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Kano Naval Base and the scramble for national cake

By Tony Ekata
20 September 2021   |   4:14 am
Many cynical reactions and some outright condemnations greeted the announcement recently of the approval by the Nigerian Navy to establish a naval base in Kano State, Northern Nigeria.

Many cynical reactions and some outright condemnations greeted the announcement recently of the approval by the Nigerian Navy to establish a naval base in Kano State, Northern Nigeria. According to a statement dated 1st September 2021, released by Abba Anwar, the chief press secretary to the governor of Kano State, the approval was “a response to Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje’s request for the Nigerian Navy visibility in the state, in strengthening the security of the state.” The statement quoted the Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, an indigene of Kano State, as saying during a courtesy visit to the Kano State governor that the base “will contribute to showcase the effort of the Nigerian Navy for keeping the nation as one indivisible nation (sic).”

The approval and the reasons proffered for it received critical analysis both in the mainstream and social media, with some cartoons depicting naval ships moving through the desert. Some analysts, however, have called out the critics, accusing them of ignorance for questioning the rationale behind locating a naval base in a state in the largely arid North. One Dr Uche Diala specifically called out two Arise Television anchors whom he derisively described as a ‘fake accent-with-no-brain journalist’ and a ‘fancy suite-with-no-brain journalist’ (suite?). Luxuriating in unbridled arrogance and nauseating ignorance disguised as superior knowledge, Diala went on to disparage members of the clan of Nigerian journalists as “some supposedly educated and professional journalists (who) would sit on national television to make a fool of themselves and spread blatant falsehood and monumental ignorance…” This, according to him, “perfectly highlights and exemplifies the epidemic of ignorance and irresponsible journalism in Nigeria.” He did not stop there. He upbraided the Nigeria Union of Journalists for having not “taken note and taken action against these ‘fancy suit, cosmetic, fake accent-with-no-brain journalists’ for such shameful and dangerous misconduct.”

Diala fires at the anchors: “First, the notion that naval bases can only be or are only sited in riverine areas or areas with direct access to water or sea or “has to be by the sea because it’s the navy” as suggested by one of the anchors is totally false and misleading.” This critic, who obviously does not know the difference between a rule and an exception, proceeded to list naval stations and naval installations in the US and elsewhere to discountenance the positions of the Arise TV brilliant anchors. The only US Naval Base Uche lists is the US Navy Base in Great Lakes for Naval Training, which he says is located on the banks of Lake Michigan. One would have thought that a Dr (there are many types of Dr) should at least have done some rigorous research before issuing such duplicitous drivel of a thesis in uncouth language. As it turns out, he does not even know the meaning of Naval Base.

Basically, a naval base is “an area command normally including a seaport that includes and integrates the shore activities (as a shipyard, ammunition depot, hospital) which provide local logistic services to the fleet”. Wikipedia gives it more context thus: “A naval base, navy base, or military port is a military base, where warships and naval ships are docked when they have no mission at sea or need to restock.”

Of course, ‘Dr’ Diala would not understand this because his whole submission is devoid of context. He disingenuously lists installations and training centres of the US Navy as naval bases and does not tell us whether any of them was located by a serving US Chief of Navy in his own state or county.

Well, I’ve not been to the US, but South Africa, where I’ve sojourned for some 20 years, has ‘one of the most capable naval forces in the African region, operating a mixed force of sophisticated warships, submarines, patrol craft, and auxiliary vessels, with over 7,000 personnel; including a marine force.’

South Africa has the following naval bases:
• Naval Base Simon’s Town – The base houses the frigate and submarine flotillas as well as support vessels. A naval dockyard is also situated here.
• Naval Base Durban – This base was scaled down to a naval station in 2002 with the rationalisation of the fleet. In December 2015, it was redesignated a full naval base and became the home port of the patrol flotilla.
• Naval Station Port Elizabeth – provides support to visiting ships; no major vessels are based here.
Training units
• SAS Saldanha –located on the West Coast and provides training and development for ratings
• SAS Wingfield –located in the Greater Cape Town area. Provides practical training for apprentices and the technical musterings.
• SAS Simonsberg – training in gunnery, anti-submarine warfare, communications, diving and seamanship.
• South African Naval College, Gordon’s Bay – training college for naval officers.
• Maritime Warfare School, Simon’s Town.
• NBCD School – Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Damage Control training

All of the above are located on the coasts of South Africa. None is in the hometown of South Africa’s Naval Chief, Vice-Admiral Mosuwa Samuel Hlongwane, who was born in Frankfort, Free State Province and raised in Bophelong, some 70 kilometres from Johannesburg, both in the hinterland. Not even during the oppressive apartheid regime when most of the ‘insurgency’ was in the hinterland was a naval base located in the hinterland.

