As the 21st indigenous Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo appointed with some other Service Chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari about a year ago is unarguably keeping to terms with his avowed vision and mission on assumption of office as the nation’s number one navy officer, of a more robust Nigerian Navy in contemporary time.
It is on record that in line with the necessity of defining a clear vision for the future in accordance with overall organizational goals of the Nigerian Navy, Gambo had envisioned the Navy of his dream during his maiden meeting with principal staff officers, flag officers commanding and commanders of autonomous units of the Nigerian Navy.
At that occasion, he had clearly directed all operations commanders to sustain aggressive clearance operations to make suspected militants, pirate camps non-conducive for any nefarious activities to thrive and rejected the resurging incidents of piracy and sea robbery within Nigerian waters.
He had given such directive bearing in mind that governance is usually a continuum whereby certain policies cannot be discarded by a new administration as if one is trying to reinvent the wheel.
In his effort to create a blueprint for actions that will enjoy the buy-in of all his subordinates, Gambo has consistently used clear and collective language to build trust. While doing that, he called for complete loyalty from all subordinate commanders and equally promised to take issues of personnel welfare seriously.
With such statements guiding his stewardship of the Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo has continued to motivate the team by emphasizing his readiness to promote and sustain the Nigerian Navy’s core values of integrity, professionalism, and teamwork.
He equally promised that personnel welfare is accorded high priority towards enhanced patriotism, integrity, productivity, innovation, commitment, and dedication.
Within his one year in office as the CNS and keeping to his words, Gambo, has had occasions to say that some personnel of the Nigerian Navy were conniving with criminals to commit crimes on the nation’s water ways. He has not relented in warning that any personnel caught would be dealt with according to the law of the land.
As a man with no skeleton in his cupboard, Gambo while admitting the fact that there are significant achievements in the various maritime crimes, there are pockets of personnel still colluding with criminals to sabotage these efforts.
To him, no matter how insignificant the collusion may seem to be, the CNS would continue to sound a clear note of warning that any act of collusion with criminals to sabotage the measures in place to checkmate illegality will be met with stiff actions in accordance with the land. That is the statement of a forthright leader who truly believes in achieving the national objective.
As part of his mission statement on assumption of office, Vice Admiral Gambo had promised to reinforce the culture of self-sufficiency through sustained investment in Research & Development and prudent management of resources, promote inter-Service cooperation and forge strategic partnerships with MDAs, credible maritime stakeholders as well as collaboration engagements with international partners.
There is no exaggerating the fact that through the concerted effort of his predecessors and his personal commitment to achieving the set corporate goal of the Nigerian Navy, the culture of saving cost through promotion of our own indigenous effort is yielding fruits in the infrastructural space of the Navy.
This is evident in the December 2021 launching of an indigenously built naval boat. The boat is one of the three built by the Nigerian navy dockyard staff in Lagos. While on a visit to Aso Rock to officially invite President Muhammadu Buhari to the launch, Vice Admiral Gambo had said the boat “will add to the set of vessels that we have for the protection of the Nigerian maritime territory against piracy, sea robbery, illegal bunkering and all other maritime crimes”.
President Buhari in response to that, noted that completing the boat was an achievement the nation should be proud of.
“It prides us as a nation that we can build something from the scratch to finish, by our own shipyard. So, it is a thing of pride to us. Though the actual cost of building the boat was not made known, yet Gambo assured that it was cost-effective.
Similarly, Vice Admiral Gambo in line with his vision to benchmark with international naval and maritime stakeholders as part of his vision at repositioning the Nigerian Navy in November, 2021 led management of the Navy in signing a contract with a Turkish company, Messrs Dearsan Shipyard Limited for the purchase of two brand new Offshore Patrol Vessels. The two vessels are expected to be completed within 37 months.
At the signing ceremony the Chief of the Naval Staff, recalled that Nigerian Navy had in the last couple of months brought to bear her dominant status in the region by sustaining an aggressive presence in the nation’s maritime environment, leading to drastic reduction in acts of criminality in the domain.
This development, he emphasized had been acknowledged by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its Global Piracy Report of 14 July 2021, indicating the lowest total of piracy and armed attacks against ships in 27 years.
According to Gambo, this report was corroborated by the Defence Web maritime security report of 15 October 2021 which noted further decline in reported cases of piracy and armed attacks against shipping in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), a development he attributed to the impact of Nigerian Navy maritime security operations efforts.
To him, the contract signing ceremony was another milestone achievement by the Nigerian Navy in her fleet renewal effort towards realizing her 2021–2030 Strategic Plan and expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for his continued support and goodwill towards the Nigerian Navy. On the directive of the President and Commander-in-Chief, the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Gambo had hosted the Chief of the Ghana Navy to discuss collaborative efforts to combat piracy and other maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and during the meeting, it was agreed that there was a need to establish a standing ECOWAS Multinational Task Force in the GoG.
