Kano Naval Base: Where critics got it wrong
I watched with growing consternation the opposition to the establishment of a Naval ‘base’ in Kano. The decision followed the approval by the Navy Council to establish three such bases in Lekki, Oguta and Kano.
The one in Kano appears to be the one causing bellyache. It has raised a lot of dust. Some of the hullabaloos are, decidedly, from expected quarters. Pa Edwin Clark, foremost Ijaw leader for, for instance, kicked. A consortium of critics, all of them ill-informed (yes-ill-informed) especially in Television morning shows have hitched onto the “misnomer” bandwagon that a Naval base in Kano is a wasteful venture and also an “ego trip”.
But the one that piqued my interest the most is from an unexpected quarter – Dare Babarinsa, a veteran and cerebral journalist. A veteran who stood as sentry, along with other patriots, against the military dictatorship. Babarinsa and co-travellers, all of them journalism icons, started Tell Magazine in 1991. The Magazine has earned global accolades.
The veteran journalist’s prose had a compelling flavour. His prefaces to every cover were captivatingly flawless. Throughout the 90s, his pieces along with the inimitable Nosa Igiebor, Onome Osifo-Whiskey and others kept the military regimes of that era on their toes. Each time he wrote, he “finished” the juntas of that time with well-informed commentaries. His facts and figures were often unassailable.
The years have not tempered with his pungent commentaries against the “absurdities” in Nigeria’s theatre of the absurd. His recent jabs at the proposed Naval in Kano, however, is out of character with his usually well-researched essays. This time around, he got it mixed up and I dare say, wrong.
Writing in The Guardian of September 9, 2021, his aghast was apparent. The telling title “Our Navy’s NNS Absurdity” leaves no one in doubt as to his position on the matter.
He is not flippant. He is not frivolous. This bears stressing. His treatise asked questions about the “absurdity of locating a naval base in Kano. He is at sea why a naval base should be established in ”Sahel –savannah region… The reason for this naval base is not clear” he said. I will get to that shortly.
His argument, in the main, is that “There is no rational argument that can sustain the need for a naval base in Kano. While fishermen have traversed the two big rivers of Kano State; Hadejia and Jama’are, for centuries, it is inconceivable that someone would think of putting a fishing trawler or a speedboat on any of these rivers. To accommodate a true passenger boat, each of the rivers would require expensive dredging. Even then, that may not justify the need for a naval presence. It would only mean that the merchant marine might have an interest.”
He concluded thus “The decision to establish a naval base in Kano is truly absurd. It is an indication that decisions at the highest level of the military are still taken with reckless disregard to logic. Gambo’s gift to Kano is an absurd ego trip taken at our expense. Pity. ”
He is not alone. A few elements have joined the campaign especially in the media; the latest entrant into the campaign orchestra against the base is Pa Edwin Clark. He penned an open epistle to the President and rhetorically asked “A Naval Base In Kano In The Heart Of The Sahel?’’
He insinuated nepotism and parochialism. There were others. All of them seem to think that locating a naval base “in the heart of Sahel” is incongruous. They seem to think that a naval base must necessarily be located where rivers run deep with mighty frigates docking. Nothing could be further from reality. The idea that because Kano is in the Sahel is undeserving of a naval presence, is erroneous. It is like saying that the current military campaign against insurgent elements in the North East often led by the Navy’s Special Forces (SBS) is unsuitable because there is no sea in that troubled zone.
Except for my senior colleague, Babarinsa, who I venerate, all of the critics were just passionate and not reasonable.
I don’t blame the passion. Humanly speaking, the less knowledge you have on a subject matter, the more passionate you tend to be. The image that comes to mind at the mention of a Naval base is that of a securely held seaport used as a centre of operation by the Navy. But then, a base could be for operations, training, logistics or administration. This is precisely the case of the base in Kano. It is a Logistics College. But nay, critics wouldn’t hear of this.
It is not altogether, out of place to describe all naval institutions, as bases. In naval lingo, where there is a heavy personnel presence with hostel accommodation, schools and hospitals, it is technically, a base.
This is in the public domain that there are three operational Commands of the Navy: Western with Headquarters in Lagos, Eastern with Headquarters in Calabar and Central Naval with Headquarters in Yenagoa.
Still, there are two more Commands namely Naval Training with headquarters in Lagos and Logistics with headquarters in Oghara. Naval Training Command has professional schools under it located in various parts of the country.
In the Lagos area alone, there is the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) QUORRA, Nigerian Navy Centre for Education and Training Technology (NNCETT) and Joint Maritime Security Training Centre, amongst others.
There are many others located outside Lagos. They include Nigerian Navy School of Armament Technology in Kachia, Kaduna State, Nigerian Navy College of Health Sciences, Offa, Kwara State, Nigerian Navy Finance and Logistics College, Owerrinta, Abia State as well as Nigerian Navy Hydrographic School, Port Harcourt.
It is pertinent to state that these schools are also referred to as naval bases. And in naval parlance as stone frigates since they are all naval establishments and units. Military formations are called bases or barracks all over the world.
The Naval ‘Base’ in Kano is meant for the newly created Nigerian Navy Logistics College while the Nigerian Navy Finance College would be retained in Owerrinta. The Base is also meant to house Nigerian Navy primary and secondary schools.
Where naval personnel are serving, it is common practice to have hostel accommodation for staff and students, hospitals or medical centres, primary and secondary schools for the wards of the personnel and people of the host community. In addition, naval units such as naval police and intelligence are housed in such a base. It could also be used as a training ground for the NN Special Forces in the immediate future.
The Navy also proposed another base or school in Ile-Ife in Osun state. The Command Naval Drafting was relocated to Lokoja, Kogi State in January 2019, while the Nigerian Navy School of Music has been in Ota, Ogun State since July 1991. In the same vein, the Nigerian Navy provost and Regulating School is located in Makurdi, Benue State. The Naval Base in Lake Chad is in Baga, Borno State. The Navy is, indeed, nationwide and expanding.
Is the charge by Clark and others of the navy locating a base in the Sahel valid? Certainly not. There are countries across the globe that have their Navy on land because they are landlocked.
A landlocked Navy is a naval force in a country that does not have a coastline. Such a country is unable to develop a sea-going blue-water Navy. It can deploy its armed forces on major lakes or rivers. Among landlocked countries that have Navies include Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Laos, Paraguay, Rwanda, Uganda amongst several others.
In the USA, the Naval Construction Battalion Centre is located in Mississippi; the Naval Air Station Fallon is in Nevada, the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic Detachment Lamoure is in North Dakota while the Navy Information Operations Command – Sugar Grove is in West Virginia. All these states in the USA are landlocked.
In the United Kingdom, Her Majesty Ship (HMS) DRYAD and COLLINGWOOD are located on land, not on the coast. In Germany, the Logistikschule der Bundeswehr (The Logistics School of the German Armed Forces) is located in Garlstedt, a landlocked city.
The insurgency in the northeast, the banditry in the northwest and militancy in the Niger Delta area have necessitated the involvement of the Navy in internal security. Its Special Forces is currently giving a good account of itself in some North Central states of Plateau, Nasarawa and Benue states. All these and more justify a logistics school for the Navy base established in Kano.
Ali writes from 1st Avenue, Gwarinpa, Abuja.