From: Kingsley Omonobi -Abuja
One of theÂ achievements of the late President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™adua and current President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan,Â is theÂ Â restoration of sanity inÂ the volatile Niger Delta area of the country where economic resources generated therein, account for over 90 per cent of the nationâ€™s financial wealth.
Restoration of this sanity was brought about, after theÂ Â declaration of an amnesty agreement by government to all militants and restive youths whose activities had over the years, led to the lossÂ Â of billions of dollars, in revenue that would have accrued to government for the development of the nation on the one hand, destruction of platforms on another hand, and loss of scores of lives of personnel of the Nigerian armed forces, particularly the officers and ratings of the Nigerian Navy.
Several untoward activities of these militants including illegal oil bunkering, sea piracy, kidnapping of foreign experts working for multinational firms, blowing of oil flow stations, vandalization of pipelines and creating obstacles to maritime trade, also accounted for international prices of crude oil and related products becoming uncontrollable any time these militants, and some oil thieves who cashed in on the situation struck.
In the midst of these brazen and destructive acts however, one arm of the Nigeria Armed forces, the Nigerian Navy, bore the heaviest brunt of the seeming anger and declaration of war against the Nigerian government of the day.
The truth is that no nation worth its salt would stand idly and watch as a group or groups of people under whatever guise, plunder, ruin, destroy and kill its sources of survival or threaten to bring it down simply because they were agitating against marginalization or because they feel they must take what rightly belongs to them by force.
Hence, the arm of the security forces trained by the taxpayerâ€™s money to protect our territorial integrity from the waters, which is the Navy, was automatically thrown into the fray to bring about normalcy to the Niger Delta but at a great cost.
As a result, the Nigeria Navy encountered many challenges which tested the will and professionalism of the force to meet up with its assigned roles as well as convince the nation that it had come of age.
Towards the end of meeting up these challenges over time, the Nigeria Navy went through a lot of transformation both in size, platforms and its policy orientation. Today, the Navy which used to have three Operational Commands vis a vis Western Naval Command, Eastern Naval Command and the Naval Training Command, now has the Logistics Command with headquarters in Oghara, Delta State as its fourth operational command. There are also several Forward Operational bases (FOBâ€™s) that have helped in no small measure to provide security for maritime trade.
Aside the fact that these expansion has made the running of the Navy more robust and more effective, increasing challenges of sophistication on the part of illegal oil bunkerers, piracy, hijacking of sea going vessels, attacks on oil flow stations and maritime trading have been more clinically curtailed because it has enabled the application of modern technology in Naval operations.
Since its establishment in 1956, that is 54 years ago, never has the Navyâ€™s importance and presence been so felt like was experienced in the last decade when its policing duties helped considerably to stop the nation losing an average of 160, 000 barrels of crude oil per day to criminal elements.
Today, this figure has significantly been reduced, thanks to the Navyâ€™s increased presence at sea. This was in fact acknowledged in the month of April, by no less a person than the Commander of the US Naval forces in Africa and Europe, Admiral Mark Fitzgerald who on a visit to Nigeria, noted that â€˜oil bunkering activities in the Niger Delta has dropped to $3million a day as a result of security measures put in place by the Navy and other strategiesâ€™.
To achieve this mean feat, the fleet of the Nigerian Navy has not only grown from its humble beginnings, it has transformed into a modern blue ocean navy operating out of four operational bases and equipped with one modern frigate (NNS Aradu), 2 Amphibious capability ships, 2 Corvettes, 6 fast Attack Craft, One Survey ship, 4 large Coastal Patrol craft, 2 Mine Counter Measure Vessels, an Air arm operating 3 Augusta A109E helicopters and numerous Inshore Patrol crafts.
The fleet is adequately equipped to carry out such tasks with such frightening and deadly munitions like surface to surface and surface to air missiles, torpedoes, long and medium range guns able to render effective naval gunfire support as was demonstrated during ECOMOG operations; close_in_weapon defence systems, excellent surveillance and fire control and modern communication systems.
Though an attempt to list the numerous successes by the Navy in many of its dangerous encounters might take much space, mention must however be made of some unforgettable breakthroughs that has benefitted the nation.
In fulfillment of its policing roles, the Nigerian Navy currently conducts patrols aimed a protecting the nationâ€™s oil and gas resources including monitoring of offshore survey and research activities. As a result, a number of vessels which include MT Leka, MT Akuada, MT Hope, MT Atlantic Moon and MT Efemena as well as some wooden boats involved in various illegalities, were arrested by Nigeria Navy personnel in Bonny, Ogbe Ijoh and other creeks in the Niger Delta.
These patrols have drastically reduced the incidents of bunkering, smuggling, and pipeline vandalization. Also, in partnership with other security agencies, the Navy is assisting civil authorities in several states to conduct internal security operations.
These include Operation Restore Hope in the Delta and Bayelsa states, operation MESA in Lagos and Cross Rivers states and operation ADUMA in Akwa Ibom state. Presently, the Navy is involved in the Special Task Force (STF), Operation Safe Heaven deployed to bring the Jos crisis under control.
Coming to issues of maritime terrorism, for which Admiral Fitzgerald said Nigeria must play a leading role in proffering solutions to the threats confronting the Gulf of Guinea, and the Navy knowing fully well that existing platforms needed to be beefed up to be able to confront envisaged challenges which will include international violators, wasted no time in strengthening its capabilities.
Towards this end, the Nigerian Navy took delivery of four 17m MANTRA Fast Patrol Boats which have been deployed to Bonny and Escravos for intensive patrols. The introduction of the boats has significantly curbed criminality in these areas.
In addition, two new 38 metre Patrol vessels from Malaysia were recently added to the fleet. Furthermore, the Navy took delivery of 2 Augusta A109 and one AB206 Augusta helicopters and a SHALDIG boat into its weapons holding.
The helas have improved the Navyâ€™s capability to carry out surveillance and search and rescue operations especially in the Niger Delta. They have also been active in the implementation of the amnesty initiative of the federal government by providing valuable logistic support to the amnesty team. Additionally, the Navy has acquired a 17metre MANTRA Class Fast Patrol boat from Vietnam which is expected to be delivered soon.
Coupled with the renewed drive by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ishaya Iko Ibrahim at revamping the Navyâ€™s assets including repositioning the Dockyard.