This brings us to the postulated reasons (based on antecedents) that cynics adduce for siting a naval base in Kano. We should be familiar by now with the penchant of heads of Nigerian military services to ensure the location of some kind of military institution in their constituencies. The Kano Naval Base smells of the same practice. Let us toggle our memories with a few examples:

• In 2015, soon after Air Marshal Sadique Abdullahi became Chief of Air Staff, he established a Special Ops Command in Bauchi, apparently as part of his people’s share of democracy dividend.
• Borno-born General Tukur Burutai conceived the idea of an Army University during his term as Chief of Army Staff. It was delivered in Biu, his local government area.
• General Azubuike Ihejirika, was Chief of Army Staff from 2010 to 2014. Before he retired, he made sure a military barracks was built in Isuikwuato, his village in Abia State, with an Army School of Linguistics inside the Barracks. (I wonder why he didn’t make it Nigerian Army University of Linguistics).
• Earlier, in 2009, Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ishaya Ibrahim, a native of Kaduna State, gifted Kachia, Kaduna, the Navy School of Armament Technology for Desert Warfare. This is in addition to at least 8 other military institutions in the state.

With the above, is it difficult to understand why Nigerians cite the scramble for the national cake as the reason for these approvals and decisions to locate military and other institutions in the states, towns, and villages of top government functionaries and military chiefs? The concentration of strategic infrastructure in a particular region of the country, especially by the current administration, is also the reason many Nigerians are raising the alert of an untoward agenda.

Curiously, at the inauguration of the Kachia School for Specialised Training in Surface Warfare and Armament Technology in May 2019, 10 years after its establishment, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai reportedly said that it was “imperative to continue to explore technological advancements that would improve training and re-skilling to confront the ever-changing threats to security.” Which other state has been facing threats to security more than Kaduna in recent times? What impact has this school or the other military establishments in the state had on the festering security scourge in Kaduna state and its environs? To those saying that the Kano Naval Base is a tactical training command, what tactics do they want to teach there that cannot be taught at the Kachia Navy School of Armament Technology in neighbouring Kaduna State, which is said to be furnished with an advanced weapons system and armament technology to meet global trends?

Beyond weapons systems, the Kachia school is charged with pre-deployment training of personnel earmarked for special operations. Don’t ask me whether such training would involve how to dive in the desert. In all probability, students in these schools would still need to be sent to ‘original’ naval bases in the country for courses involving sea drills and manoeuvres. That is how we roll in Nigeria!

As rationalised by Rufai Oseni, a tested broadcaster, global public speaker, author and poet, one of the Arise TV anchors attacked by Diala, “If the navy was so passionate in this fight hitherto, they could have set up a naval base in Sambisa forest which is the centre of action” (and not a base or command in Kano that is relatively peaceful). How can any rational human being fault this?

Besides, Rufai reasons, “rather than deploying more funds to set up a base in Kano, we can spend the money on reconnaissance drones with capacity for missile delivery. Modern warfare has gone beyond setting up a naval base in Kano when we can develop powerful drones that can drop bombs on enemy camps. Nigerian security architecture should spend such money on the development of technology.”

Indeed! North Korea devotes huge resources to developing military technology, not only to protect its territorial integrity but also to ‘punish’ its enemies thousands of kilometres away, if necessary.

Also on this matter, The Guardian Newspaper’s opinion piece of September 9, 2021, by Dare Babarinsa, captioned ‘Our navy’s NNS absurdity’ opened its 6th paragraph with: “There is no rational argument that can sustain the need for a naval base in Kano.” In that piece, the author spelt out the Nigerian navy’s constitutional duty thus:

The navy’s constitutional duty, just like the army and the air force, is to defend the territorial integrity of the nation. Occasionally, members of the armed forces may be involved in internal security with the permission and directive of the Commander-in-Chief.

The opinion in The Guardian provided an analogy that gives a clear insight into the vacuous logic of the types of Diala, and perhaps the origin of this absurd practice. ‘Jean-Bedel Bokassa staged a coup and seized power in the Central African Republic on January 1, 1966, from elected President David Dacko. Bokassa was a man with a gargantuan appetite for power and the absurd. In 1976, he proclaimed his country an empire and himself Emperor Bedel Bokassa the First. It was Bokassa who also proclaimed the establishment of a national navy in a landlocked country, and he made his son-in-law, who never had any military training, the first Admiral of the Navy. Till Bokassa was toppled in 1979, the Central African Empire navy never had a single boat!’

So you see, Nigeria is not the only land with absurdities!
Meanwhile, the CNS has appointed Captain Muhammad Abubakar Alhassan as the acting commander of the Kano Naval Base. Captain Alhassan must be the most qualified naval officer in the country for that strategic position.
Ekata, a communications consultant, member Nigerian Guild of Editors and Professional Editors’ Guild, South Africa, writes from Pretoria.