Viewpoint

February 29, 2024

The Naval Chief in the eyes of the storm 

Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ikechukwu Ogalla

Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ikechukwu Ogalla

By YUSHAU SHUAIB

TO some extent, the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, and the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, play strategic roles in ensuring that the public is adequately informed about the efforts and accomplishments of the security services, especially ongoing military operations.

Behind the scenes, the National Security Adviser, NSA, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, facilitates inter-agency collaboration and harmonious relationships among the different security organisations to achieve peace and stability in the country. He recently directed the reactivation of the Forum of Spokespersons of Security and Response Agencies, FOSSRA, which was established during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan, before later being jettisoned during the eight years in office of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Similarly, as the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, General Christopher Musa has also demonstrated leadership qualities in ensuring that the service chiefs speak with one voice towards the highest attainment of national security and operational competence of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, comprising the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Meanwhile, no matter how transparent and responsible an organisation is, public criticism or negative media coverage could sometimes be inevitable – even despite the best intentions – due to inadequate public access to information about it or mischief makers’ wilful manipulation of information concerning it. Likewise, avoidable controversies could occur due to the management’s nonchalant attitude, inactions and/or needless decision-making.

With remarkable accomplishments in its areas of operation, the Nigerian Navy, under the leadership of the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla, is grossly misunderstood by the public, going by a series of attacks that it has been subjected to recently in the Nigerian media. 

Ogalla is an outstanding military officer who emerged as the best graduating science student (boy) at the Nigerian Military School, Zaria 1987. He attained a Bachelor of Science, BSc, degree in Mathematics and was awarded the Sword of Honour as the best Naval cadet in his course. He later obtained a Master of Science, MSc, degree in Strategic Studies from the University of Ibadan.

Following his commission as a second lieutenant in 1992, he rose rapidly to the rank of Rear Admiral in September 2021 before being elevated to his current position.

When he was appointed as the Chief of Naval Staff by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, there was a controversy over an allegation that the former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, had refused to hand over to him as his successor. Ogalla had to instruct the Naval spokesperson, Rear Admiral AO Ayo-Vaughan, to debunk the reports by explaining to the public the traditional procedure for handing over the mantle of military leadership.

Besides taking part in several military operations, including the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, in Liberia, Ogalla successfully coordinated several anti-illegal oil bunkering operations, leading to a remarkable reduction in illicit activities on our national and international waterways, especially in the Niger Delta. That experience probably influenced his reluctance as the naval chief to engage private security firms for military operations against oil thieves in the region.

It was therefore not surprising that Tantita Security Services Limited, owned by ex-Niger Delta militant leader Government Ekpemupolo, a.k.a Tompolo, had to engage the Nigerian Navy in a tug-of-war while seeking to preserve its lucrative security contract for the protection of Nigeria’s resource-bearing waterways.

The no-love-lost relationship compelled Tantita to accuse the Navy of harbouring bad eggs within it that were sabotaging the fight against the menace of crude oil theft in the Niger Delta. The Navy accused Tantita Security of being involved in illegalities concerning a crude oil vessel seized in the coastal waters. 

However, a few months later, another controversy broke out when the People’s Gazette, an online news platform, alleged that the Naval Chief had facilitated an unorganised bunkering of Nigerian crude and was involved in a multimillion-naira contract-splitting fraud. The People’s Gazette also accused Ogalla of releasing several oil tankers that had been impounded for transporting stolen crude oil off Nigerian shores after receiving kickbacks in millions of dollars.

Could the allegations be true going within the purview of Vice Admiral Ogalla’s past sterling records as the Commandant at the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic School, NNHS, and Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Office, NNHO, where he enabled cost-effective procurements of several kits and tools from reputable Original Equipment Manufacturers, OEM, leading to improvements in practical training of the institutions, while also being instrumental in the localisation of many of the Naval tools of operations?

It was, therefore, surprising that less than 24 hours after the media report, the Minister of State for Defence, Bello Matawalle, responded that the allegations against Ogalla would be investigated immediately, stressing that President Bola Tinubu had zero tolerance for corruption in the public service. Rather than get distracted by the allegations, the Nigerian Navy under Ogalla has kept on sustaining, with renewed efforts, its Operation Delta Sanity, which aims at combating crude oil theft, illegal oil bunkering, and other sundry crimes within the nation’s maritime environment. Apart from intercepting more vessels with stolen crude oil and materials meant for the construction of illegal refineries, the Navy has also arrested scores of suspects involved in bunkering and handed them over to the appropriate authorities. While the controversies remain unabated, the success stories of naval operations are equally being reported accordingly.

Meanwhile, there is a feeler that the Chief of Naval Staff may be in the eyes of the storm over his alleged plan to appoint a new naval spokesperson in contravention of Nigerian law.  The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, a statutory body, has reiterated its stance against appointing unlicensed and unregistered professionals as spokespersons, especially for the country’s security services. Almost all the security and intelligence services have complied with the law by appointing certified PR professionals as their spokespersons, including the Defence Headquarters, the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Airforce, the Police, the Department of State Services, the Customs, the Immigration, the NDLEA, EFCC, ICPC, FRSC and even NEMA. Why should the Nigerian Navy be different?

For fear that some chief executive officers may not be aware of the law, the NIPR President, Dr Ike Neliaku and Chairman of its Enforcement and Compliance Committee retired Major General Chris Olukolade, jointly signed a memo addressed to the service chiefs “cautioning against contravention of the Law on Appointment of Public Relations Practitioners and Allied Positions in Government Establishments.”