Navy School of Armament Technology, Kachia, Kaduna,Nigerian Navy Provost and Regulating School, Makurdi, Benue state as well as School of Health Sciences in Offa, Kwara State.To the best of my knowledge none of these locations has ‘oceanside charm’.
Also in line with this decision, the Command Naval Drafting has been relocated to Lokoja, Kogi state, while the School of Music is now located in Ota, Ogun State. Similarly, I gather that efforts are currently ongoing to relocate the School of Communication and Information Technology to Ife, Osun State.
In line with need to further decongest the waterfronts of Lagos, Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt, the Navy Board, under the leadership of Vice Admiral Gambo, approved the establishment of three new naval
bases in Lekki, Lagos State, Oguta, Imo State and Kano.
Out of all the new bases, Kano has been in the news for being an establishment on land. It is pertinent to state here that all naval establishments and units are bases notwithstanding their physical location. Depending on their responsibilities, naval bases could be for operations, training, logistics or administration. In the navy, these bases are called stone frigates. While naval operations bases should typically have a waterfront or be located in a maritime environment, some naval bases do not necessarily need to have a
As I noted earlier, considering the current and emerging security challenges, the Nigerian Navy is currently involved in various joint internal security operations beyond its primary maritime security roles. The base in Kano is, therefore expended to serve triple purposes of being home of the newly created Nigerian Navy Logistics College, serve as a training establishment for Nigerian Navy Logisticians and also support NN operations in the hinterland. So what, really, is the absurdity?