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Nigeria Index


Naval gunnery exercise at sea
Courtesy Embassy of Nigeria, Washington


Minister of Defense and chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff observes first Naval Small Arms Competition at Ibadan, 1989.
Courtesy Embassy of Nigeria, Washington

Nigeria's navy dated to 1914, when the northern and southern marine detachments were merged to form the Nigerian Marine Department. In 1956 eleven small boats and harbor craft and about 200 officers and men were transferred from the them defunct Nigerian Marine to an independent naval force. In 1958 the British Parliament formally reconstituted the colony's small Naval Defence Force as the Royal Nigerian Navy. The term Royal was dropped when Nigeria became a republic. The 1964 Navy Act assigned to the navy the tasks of defending territorial waters, of training in naval duties, of conducting hydrographic surveys, of assisting in the enforcement of customs laws, and of undertaking other missions assigned by the government. Its specific tasks in the 1980s included defense against seaborne attack and protection of international shipping, and of offshore oil and sea resources, particularly prevention or prosecution of illegal bunkering and lifting of petroleum.

Administrative and operational control of the navy was vested in the chief of naval staff (CNS), under the broad policy direction of the Navy Board. The latter was composed of the armed forces commander in chief as chairman, the chief of General Staff, the minister of defense, and the CNS as members, and the director general of the Ministry of Defence as secretary. In the late 1980s, naval headquarters at Lagos was organized into five staff branches under branch chiefs, who were principal staff officers responsible to the CNS: accounts and budget; logistics (responsible for provisioning, procurement, and maintenance of all equipment and installations, with directorates for supply, ship spares, projects, and armament supply); matériel; operations (responsible for daily operations and training, with directorates for plans, operations, intelligence, hydrography, and weapons and tactics); and personnel. Each directorate was headed by a director whose immediate subordinates were staff officers.

During 1990 naval headquarters was restructured into "corps- like" organizations. By the end of 1990, five such corps had been established: the Fleet Maintenance Corps, the Naval Matériel Supply Corps, the Building and Engineering Service Corps, the Naval Information Management Corps, and the Naval Ordnance Corps. The intent of this reorganization was to make headquarters function in a manner that resembled field formations.

During the 1970s, the navy was organized into three commands: the Western Naval Command and the Flotilla Command headquartered at Apapa near Lagos, and the Eastern Naval Command based in Calabar. The Flotilla Command was responsible for operations and for deployment of warships, the Western Naval Command for most of the logistics and repair facilities, and the Eastern Naval Command for naval bases and training facilities. The defects of this functional type of organization were the vulnerable concentration of ships and command facilities at Apapa, and the lack of warships based in the east where oil resources were concentrated. The naval establishment was therefore reorganized in 1983 by abolishing the Flotilla Command and by regrouping the warships into eastern and western fleets under independent commands.

In 1990 the navy was composed of the two geographical fleet commands and the Naval Training Command (see Training , this ch.). The latter, established in November 1986, included all training facilities, some of which were collocated with fleet commands. The senior Western Naval Command, commanded by a rear admiral, had operational responsibility for the area from the Brass River, in the Niger Delta, to the border with Benin. Its main shore establishments were Nigerian Naval Station (NNS) Olokun; NNS Quorra in Apapa; and the Navy Helicopter Squadron, the Naval Hospital, the Navy Secondary School, and the Navy Diving School, all at Ojo near Lagos. West of the Niger Delta were NNS Umalokum, an operational base in Warri, which was to be expanded with a shipbuilders' workshop and jetties to accommodate ships of up to 2,000 deadweight tons; and NNS Uriapele, commissioned in 1986 as a logistics base, and the Navy Technical Training Centre, both at Sapele.

The Eastern Naval Command, usually headed by a commodore, had operational responsibility from the Brass River to the Cameroon border. Its principal shore establishments were the operational base NNS Anansa, and the Navy Supply School in Calabar. In the Port Harcourt area were NNS Akaso at Borokiri, a training base; the Nigerian Naval College near Bonny; NNS Okemiri, a naval base commissioned in late 1986 in the Port Harcourt area; the Navy Hydrographic School at Borokiri; and the Basic Seamanship Training School in Port Harcourt. Other naval bases were located at James Town and Bonny, and a special forces base on the Escravos River.

