- Navy needs over $250m for refitting
By OKOSUN DENNIS
After many years of inactivity and non-participation in both national and foreign operations, the Nigerian Navy Ship ARADU might be confined to the harbour for a very long time unless the naval authority is able to garner whooping sum of $250m for comprehensive refitting.
NNS ARADU, the Nigerian flagship has been in bad, deplorable state as successive naval chiefs have come and gone without anyone doing so much to refit it for operational optimization.
However, during the Ceremonial Sunset to mark the end of its 61st anniversary of the force at the Naval Dockyard in Victoria Island, Lagos on Thursday night, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ette Ibas, dropped a bomb shell that the Nigerian
Navy does not have the needed $250 million to refit the ship for maritime operations.
The refitting of NNS ARADU was not an option for now. “Certainly, it is not our desire to allow our ships lie down without putting her to use.
“To refit NNS ARADU , the nation would need over $250 million and that is not what the navy can afford for now. We desire to have the ship at sea but as soon as the navy is properly funded, we should be able to refit that vessel and have her back at sea,” he said.
National Daily recalls that NNS ARADU is one ship in the world with capabilities for simultaneous anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare in addition to its capability for electronic warfare and naval fire support.
The question remains: why did the naval authority wait until the ship deteriorated to the present state that requires over $250m to refit? Does it mean it was a deliberate act by successive naval chiefs to frustrate her despite her potentials in preference for decommissioned and donated ships that were used by other countries for several decades and those ones built by Republic of China?
In recent past, the Nigerian Navy authorities seem to have paid lip service to the refitting efforts of the NNS ARADU ; and that has left it in deplorable shape and confined her to the NNS Beecroft jetty as a toothless Nigerian flagship.
Yet, despite complaints that there is no money to refit the ship, every time, billions of naira are traced to retired officers’ account. Where do such money come that cannot be ploughed into refitting the ship?
For instance, during the Liberian Civil War, when NNS ARADUwas deployed to Liberia and she arrived at its Port, it was gathered that troops loyal to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor, they took to their heels due to the massive nature and its capabilities to engage in simultaneous manoeuvring with precision.
Unfortunately, however, every Nigerian Defence Minister has had something juicy to say about refitting NNS ARADU. After they might have inspected the ship with a loud promise to make a case for huge appropriation to enable the force carry out comprehensive refitting abroad, nothing significant has happened. Rather, such promise has only fetched the ship more ruination.
However, no such visit by Ministers, several Senate and House of Representatives committees on Nigerian Navy, have galvanised into making the needed appropriation to bring the ship back to sea.
Between 2011 and 2012, the former Honourable Minister of State for Defence, Dr Erelu Obada Olusola once wept on board the ship during an inspection of naval installations and platforms under the Western Naval Command, Apapa, Lagos.
At a point during the inspection and briefing, she couldn’t hold back her tears when suddenly the rain started and the deck began to drip water. Having had a brief from the Commanding Officer of the ship then, she was saddened by the picture of the deplorable nature of the ship that was painted.
Close to a decade after such “Crocodile tears” on board NNS ARADU , the story of the giant ship, whose counterpart can only be found in Argentina, is critically ill.
Former Chairman, Senate Committee on Nigerian Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu, once declared a state of emergency on funding for the navy, decrying the paucity of fund during one of the visits.
During the visit to the Western Naval Command, Apapa, as part of “oversight function” to naval formations, she expressed disappointment at the poor state of funding of the force and vowed to do everything possible to increase appropriation and ensure budgetary allocations are fully released to the force to meet its spending demands and
refit some ailing platforms.
After over six years of such bold promise, nothing seems to have changed. Rather, the state of the ship is growing from bad to worst.
Decrying the paucity of fund, Vice Admiral Ibas disclosed that “The navy has never had enough that would enable it run for six months not to talk of one year.
“What has been provided for the navy in the budget can certainly not take us anywhere. We have to work out other strategy to be able to carry out our responsibilities,” he reiterated.
NNS ARADU meaning “Thunder” in Hausa language and marked F89; was built by Blohm and Voss, Hamburg and commissioned 20 February, 1982. The ship is 125.6m long with a displacement of 3,360 tons full load and a speed of 30.5 knots (56.5km/h).
Efforts by the navy to increase its platforms and be able to tackle the effrontery of sea robbers, pirates, crude oil theft and other maritime criminalities, have galvanised in massive acquisition by the Nigerian Navy in the last six years or so.
Although the force has not been able to acquire a ship with the abilities of NNS ARADU, it has acquired over 150 boats of different shapes and sizes either from Israel, Sri Lanka, or the Epenal boats locally assembled in addition to three indigenously built Seaward Defence boat, a tug boat and NNS Lt Cmdr Ugwu tug boat by the navy with a second SDB undergoing development.
No doubt, humongous amount of money has been spent by the Federal Government to acquire, refit and install state of the art equipment on some decommissioned ships by the United States of America Coast Guard Chase but refurbished for optimal capacity and capability.
Such ships acquired include NNS Thunder, NNS Okpanaba from the US. Others include NNS Centenary, NNS Unity from China NNS Sagbama, and NNS Prosperity. It has also built three local ships: NNS Andoni, NNS Lt Cmdr Ugwu and NNS Karaduwa, a tug boats that is doing fantastically well.
