7 November 2002

Nigeria: The Sailor Moves On

Lagos — Penultimate week, another worthy Nigerian turned 62! This came after several years of dedicated service to the country. And even at that age, Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd) still finds time to contribute to national development.

Born on October 26, 1940 to Chief Ebitu Ukiwe and Chief (Mrs.) Aruodo Ebitu Ukiwe of Abiriba in Abia State, the older Ukiwe, was a traditional ruler in Abiriba and Head of the Old Bende Division Local Government Appeal Court. The mother was the traditional ruler and head of women in Agboji, Abiriba in line with the culture and traditional rulership of the Abiriba people.

Ukiwe started his education at the Church of Scotland Mission School, he then went to Enuda College both in Abiriba. He obtained his West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1958 after which he attended the Seventh Day Adventist High School where he obtained the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in Physics and Mathematics. He joined the Royal Nigerian Navy as an Officer Cadet just before Independence in 1960. After the preliminary military training at the Nigerian Military College, Kaduna between 1960 1961, he was admitted into the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, England the elite British Training College for Naval Officers.

He was in the college from 1961 to 1964 after which he was made Acting Sub Lieutenant. His Naval career blossomed rapidly with various naval courses in aviation, mine sweeping, navigation, gunnery, torpedo and anti-submarine warfare etc. He gained his sea watch keeping certificate and Ocean navigating Certificate in 1965 and served in many of British naval formations before he returned to Nigeria in November 1965. Some of the commands he held were the NNS Calabar, NNS Benin, NNS Kaduna, NNS Lokoja, NNS Dorina, NNS Otobo. He also served with shore based establishments including NNS Anansa in Calabar between 1966 and 1968, NNS Beecroft now renamed NNS Olokun between 1975 1976. In 1974, he was made Commander Naval Drafting, a department that handles the posting and records of naval ratings.

Ukiwe fought on the Biafran side during the Nigerian civil war. He commanded the Biafran Gun Boats PC 101, PC 202, PC 203 and was at one time, Naval Operations Officer directing operations in the sea approaches to Port Harcourt and in the Port Harcourt/Delta creeks. At the end of the civil war, he was re-absorbed into the Nigerian Navy in January 1972. After re-absorption, he served as a training officer in NNS Quorra, and as executive officer of the Apapa Naval Base NNS Beecroft. He took Command of NNS Lokoja a Landing Ship Tank in 1973.

In 1975, Ukiwe, as a Lieutenant Commander successfully attended a Naval Tactical Course in HMS Dryard in Portsmouth, England. He rose to become Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command between 1984 and 1985.

He was made a member of the Supreme Military Council(SMC) under the Obasanjo Yar 'Adua regime in 1976. That was the highest ruling body in the country. As a member of this body, Ukiwe who was also in command of NNS Otobo in 1976, led the task force Assault Operations by sea into Cotonou, Republic of Benin to checkmate the mercenary sea Invasion to rescue President Kerekou's regime. In August 1977, he was appointed Military Governor of Niger State and in 1978, he moved to Lagos to become Military Administrator/Governor as well as Commanding Officer of the Apapa Naval Base. His tenure as governor ended in 1979 when a democratically elected administration was put in place.

Ukiwe then resumed his military career and became Captain of the Nigerian Navy Flotilla in 1979. In 1980, he left Nigeria for the United States to attend the Prestigious United States Naval War College Here the main curriculum was on Strategy, Naval Science, Logistics and Operations. He graduated with a Masters degree in Defence Studies in 1981.

He returned to Nigeria in 1981 to become the first Director of the Nigerian Navy Faculty, Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna which took in its first batch of Naval Officer students. He held that appointment for three years before returning to Lagos to assume Command as the Flag Officer, Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy in 1984. He was in addition a member of the SMC under the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. In 1985, he rose to become the first Nigerian Chief of General Staff of the Nigeria Armed Forces and thus the number two man in Nigeria's Federal Military Government under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. But this did not last long as in 1986, he disagreed with the Babangida administration on issues relating to the ethical, religious, political and economic life of the nation, and opted out of the government. He retired into private life with full military honours in January, 1987.

While in public office, Ukiwe held military, polical and diplomatic assignments for the country. He also took part in various intellectual engagements outside Nigeria. Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe is married to Chief (Mrs.) Amina Ukiwe and they have five children, two daughters and three sons.

A Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger(CGON) a rare honour bestowed on him by the Federal Government of Nigeria under the administration of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Ukiwe holds an honorary Doctor of Letters (D.LITT) degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). He also holds a Doctor of Science in Public Administration (DSC) from the Michael Okpara Federal University of Agriculture, Umuahia.

The retired military man has also contributed to the development of the enviroment in the country. Little wonder that the World Environ-mental Movement for Africa (WEMFA) in collaboration with the highly renowned United States of America based World Institute for Leadership and Development (WILDEV) and the International Institute for Environ-ment and Development IIED), awarded him the 2001 "Distingui-shed Leadership Award".

He also holds high chieftaincy titles in Nigeria. For instance he is the Ochiagha Ochimba of Abiriba, and Ajagunla of Ikorodu, Lagos State.

Ukiwe is certainly not all work. He also finds time to unwind. He is a member of Ikoyi Club 1938 Lagos as military governor in Lagos State, he was Patron of Island Club, Ikoyi Club, Ikeja Country Club, Apapa Club, Yoruba Tennis Club. He is also a life member of Lagos Yatch Club. His hobbies include: Squash Racket, Swimming, Classical Music and Golf.

Commodore Ukiwe has written a few important papers mainly of a classified nature in defence and strategic studies.

In spite of his military background, Ukiwe has a shown himself as a statesman of worth. It is believed that his exit from the Babangida governmnet was due to his love for the welfare of the people, but Ukiwe has till date refused to divulge the events of those days in a stoic display of his loyalty to the government he served.

Ukiwe was the moving spirit behind the Council for Unity and Understanding (C.U.U.), a non-partisan, non-religious national association that brought the east, the west and the middle belt together for the purpose of promoting mutual understanding and strengthening unity among the Nigerian people . The Council championed the enthronement of stability and justice through the equitable creation of more states particularly in the Eastern part of the country. The campaign resulted in the creation of Abia, Enugu, New Anambra and Delta states and later Ebonyi, New Rivers and Bayelsa states. This preceeded the National Democratic Coaltion(NADECO) an organisation, which, together with other pro-democracy groups, intensified the campaign that ended military rule in 1999. Even then Ukiwe, unlike most of his military friends have refused to join partisan politics, he has refused to play the game of milking Nigeria dry that so many politicians play. As Ukiwe gets more advanced in age, Nigeria deserves more of the worthy citizen.

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