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HomeEditorialOpinionTime To Celebrate And Partner Akwa Ibom’s Top Generals

Time To Celebrate And Partner Akwa Ibom’s Top Generals

The recent announcement of the location of the Naval Maritime University, Nigeria’s second military university, in Delta State, already flooded with the Nigerian Navy, makes it more imperative to celebrate and partner the eight two-star generals from the state in the Nigerian Armed Forces on the possible location of the headquarters of the proposed Army division for the South-South Zone and other military formations in the state which is the least protected militarily in the zone

By Inemesit Ina

There is a supreme irony for Akwa Ibom State today. While the state boasts of the highest number of two-star generals in the South-South Zone, she ironically ranks least in terms of military presence in the zone. And this is the highest oil-producing state in Nigeria with strategic oil, gas and aluminium installations and activities.

Two weeks ago, a Naval Maritime University eluded the state and the proposed Army division for the South-South Zone and other military formations in future may equally do so if the state does not get its acts together.

The way out clearly is for the political leaders from the state, across divide, to celebrate, partner and engage the eight two-star generals to be able to attract the possible military formations and other benefits connected therewith.

Behold, Akwa Ibom’s Eight Two-star Generals
For the first time since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Akwa Ibom can boast of a record number of eight two-star generals at the same time – three in the Army and Air Force, respectively, and two in the Navy. And all of them are holding strategic staff or command positions.

The most senior general in this Group of Eight (G8) seems to be Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Tommy Victor Udoh who is the pioneer Chief of Defence Space Agency, an Abuja-based joint military formation established early this year. The 56-year-old Information and Communication Technology (ICT) expert is from Mbioto I in Northern Iman bloc of Etinan Local Government Area (LGA).

There are three other generals holding staff positions that cover the entire Armed Forces.

Two of them, Major General Okon Etim Ekanem and Major General Enobong Okon Udoh, are serving presently in the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, the joint military high command, as the Director of Communications and Director of Campaign Planning, respectively. General Ekanem, an electronics’ engineer of the Army Signals’ Corps, hails from Itak Ikot Obio Ise in Odoro Ikono community of Ini LGA while General Udoh of the Army Infantry Corps is from Ikot Udobia in the same Northern Iman bloc of Etinan LGA as AVM Udoh.

The third, AVM Uko Etim Ebong, from Nung Ukot Itam in Itu LGA, was recently appointed the College Secretary of the National Defence College, Abuja, the apex joint military training institution in the country.

Serving in the Army high command and, significantly, in the field is Major General Isidore Henry Edet who made history in July, last year, when he was appointed the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lagos, the first time in 15 years that an Akwa Ibom-born officer was appointed to command any of the then six divisions of the Army. Seven months earlier, he had made history as the first two-star general from Oro Nation. An Infantry officer as General Udoh, General Edet is an indigene of Uko Akpan in Enwang, the headquarters of Mbo LGA. His Area of Responsibility (AoR) covers several Army formations in Lagos and Ogun States.

Rear Admiral Uduak Asuquo Essien, from Ndon Ebom in Uruan LGA, serves in the Naval Headquarters, Abuja, as the Director of Operations.

The second two-star general from Akwa Ibom in the Navy is Rear Admiral Thaddeus Christopher Udofia. He was recently appointed the Chief Staff Officer (second-in-command) of the Western Naval Command, Apapa, Lagos, the number one operations’ command of the Navy which AoR covers many bases and units in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Kogi States. He is from Ikot Onwon in Ediene Clan of Ikono LGA.

In the Air Force Headquarters, also in Abuja, AVM Sampson Okon Akpasa, a fighter pilot as AVM Ebong, is the Director of Safety. He is an indigene of of Nkwot Etok in the same Odoro Ikono community of Ini LGA as General Ekanem.

AVM Udoh, General Ekanem and AVM Ebong rose to their present ranks in November 2013 while General Edet, Admiral Essien and AVM Akpasa were similarly promoted in November, the following year. General Udoh and Admiral Udofia, too, were promoted in December 2015.