The unfortunate development in all of these acquisitions is that so much undisclosed money have been committed to refitting these ships at the whims and caprices of NNS ARADU that has the ability to surpass any of the newly acquired ships.
Formerly named USCGC Chase with Hamilton class High Endurance Cutter frigate, she was laid down on October 26, 1966 at Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans and eventually commissioned on March 11, 1968. After 42 years of service to the United States, it was decommissioned on March 29, 2011 and transferred to the Nigerian Navy as an excess defence article under the Foreign Assistance Act as NNS Thunder
NNS OKPABANA was also commissioned on the 20th December, 1968. Having been transferred to the Nigerian Navy in 2014, NNS OKPABANA gulped about $8.5m to refurbish and armaments emplacement.
Fortunately, despite the long years these ships have sailed and the intensity of operations, they are still waxing stronger in the Nigerian waters while NNS ARADU, that was commissioned on the 20th February, 1982 is out of service laying on her belly at the NNS Beecroft jetty, Apapa.
Honestly, if what the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibas said is anything to conjecture, where, when and how will the Nigerian Navy get such humongous money under the present economic recession? Besides, how does the ship deteriorated to the extent that about $250m is now needed to put it back to sea?
How come the same ship acquired, almost at the same time, by Argentina are still functional and the pride of Nigerian Navy and flagship of Nigeria is in the doldrums? When did our maintenance culture began to decline to the extent that a ship of such magnitude was allowed to depreciate this level of hopelessness and despair?
Unfortunately, the immediate past Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin once said, “Apart from that, our maintenance that has been working on-board NNS THUNDER will be maintained for NNS OKPABANA and we will continue to maintain the channel of spare sourcing to avoid what happened toNNS ARADU.”
Also in 2012, the former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba said during a media briefing in Lagos that the naval fleet (ARADU) would be revamped for continuous operation at the sea to prevent crime. “I have given instruction to the Chief of Training and Operations to provide what is lacking in the ships,” he said.
If the Nigerian Navy authority is complaining that it had no money to refit the biggest ship in Nigeria, there is certainly a problem with such conclusion.
Ibas also said that a lot has been provided for the navy by the Federal Government, adding that the navy still needed more.
“We all understand that the navy is an important service that protects where the resources come from and needs to be given special consideration.
“A lot has been provided for the navy in a certain way we cannot even speak, so we have to work out other strategies to ensure that we are able to carry out our mandate,” he stated.
On how the navy had fared in its 61 years of existence, Ibas admitted that there have been a lot of challenges, most of which the service surmounted.
According to him, the nation has in the last few years, been faced with a lot of ups and downs following series of attacks on national security infrastructure.
“The consequences of which saw to the drop in the nation’s revenue coming from oil but it was perfectly restored and we were able to contain the menace with the dedicated taskforce.
“To that extent, we have been able to provide the needed security at sea and in the past, we were able to contain the menace of militants and keep them away.
According to the former naval chief, Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin, what is happening to NNS ARADU must not happen to other newly acquired ships like the class of NNS UNITY and NNS CENTENARY .
As it is done in other climes, experts are of the view that maintenance culture in the Nigerian Navy needs some rejigging to forestall what befell NNS ARADU, that has relegated its status and unable to carry out its functions not to happen to other newly acquired ships.
Also, with avalanche of boats newly acquired, particularly, the Epenal boats, the force must get the ground running to avoid most of the boats getting out of the waters because of poor maintenance.
Therefore, the need to carry out routine maintenance is necessary because it would be suicidal to have any of the boats having mechanical problem on the sea as experienced in recent times while on patrol or when chasing criminals.
However, the only way to mitigate disaster is for the Federal Government to wake up from its slumber and make adequate budgetary allocation to the navy and other armed forces.
As it stands, the fuelling capacity of the several fleets are so humongous that no matter what is set aside for the force, might not be enough to tackle it.
Besides, the Nigerian Navy must evolve new order to deal with cases of corruption among its officers, who are placed in strategic, sensitive positions. Beyond that, the massive corruption among politicians who, often times, masquerade about; visiting military formations in the name of “oversight functions”, have not helped in anyway.
After such visits, what happen?
The grand complaints have been that annual budget appropriated for the navy and other services are often not released in full, thereby affecting what they would have accomplish if such moneys was made available promptly.
As it stands, it remains a national shame that NNS ARADU is sleeping and unable to sail because the country cannot afford to cough out $250m to refit such massive ship christened Nigeria Flagship.
The President, Minister of Defence, both Senate and House of Representatives committees must do the needful to salvage the ailing NNS ARADU that has brought so much “glory and honour” to the country.
It is only when that is done that NNS ARADU, that was launched on 20th January, 1980 and has participated in the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar by sailing to Great Britain in 2005; a ship, which carries a crew of about 250 officers and men, and requires 500,000 litres of petrol per voyage that she would feel happier being in Nigeria waters.
It would be recalled that NNS ARADU, took part in “Operation Seadog” in 1985 and “Operation Odion” in 1987. The ship has undertaken extensive diplomatic visits to countries like Gabon, Congo, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea and numerous European countries. She has also participated in joint exercises with visiting ships of the German, Indian, French and the Brazilian Navies. She had a total of two groundings and a major collision in 1987.
Above all, NNS ARADU must not die; she must sail again because the flagship of a nation cannot afford to remain, perpetually, in the doldrums.