Consequently, to sustain the upwards trajectory of Nigerian Navy’s operational engagements and actively participate in the proposed Task Force, President Buhari had granted approval for the Navy to procure two High Endurance Offshore Patrol Vessels with the capability to carry out maritime interdiction operations, surveillance and special forces operations as well as provide naval fire support to land forces. The Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) will also be capable of conducting search and rescue operations, anti-piracy, anti-smuggling and anti-drug trafficking operations and disaster relief operations among others.
The selection of a shipyard capable of constructing the OPVs had come through a rigorous process and Dearsan Shipyard Limited was selected based on its track record and the conviction that the shipyard would be able to construct a platform that could be deployed as an OPV in peacetime, while having the capability and flexibility to be quickly outfitted with sensors and weapons to re-role the platform for warfare and maritime defence purposes, at a cost effective price.
To Gambo, signing of the contract agreement was a remarkable event as it marked the consummation of a relationship between the Nigerian Navy and Messrs Dearsan which is hoped would lead to more fruitful engagements between Nigeria and Turkey in the future.
Bon on April 22, 1966 in Nassarawa Local Government Area of Kano State, Gambo was a member of Regular Course 36 of the Nigerian Defence Academy following his enlistment into the Nigerian Navy on 24 September 1984. He was commissioned Sub-Lieutenant on 24 September 1988. He is an Underwater Warfare specialist with a sub-specialization in Intelligence. Prior his appointment as Chief of Naval Staff, he was Director of Procurement at the Defence Space Administration.
With a Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) in Transport Management and a Masters Degree in Transport Management (Logistic Option), both from Ladoke Akintola University, and membership of the Nigerian Institute of Management; Fellow of the Certified Institute of Shipping; Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria, as well as a fellow of the National Defence College South Africa. Gambo obviously has what it takes to lead the Nigerian Navy and has so far demonstrated it within the one year he has been on the saddle.
Not unmindful of the harsh economic realities in the global arena with Nigeria as no exception, Vice Admiral Gambo clearly understands the expectation from the Nigerian Navy with respect to income generation. There is the clarity that the Nigerian Navy cannot remain a cost centre but part of the nation’s income generating basket within its operational domain.
Obviously in line with this, the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo in its 2022 budget, projected an internally generated revenue (IGR) of N232 million. He had made the revelation to the House of Representatives committee at the 2022 Budget defence session, with the House Committee on Navy, which hailed the Service’s performance in the 2021 budget. Gambo assured that the Navy would make some money from the auction of some unserviceable equipment, Value Added Tax (VAT) among other sources.
Operationally, the maritime component of the Nigerian Armed Forces has been vital to the success of the various operations through professional involvement of its officers and ratings that have fought alongside their colleagues in the army, air force, police, and civil defence, DSS as well as the civilian Joint Task Force in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the North-east.
Unknown to most citizens, the Nigerian Navy is subsumed in various joint operations alongside the army and air force. In addition to naval personnel who trained as Special Forces in Belarus before induction into the theatre of operations in the Northeast, Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (SBS) similar to the United Kingdom Royal Navy Special Boat Service has also been part of the various operations in the North-east.
Similarly, the maritime component has been part of theatre headquarters of operations. To fully consolidate the presence of the Nigerian Navy, the service established a naval base at Lake Chad with headquarters in Baga to take charge of the territorial waters of Nigerian territory. Hence, the last 12 years of the counter-insurgency operations have witnessed a rapid increase in the number of Nigerian Navy personnel which culminated in the establishment of Naval Base Lake Chad.
Since its establishment in 2016, the naval personnel which included the Special Boat Service, the Nigerian Navy Special Forces have worked closely with other security agencies and Multi-National Joint Task Force in securing the general area from Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Because of the strategic importance of Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram and ISWAP have made several attempts to dislodge military locations including the naval base in Baga. The naval personnel retreated and had to make a tactical withdrawal from their base after a series of attacks in 2018. While the Nigerian Navy continued to operate in the North-east, it was only recently that the Naval Base Lake Chad was relocated back to Baga by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo.
The re-establishment of the naval base which is being commended by defence and security experts is already yielding positive results. Recently, the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service SBS attached to the Naval Base Lake Chad, personnel of 403 Brigade Amphibious Nigerian Army, other security agencies and Civilian Joint Task Force conducted successful operations in Baga on the shore of Lake Chad Basin. The operation which lasted four days, covered Federal College of Freshwater Fisheries Technology (FCFFT) Dogo Baga, Tangon Guava, Kwatan Gaba and Kwatan Kuyet, was successfully executed and resulted in the recovery of a box of 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher (AGL) balls.
Gambo is not relenting in his determination to encourage his officers and men. His operational visit in October, 2021 to Baga was, therefore, to further consolidate on the gains made so far and also regain lost grounds. The Lake Chad Basin is a viable economic base of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon which has been under constant attack by Boko Haram and ISWAP.
With these various efforts so far, Vice Admiral Gambo remains a courageous officer with integrity in service and patriotic zeal towards achieving the corporate goal of the Nigerian Navy in the overall interest of Nigeria as a nation.