Awwal Gambo: A Resolute Naval Chief

Very few developments exemplify the fast pace of positive advancement in the Nigerian Navy in recent months more than the recently launched Falcon Eye Surveillance System. This is a unique maritime surveillance facility that incorporates various sensors located along the nation’s enormous coastline.

Falcon Eye has special facilities like radars, long-range electro-optic systems with thermal or night vision capability, automatic identification system receivers, weather stations, and marine very high-frequency radios for communication.
President Buhari launched the system on 13 July 2021 at the Nigerian Navy Headquarters, Abuja.

Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, President Buhari said that the integration of the sensors into the Falcon Eye system generates a real-time situational awareness of the activities of vessels in the Nigerian maritime domain and some selected parts in the Gulf of Guinea.

Awwal Gambo

His words: “This will enable the Nigerian Navy generate a comprehensive intelligence picture of activities within our maritime environment for further analysis before, in appropriate cases, dispatching a Nigerian Navy Ship for interdiction, investigation, and/or subsequent arrest of erring vessels”.

At the occasion, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo said that the “significance of the event arose out of the need for national maritime security architecture that would leverage modern technology to enhance the safeguard of the immense hydrocarbon, living and other mineral resources in the nation’s maritime domain.”

Admiral Gambo reiterated that Nigeria’s maritime environment is strategic for the country’s survival, prosperity and the sustenance of its preeminent position in the comity of nations.

The quick pace of impact attracted by the emergence of Admiral Awwal Gambo as the Chief of Naval Staff has continued to attract a lot of attention from defence analysts and experts in organizational development.

Renowned international expert in the field of organizational development, Phil Harkins, highlighted four key behaviours consistently demonstrated by high-impact leaders. According to Harkins, those impact-generating behaviours are: defining a clear vision of the future in accordance with overall organizational goals usually tagged the “big picture”; creating blueprints for actions to achieve those goals; using language to build trust; and creating energy within the team by getting the right people involved.

The rapid trail of successes recorded by the Chief of the Naval Staff since he assumed office ago has clearly revealed the efficacy of Harkins’ postulations. When he was appointed on January 26 2020 to succeed Admiral Ibok Ibas as the highest-ranking naval officer in Nigeria, Gambo knew that he must hit the ground running.

According to a report by the International Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce, a total of 121 acts of maritime piracy were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea incidents in 2018. In 2019 incidents rose to 195, and last year, kidnappings by pirates in the Gulf hit a record with well-armed and violent gangs defying the regional navies. Nigeria’s losses over the years as a result of crude oil and maritime crimes run into billions of dollars. It was clear that the task ahead was humongous.

Apart from the challenge of safeguarding Nigeria’s territorial waters, the Gulf of Guinea is another security challenge that is increasingly threatening the country’s utilization of its full economic potentials. This vast maritime space with utmost economic significance to the adjoining countries and its vast area of coastline with 20 sovereign coastal states and islands remains a vital area that must be effectively protected by the Nigerian Navy.

In line with the relevance of defining a clear vision for the future in accordance with overall organizational goals, Gambo envisioned the Navy of his dream during his maiden meeting with principal staff officers, flag officers commanding and commanders of autonomous units of the Nigerian Navy. He clearly directed all operations commanders to sustain aggressive clearance operations to make suspected militants, pirate camps non-conducive for any nefarious activities to thrive and rejected the resurging incidents of piracy and sea robbery within Nigerian waters.

In his effort to create a blueprint for actions that will enjoy the buy-in of all his subordinates, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) consistently used clear and collective language to build trust. While doing that, the CNS called for complete loyalty from all subordinate commanders and equally promised to take issues of personnel welfare seriously.

With such statements guiding his stewardship of the Nigerian Navy, Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo intensely motivated the team by reiterating his readiness to promote and sustain the Nigerian Navy’s core values of integrity, professionalism, and teamwork. He equally promised that personnel welfare is accorded high priority towards enhanced patriotism, integrity, productivity, innovation, commitment, and dedication.

The remarkable pace of his success in prioritizing personnel welfare in the last six months has created a strong positive, energy within the team with the right people appointed and utilized in their positions of strength. His stewardship has focused on human capacity development through result-oriented training for enhanced professionalism and as well as strengthening logistics support and maintenance capabilities.

With one hand on capacity building, the CNS has had his other hand on identifying the bad eggs in the service and taming corruption in order to gradually reposition the Navy. As soon as he took over, he started cleaning the Augean stable to reflect his zero-tolerance for indiscipline and criminal activities. He effectively implemented laid down policies on sanctions against identified Nigerian Navy personnel that collude with economic saboteurs. With these steps, the Navy witnessed remarkable strides in the first half of 2021.

The $195 million maritime security initiative known as the Deep Blue Project which was commissioned in early 2021 will help Nigeria to harness the enormous potentials in the blue economy. President Buhari, who did the formal commissioning noted that the project is a strong statement of government’s intent to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and strengthen Nigeria’s security architecture within the nation’s waters and beyond. The development, he stated, reflects Nigeria’s commitment to lead the fight against insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea and inland waters.

The Deep Blue Project has three categories of platforms to tackle maritime security on land, sea, and air. The sea assets include two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats. The Deep Blue Project is the first integrated maritime security strategy in West and Central Africa, and it aims to tackle incidences of piracy, sea robbery, and other crimes at sea.

In another blitz, Admiral Gambo is also moving with speed to establish a Desert Warfare Institute in Kano. The project which stands on 12 hectares of land, is a multi-purpose initiative that will equally host the Nigerian Navy Logistics School on the same land that was donated to the Nigerian Navy by the Kano State Government.

In just six months, the CNS has shown a great sense of responsibility, exceptional courage, sincerity of purpose, and readiness to take the Navy to a higher unprecedented level. Awwal Zubairu Gambo was the Director of Search and Rescue at the Defence Headquarters until his redeployment as Chief Staff Officer, Naval Training Command in 2017. Born on 22 April 1966, he was enlisted in the Nigerian Navy on 24 September 1984 as a member of Regular Course 36 and was commissioned Sub-Lieutenant on 24 September 1988.

He is an Underwater Warfare Specialist with a sub-specialisation in Intelligence. Until his recent appointment as the CNS, he was the Director of Procurement at the Defence Space Administration. He hails from Nasarawa LGA in Kano State and holds a Master’s degree in Transport Management from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology.

The story of Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo in the last six months is that of the triumph of transformational leadership. It is a clear confirmation that the success of any integrated, high-performing team that never loses sight of its goals boils down to one key issue: leadership. Indeed, his exploits thus far clearly show that behind a team that “clicks” is a leader who creates.