Naval Maritime University: Delta’s Gain, Akwa Ibom’s Loss
Penultimate week, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ette Ekwe Ibas, announced that the Naval Maritime University in Ibusa, Oshimili North LGA of Delta State, would soon commence academic work.

According to him, the process of obtaining the required approval for the already constructed institution was being concluded.

He explained that the institution, initially conceived as a Navy College, was established as a university in order to close the academic gap that had necessitated the Navy sending its personnel abroad to acquire some special skills.

“The moment the Federal Executive Council grants the approval to commence operations, the university will start academic activities,” he said.

Once in place, the institution will be the second military university in Nigeria after the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, which caters for all the three armed services – Army, Navy and Air Force.

Instructively, Ibusa, the university’s location, is the home town of a former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba (retd.). The town is within the Igbo-speaking Delta North Senatorial District where the State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Ifeanyi Emefiele, all hail from.

Perhaps, if Akwa Ibom’s political leaders had befriended and lobbied the CNS, who is from neighbouring Cross River State, the university might have been located in the state instead of Delta State which is already flooded with naval formations.

The only consolation though is that Transportation Minister Chibuike Amaechi has repeatedly stated his determination to upgrade the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, which trains the civilian Navy, to a university.

An Audit of Military Presence in the South-South Zone
Delta
Before the naval university, Delta State was already topping the chart with about eight strategic military formations.

The state has an enviable and intimidating naval presence. She can boast of the headquarters of the Logistics Command of the Navy at Oghara, with a Rear Admiral (Major General’s equivalent) as the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC). Another Rear Admiral is the Commandant of another key naval establishment in the state, the Nigerian Navy Engineering College, which occupies the abandoned Sapele Seaport. What’s more, there exists an operations’ base, NNS DELTA, at Warri, in addition to a Naval Air Station and a hospital (commanded by a Rear Admiral), still at Warri, as well as a Forward Operations’ Base (FOB) at Escravos.

The Army is represented by the 3 Battalion, Effurun, near Warri, and the 222 Battalion at Ughelli while the 61 Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Detachment in Warri represents the Air Force.

Cross River
Cross River State can also boast of the headquarters of a naval command, the Eastern Naval Command, Calabar, where a Rear Admiral is the FOC. Besides, there are the NNS VICTORY Naval Base (an operations’ base), Calabar, Navy Secondary School, Navy Hospital and the proposed Naval Air Station.

The Army has the 13 Brigade at Calabar with the accompanying secondary school and Amphibious Training Centre. Two of the three battalions under the brigade are in the state, namely the 245 Recce Battalion at Ikom and the 130 Battalion at Ogoja. The third battalion is the 14 Battalion at Ibagwa, Abak, in Akwa Ibom.

The Air Force is present through the 207 Special Mobility Group, Calabar.

Bayelsa
Though a very small state, Bayelsa State can boast of a high-level military presence.

The headquarters of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, commanded by a Rear Admiral who reports directly to the Chief of
Defence Staff, is in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State Capital. The JTF was recently renamed Operation Delta Safe from Operation Pulo Shield

The headquarters of both the Central Naval Command and the Mobility Air Command with a Rear Admiral and an Air Vice Marshal as FOC and AOC (Air Officer Commanding), respectively, are also in the state capital.

Besides, there is a NAF Base at Yenagoa, the FOB of the Navy at Formoso and a proposed Army battalion at Oporoma.

Rivers
Rivers State is another state where the Armed Forces, especially the Navy, have a strong presence.

NNS PATHFINDER, an operations’ base, exists in Port Harcourt, the capital, alongside the Naval Shipyard, Hydrographic School, secondary school and hospital. In Onne, another oil and gas hub in the state, there are the Nigerian Naval College, ONURA, and the Nigerian Navy Basic Training School.

The Navy also has a FOB at Bonny.

The Army is present through the 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, and the accompanying schools and hospital as well as the 29 Battalion, Port Harcourt, and the 343 Artillery Regiment, Elele.