The largest maritime force in West Africa, the Nigerian navy had about 500 officers and 4,500 enlisted men and women in 1990. Its balanced fleet of modern warships, auxiliaries, and service craft was acquired from Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States. The fleet consisted of two frigates, six missile craft, two corvettes, eight large patrol craft, forty-one coastal patrol craft, two minesweepers, two amphibious vessel, and various support ships (see table 18, Appendix). However, most ships were in disrepair and had not been decked since the early 1980s.

A naval aviation arm was inaugurated in May 1986 with three Westland Lynx Mk 89 MR/SR helicopters for maritime reconnaissance, search and rescue, and antisubmarine warfare, stationed at Navytown at Ojo, near Lagos. The first naval air station of its kind in black Africa, Navytown provided ground support for helicopters deployed aboard the multipurpose frigate flagship, Aradu. The navy lacked only submarines; negotiations reportedly had begun to acquire one, but fiscal constraints precluded procurement. Finally, the small Nigerian Coast Guard of about eighteen patrol craft was controlled and manned by the navy.

Nigeria increasingly asserted its maritime interests and long-range goal of becoming a regional sea power. Although its coastline is only 853 kilometers, the seaward environment is of crucial importance to the nation's economic life: its registered merchant marine consisted of about 220 vessels; Nigeria accounted for 70 percent of seaborne trade in West Africa and Central Africa; and 70 percent of its petroleum production--oil accounted for about 87 percent of the country's exports in 1988--came from six offshore oil platforms. Two official acts set forth Nigeria's maritime interests and policy. Decree Number 10 of April 1987 promulgated a national shipping policy, and the Navy Board's approval of a maritime defence strategy, announced in April 1988, shifted Nigeria's strategic focus toward the South Atlantic because of external threats to its economic lifeline to the southeast. Operational preparedness to carry out this new strategy was demonstrated by the first fleet-level exercise involving both Eastern and Western Naval commands in 1987 after a joint training exercise, including a cruise to neighboring African states. Nigeria also expanded international naval cooperation, hosting visits by Brazilian task forces in 1985 and 1986, and holding joint naval exercises with Brazil in March 1987 to gain experience in antisubmarine warfare.

Nigerian naval strategists conceptualized the navy's maritime mission as defense in depth within three overlapping perimeters. Level One, the highest priority, was coastal defense and inshore operations involving surveillance, early warning, antismuggling and piracy operations; protecting offshore oil installations; search and rescue; and policing out to 100 nautical miles. Level Two encompassed the maintenance of a naval presence in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for monitoring, policing, and sea control; and for coordinating regional efforts, such as prevention of poaching, dumping of hazardous materials or toxic waste, and marine research. Level Three, the outer ring, involved surveillance, intelligence-gathering, training and flag-showing cruises; independent and joint exercises; and allied operations.

The navy's maritime defense roles, officially known as the Trident Strategy, comprised three elements contributing toward national military strategy. The first element was subregional sea control to defend Nigeria's national and maritime interests and to execute the national shipping policy by protecting sea-lanes. The second element, coastal defense, included protection of the coastal zone's approaches, territorial waters, and the EEZ. In the third element, the navy was to provide adequate sealift and gunfire support to the army in amphibious operations. This ambitious strategy may require increased resources in the future. In an effort to increase navy appropriations, in 1988 the service began an impressive public relations effort, including a "navy- citizens dialogue" to promote the navy as a cost-effective investment and publications extolling the navy's contributions to national security. It also published in 1989 a book entitled Sea Power: Agenda for National Survival and an article on Nigeria's naval roles and aspirations in the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute. In a 1990 article in the African Defence Journal, the Nigerian naval information director called for strong naval or coastal surveillance capabilities to combat maritime security threats and to realize "tremendous indirect economic gains" by defending vital maritime and fisheries interest against unauthorized foreign exploitation.

Data as of June 1991

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