Opinion

Gambo: The Uncommon Naval Chief Making The Difference

By Philip Agbese

The announcement didn’t come as a surprise. It was greeted with widespread jubilation in the Naval Headquarters. They sang and praised him to the 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 Zubairu Gambo, the Chief of Naval Staff, is a man of few words but plenty of actions. He walks the talk and abhors mediocrity. His penchant to work is infectious. I recall several instances when our paths crossed at several fora. 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 stakeholders gathering would manifest in a week or weeks in the operations of the Nigerian Navy. That was how responsive and proactive he has always been.

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 (GoG), about 574,800 square nautical miles spanning 2,874nm from Senegal to Angola.

It won’t 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 (IUUF), 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 the numerous maritime illegalities, the latest piracy report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded a drastic reduction of piracy in Nigerian waters and the GoG.

According to the report, piracy in the GoG and Nigerian waters is now on a record low, as pirates’ activities in the first nine months of 2021 are 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 emphasises “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 had contributed tremendously to the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Guinea 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 Gulf of Guinea.

The Nigerian Navy has concluded collaboration efforts with the Ghana Navy to combat piracy further, and maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea as plans are ongoing to establish a standing multinational task force in the Gulf of Guinea. The Nigerian Navy recently hosted the maiden virtual sea power for Africa. 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, Vice Admiral 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 demonstrated that we can make a difference in every endeavour only if we are committed and patriotic.

Vice Admiral Gambo has lived up to expectations by displaying 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 Nigerian Navy that in the annals of the history of the Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Gambo has proven to be one of those that prioritised the welfare of naval officers and ratings. Under him, it was stated that there had been a sustained emphasis on training and sophistication of its 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 ten years ago. The ship is expected, among other benefits, to allow the Nigerian Navy to have a 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 can also conduct 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 vessel has an Automatic Weather Station, AWS, 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 on Maritime Law enforcement, a part of a series of cooperation between the two countries in the fight against piracy. The training explored various internationally recognised techniques and procedures for maritime law enforcement at sea safely and professionally.

To think all of these happened in just one year 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 Vice Admiral Gambo has been writing his name in gold in one year at 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 economic saboteurs are denied the opportunity of constituting themselves as clogs in the wheels of our progress. This is on the heels that Maritime security has already become a global concern in the present world. Severe threats could be posed if maritime security is jeopardised, 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 Vice Admiral Auwal Zubairu 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 NN’s contribution to joint operations in the hinterland.

Vice Admiral Auwal Zubairu 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.

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