The Air Force has the NAF Base, Port Harcourt, where the 97 Special Operations’ Group is domiciled.

Edo
The Army is the dominant force in Edo State. Topping the list of Army formations in the state is the Nigerian Army School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Auchi, which has a Major General as its Commandant. Besides, there is the 4 Brigade at Benin and its 195 Battalion at Agenebode. The other two battalions under the brigade are in Delta State.

There is equally a NAF Base at Benin.

Akwa Ibom
Presently, Akwa Ibom is the highest oil-producing state in Nigeria with oil and gas installations and activities in the Southern part of the state. There also exists the Aluminium Smelter Company in Ikot Abasi, an international airport and the proposed deep seaport in Ibaka, Mbo. With all these, Akwa Ibom is emerging as the economic hub of the Gulf of Guinea.

Given this scenario, the state should be one of the most-protected in the country with sufficient military formations. But this is hardly the case.

Curiously, Akwa Ibom ranks least among the six South-South States with regard to military presence.

NNS JUBILEE Naval Base at Ikot Abasi, which is still on a temporary site, provided by the State Government, seven years after its establishment, is the highest-ranking military formation in the state as it is the equivalent of an Army Brigade. It is an operations’ base.

Next in ranking is the over three-decades-old 14 Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Ibagwa, Abak, which facilities have largely been rehabilitated by the State Government.

There are three ill-equipped five-year-old FOBs of the Army in the boundary communities of Ika, Obot Akara and Essien Udim LGAs.

There is also the long-standing FOB of the Nigerian Navy at Ibaka which has existed on make-shift facilities for almost three decades.

The Nigerian Air Force has minimal presence in the state through a unit at Akwa Ibom Airport and the Air Force Comprehensive Secondary School, Okop Ndua Erong, Ibesikpo Asutan.

Early last year, the then Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, toured the two temporary naval bases in the state and promised that the Federal Government was going to build permanent bases. Nothing came out of that promise.

The consequence of the ill-equipment of the Navy in the state has been the regular and almost unchallenged pirate and militant attacks in riverine parts of the state. Some fishing settlements there are reportedly under siege.

A Writer’s Burden
In January, this year, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, announced a plan to create two more divisions for the Nigerian Army, to bring the total number to eight. According to the COAS, the 8 Division was to be established in Borno State to complement the 7 Division, which was quickly put into place in the state three years ago, in the counter-insurgency war while the 6 Division was to be established in the South-South Zone.

Buratai, who spoke in a lecture he delivered at the National Defence College, Abuja, did not, however, indicate the benefitting state in the South-South Zone, meaning that a decision was yet to be taken on location of the divisional headquarters. That raised the possibility of Akwa Ibom being the beneficiary.

Last week, General Edet told this writer on telephone that the 8 Task Force Division had since been established in Borno State because of the need to finish off the insurgency. He stated that the proposed 6 Division was pending, meaning that Akwa Ibom still stood a chance of getting the headquarters. Again, he offered to assist Akwa Ibom’s political leaders in whatever way he could to push for it.

As far back as March, this year, this writer had started the legwork to sensitize the state’s political leaders to agitate for the divisional headquarters. The first port of call was the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly where one tried to get the Speaker, Barr. Onofiok Luke, to push through a carefully-worded resolution by the House, appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to locate the headquarters in Akwa Ibom. There, one was told that, being a security issue, it could only be handled by the executive.

And so, this writer met the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Sir Eteakamba Umoren, one Thursday evening, in his office. He was furnished with all the details. One even went further to link him directly on telephone, there and then, with General Edet who was due in the state the following day for the funeral service of the mother of Brigadier General Efiok Ibokette (retd.) and to finalize plans for his own thanksgiving service in his village, Uko Akpan (they met that Friday and again three weeks later during the said thanksgiving service also attended by the Governor). As this writer made to leave his office that evening, the SSG started drafting a memo on the issue which he promised to present to his boss the following day.

