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By Odita Sunday-Udemaguna
“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
This Quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow aptly describes the immediate past Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo.
He is a great man, in whom nature has succeeded and a well-trained Kano born military czar who watched over the Nigerian Navy for over two years and left indelible foot prints within a short time.
Military top rank officers often appear unapproachable, probably due to their combat disposition, exposure to wars and battles, but when you get close to them, you would discover they are the most adorable beings to have and keep as friends for they are very loyal.
Vice Admiral Gambo is one of those military giants whose first meeting with him would make you admire a uniformed personnel. Highly detribalized, cerebral, compassionate and humble, the General was one of the outstanding recipients of the National Honours
Awards in the category of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Gambo’s appointment with some other Service Chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 21, 2021 was unarguably keeping to terms with the President’s intention to appoint only ‘square pegs into ‘square holes’ at a time the nation’s insecurity situation had called for more capable hands in the leadership of the country’s security forces.
Sequel to the appointment, Vice Admiral Gambo clearly declared an avowed vision and mission on assumption of office as the nation’s number one navy officer; promising a more robust Nigerian Navy in contemporary time.
It is obviously in recognition of his modest effort at repositioning the Nigerian Navy for better service performance within the short time he has held office as Chief of the Naval Staff, that he was found qualified for the National Hounours Award as a Commander, Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
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 had consistently used clear and collective language to build trust.
Within his over 24 months in office as the CNS and keeping to his words, Gambo, fought piracy and crude oil theft to a standstill.
His position on achieving the national objective of keeping Nigeria’s water ways safe and devoid of any criminal activities stood him out was outstanding.
A recent case in point was the October 10, 2022 destruction of an illegal oil bunkering vessel by officers of the Nigerian Navy in Delta State. The vessel was arrested with stolen crude oil in Niger Delta creek. Similarly, under his watch, the Nigerian Navy personnel had destroyed hundreds of illegal refineries.
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 yielded fruits in the infrastructural space of the Navy.
This was 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. The boat is currently adding value to the set of vessels that navy has for the protection of the Nigerian maritime territory against piracy, sea robbery, illegal bunkering and all other maritime crimes.
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 construction of the two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV-76) for the Nigerian Navy officially began with a keel laying ceremony held on September, 2022. The ships are 76.9m in length and a displacement of 1,100 tons. Each of the vessel when completed will be operated by 47 personnel and have a range of 2500 nautical miles at an economical speed. The ship has a flight deck that can house a single helicopter though with no hanger.
Nigerian Navy had in the last couple of years 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, 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.
The report was corroborated by the Defence Web maritime security report of October 15, 2021 which noted further decline in reported cases of piracy and armed attacks against shipping in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), a development attributed to the impact of Nigerian Navy maritime security operations efforts.
Under his watch, Nigeria’s immediate President, Muhammadu 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.
It is noteworthy that under Gambo’s watch, the fleet recapitalization regime of the Navy had received more boost.
Nigeria’s maritime area of interest extends beyond her immediate environment to include the entire Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The GoG has a coastline of about 2,874 nm stretching from Angola in Southern Africa to Senegal in West Africa.
Under the dynamic leadership of Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, the Nigerian Navy set a new historic milestone in December 2021 when former President Buhari commissioned an array of vessels and helicopter to add to the country’s already existing formidable naval assets.
With the induction of the new platforms, the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Gambo beefed up its operational capacity as well as the scope and depth of its activities both in Nigeria’s waters and the GoG. The surveillance capability of the Nigerian Navy was enhanced with the commissioning of the Falcon Eye state-of-the-art Maritime Domain Awareness Surveillance System by the former Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, representing President Buhari in July 2021 at the Nigerian Naval Headquarters Abuja.The system incorporates various sensors located along Nigeria’s enormous coastline.
Born 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. Vice Admiral Gambo is not only a gift to Kano, but a gift to Nigeria. The best is yet to come to this fine General who does not discriminate.
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 amongst others.
Odita Sunday-Udemaguna is a Defence Correspondent of over two decades, a philanthropist and an Author.