Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that to achieve proficiency in weapons' handling and marksmanship, especially in the light of insecurity bedevelling the nation, the Nigerian Navy recently held its annual Small Arms Firing Exercise.
It was a very wet Monday. The rains were not letting up as they unleashed their fury on the earth at the wee hours of the day. Despite the rains, the contingent drawn from all the units and divisions under the Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC), Apapa, Lagos, mustered at the parade ground of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Quorra at about 5 a.m.
The reason was not far-fetched. It was the kick off of the 2018 Small Arms Firing Exercise (SAFEX), also known as range classification. After the opening prayers, the contingent as well as Defence journalists, set off for the Nigerian Army firing range of 192 Battalion in Owode, Ogun State.
Even the usual traffic snarl along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway was not a deterrent at all for the personnel who were geared to train and test their proficiency in weapons handling and marksmanship.
After the three-hour long journey, the officers and men, who are constantly in the line of enemy fire, got to the firing range at Owode and took their places for the exercise proper.
Thus, to prepare a formidable military that is not lacking in weapon handling and marksmanship, especially in the light of the current security challenges facing the nation, the range Classification Exercise, one of the oldest programmes in the military, has indeed come to stay.
The exercise as the name implies puts a soldier to test at the shooting range to test the individual's accuracy of shots and efficiency in handling weapons.
Therefore, to ensure that the Nigerian Navy (NN) personnel, especially those drafted to battle insurgency in the crisis-ridden North-east region and other pockets of insecurity, are combat ready, the need to constantly train and retrain them especially in weapon handling for improved shooting skills and professional efficiency in line with global best practices, came to bear as the service flagged off its annual SAFEX for the year 2018.
During an earlier informal debriefing, the navy said the objective of the exercise was to test the proficiency of the personnel of the command in weapon handling.
It was also noted that the exercise is aimed at improving not just the weapon handling skills and proficiency in marksmanship, but also develop personnel intuitive skills and response initiative under battle-like conditions.
The exercise had naval personnel from all units and formations under the command test their skills in weapon handling and marksmanship. The exercise was declared open by the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), NAVTRAC, Rear Admiral Obi Ofodile.
Shooting at the range
Following the arrival of the participants, the next step was the registration and mustering of the firing party before the reading of range safety rules and regulations. The commencement of firing began with the arrival of guests and the special guest of honour.
Buttressing the point that leadership is only effective when the leader leads by example, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), NAVTRAC, Rear Admiral Obi Ofodile, took to the gun like fish to water as he hits target several times to the admiration and disbelief of all. This he did with his 'Team A' members at the ceremonial shot and falling of plates.
These falling of plates activities were done within the 100 metres radius. The firing party A and B were made to lie and take their firing position with the target being the white small plates, which they are supposed to bring down with their bullets. After team A headed by the FOC brought down their five plates, both teams switched and team A again repeated their winning streak.
That batch led to the formation of 1other batches of participants who took to the range to test their proficiency. While the event held, the many personnel from units and establishments under the command who took part in the exercise, often hit or missed the bulls eye from their respective targets.
During the course of the exercise, the participants who were made to fire different weapons at different positions, all had safety instructors attached to them, to ensure all kept in line with safety rules and regulations.
At the end of the exercise, the scores were tallied and the professional marksmen were noted down as they would participate on a larger platform later in the year with other personnel of different commands nationwide.
Also present at the range were the representative of the Air Force, Commander, Base Service Group, Logistics Command, Air Commodore Mike Olatunji; Commander NNS Wey, Commodore Patrick Yekwe and the Commander Special Boat Services, Commodore Ibrahim Shettima.
The FOC's Address
Prior to his watering the ground with his shots on target, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), NAVTRAC, Rear Admiral Obi Ofodile, said, "SAFEX is a part of NN schedule of events for 2018. Also, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette-Ibas, had made it clear that all commands and units must be proficient in the firing of small arms.
"It is important because where it's assumed that at the point of entry in the navy, whether as an officer or the other ranks, we were taught to fire. However, given our different deployments, we might not have been given the opportunity to continue to handle such weapons all the time.
"So, this is to improve our proficiency in small weapons handling given that the nature of navy vessels where we have guns onboard, our personnel might not have the opportunity to handle such small weapons.
"Basically, the navy has big guns onboard our warships like the 127MM and the 40MN that is onboard the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Aradu. But when it comes to internal insecurity, it deals with a lot of security issues on land.
"Also, the navy is very much involved in confronting these security challenges and when involved in internal security operations, you use small arms like the FN rifle, the AK47 and the SNG.
"For you to be proficient and skillful in handling such, the importance of Small Arms Firing Exercise comes to bear. Some of us finished our targets within the allotted time. However, even if you are 100 per cent good, you still need to brush up your skills."
Exchanging the pen for the gun
Although it is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword or gun, at the range it was a different ball all together as the Defence reporters from different media houses were geared up in the safety helmets and vests to participate and they dropped their pens in exchange for the guns.
At the firing range were Defence correspondents from NTA, Madam Lyn ; The Nation Newspaper, Precious Igbowelundu; The Sun Newspaper, Philip Nwosu; FRCN reporter, Mary Fatile and of course this reporter.
For this reporter, shooting from range three, the target was 200 metres and after the magazine was brought, this reporter fixed it, corked the AK47, which was the choice for the shooting, took the shooting stance and looking into the thin pin hole, slowly released the cache.
Firing one shot to the other, by the time the entire 15 rounds were shot, this reporter was adjudged the best amongst her contemporaries at the range. The involvement of journalists was in a bid to task their proficiency in marksmanship and weapon handling.
About the SAFEX
Undoubtedly, such firing exercises are designed to ensure a combat- ready force, better positioned to tackle contemporary challenges and as such, the aim of the exercise is usually to test the proficiency of officers and men in the command.
Also, the operation is deemed as a form of fitness exercise, which in turn leads to physically fit officers and men. The firing exercise is also important and strategic to naval operations so that whenever they are deployed for operations, they will not see the weapons they are carrying as a visitor.
Another objective of the exercise is to test the proficiency of the personnel of the command in weapon handling with a view to selecting the best to represent the command at the general NN Small Arms Firing Competition.
It is noteworthy to state that SAFEX also exerts discipline on the men because once a weapon is handed over to you, it takes discipline to control your anger and not respond impulsively. The end goal however is that the lesson learnt from the exercise would be a rewarding one in the field.
In closing, Ofodile who commended the officers and men who participated, expressed satisfaction that the objectives of the exercise were achieved based on the satisfactory performance of those that participated.
But before the FOC and his team left the range, gifts were handed over to the senior officers and then all were declassified to ensure none left the area with empty cartridges or empty live rounds, as being found with such outside the range is a criminality punishable by law.