To ensure a bipartisan approach and the much-needed synergy to produce result, this writer also took up the issue with the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate) Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, who is obviously the arrowhead of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), the ruling party at the federal level, in the state. He, too, promised to push for it.

It is uncertain if both men delivered (or are delivering) on their promises.

In championing a synergy on the issue, this writer was guided by the experience of the first civilian Governor of the old Cross River State, Late Chief Clement Isong, in the establishment of the 14 Battalion at Ibagwa. In his last two years on earth (1998-2000), one became almost a weekly guest of Isong and his wife, Nne, at his Federal Housing Estate residence in Uyo, holding formal and informal discussions on a wide of range of contemporary and past issues with the former CBN Governor. It was during one of such discussions that the late icon disclosed how, as State Governor, he and the then Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas, rose above their political differences to collaborate in the establishment of the battalion in the early 1980s.

For this writer, it was an abiding lesson in statesmanship, on how to set aside political differences and work for the interest of the state.

Reception/Conference as a Magic Wand
At separate encounters with three of the generals, they expressed surprise that their people were yet to identify and work with them for the benefit of the state. One of them pointed to Anambra State whose lone two-star general was formally received by his people through the State Government not long ago. He lamented that the same indifferent attitude was exhibited by their superiors in the military from Akwa Ibom while they were rising. “It is not as if we wanted them to do us any special favours to rise,” he said. “All we wanted was their encouragement.”

For AVM Francis Bassey Nyoyoko (retd.), who served as AOC Mobility Command, Yenagoa, from January 2015 to February 2016, and General Edet, it seemed their respective Local Government Transition Committee Chairmen then, Chrysanctus Udoh (Essien Udim) and Cyril Etuk (Mbo) appreciated their worth. At least, they promised to organize receptions for them. Perhaps, paucity of funds prevented that.

With the Local Government unable to act, this writer had suggested to some leaders of Nyoyoko’s Adiasim Clan to spearhead the reception following his retention as AOC by the Buhari Administration in August, last year. They bought the idea and began planning with his consent. Unfortunately, they could not pull it off before the air chief retired in April, this year. One of them told this writer on Monday that they would still receive him.

Now, it may be necessary to receive the G8 at the state level. Such an event, which is bound to attract the high and mighty in the Nigerian military hierarchy as well as the top echelon of the political class, could be organized by the State Government. In the alternative, a leading socio-political organization as Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio, could undertake it, more so as seven of the eight generals are Ibibio. It is at such occasions that appeals could be specifically made for the location of the divisional headquarters, the construction of permanent naval bases at Ibaka and Essene and the establishment of an Air Force base and solid commitments extracted publicly.

Such gesture worked wonders in the past. For instance, Air Marshal Nsikak Essien Eduok (retd.), the first and only three-star general from the state till date, was successively received and continuously celebrated by the then State Military Government, Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government and Mboho throughout his tenure as the Chief of Air Staff (1996-99). Mboho, of which Eduok is today the Grand Patron, having succeeded Late Isong, lionized and turned the general to a household name in the state while he was still in service so much so that he probably felt obligated to give something back to the state. The Air Force school is what he gave back.

In recent years, the State Government hosted and took advantage of two high-level military conferences for the benefit of the state.

First was the Chief of Naval Staff’s Annual Conference it used to get the naval base in Ikot Abasi in 2009. Through the conference, the then Deputy Governor, Engr. Patrick Ekpotu, worked closely with his Essene kinsman and the then Chief of Naval Policy and Plans, Rear Admiral Sylvester Usoro Umosen (now retired), to establish the naval base which permanent site is in their village but is temporarily located in Ikpa Ibekwe Clan which hosts the Ikot Abasi LG Headquarters.

Again, by hosting the Chief of Army Staff’s Annual Conference in Uyo in 2011, the State Government was able to attract the three Army FOBs to the state.

Perhaps, a Chief of Air Staff’s Annual Conference in Uyo is necessary to get the much-needed Air Force base.

Indeed, to achieve this and much more, it is time to celebrate and partner the eight top generals from the state, the G8.

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