The new Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Apapa, Rear Admiral Joseph Akpan (right), taking over the command from his predecessor, Rear Admiral Yakubu Wambai, on Wednesday, last week

A two-star general of Akwa Ibom origin, Rear Admiral Joseph Daniel Akpan, on Wednesday, last week, assumed duties as the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command (WNC), Nigeria’s foremost naval command.

Akpan took over the command from Rear Admiral Yakubu Wambai, who had held sway since February 2022, in a colourful parade which was held at the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft parade ground in Apapa, Lagos State, and which had in attendance guests from all walks of life.

That came nine days after his appointment was announced by the Navy in a shake-up which affected 52 Rear Admirals and 76 Commodores, one-star generals.

The new FOC, who hails from Idikpa Atai in Nsit Atai Local Government Area (LGA), was, until his new appointment, the Director of Policy at Naval Headquarters (NHQ), Abuja.

He had previously served as the Chief Staff Officer (CSO), second-in-command, of the Central Naval Command, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, and later Director of Personnel Release at NHQ.

Speaking while taking over at WNC, Akpan promised that the command would leverage on existing collaboration with other security agencies in the zone to ensure adequate security of backwaters in order to prevent incursion by kidnappers.

The FOC told his men that their work would kick off immediately with the planning for the presidential fleet review slated for May in honour of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, whose support to the Navy has been unparalleled.

Another indigene of the state, Rear Admiral Sunday Daniel Atakpa, from Ikot Ekpeyak Ikono in Uyo LGA, who was redeployed from his erstwhile position as the Commander of NNS Soroh, an operations’ base at Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, in the shake-up, on Tuesday, took up his new position as the CSO of the Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC), co-located with the WNC in Apapa, Lagos.

Two others, Rear Admiral Okon Edet Eyo, from Akai-Udo Ebughu in Mbo LGA, and Rear Admiral Uduak Asuquo Ibanga, from Ikot Ekan in Etinan LGA, retained their positions in Abuja as the Chief of Naval Transformation at NHQ and Managing Director of Naval Building and Construction Company Limited, respectively.

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Presently, Eyo is the most senior naval officer from Akwa Ibom, followed by Akpan, Ibanga and Atakpa in that order, having been promoted to their current rank in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022, respectively.

In the naval hierarchy, branch chiefs, who are Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) at NHQ, and FOCs, who are field commanders, are next in line to the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS).

The Navy is currently structured into nine branches at NHQ, five commands and a number of autonomous units across the country.

The commands are made up of three operations’ commands – Western Naval Command, Eastern Naval Command and Central Naval Command with headquarters located at Apapa, Calabar and Yenagoa – as well as the Training and Logistics Commands with headquarters at Apapa and Oghara, Delta State, respectively.

A command in the Navy or Air Force is equivalent of a division in the Army.

A division consists of brigades while a brigade, in turn, consists of battalions.

As WNC’s FOC, Akpan’s Area of Responsibility (AoR) covers the command’s headquarters at Apapa, Western Fleet at Apapa, NNS Beecroft, an operations’ base at Apapa, Naval Air Base, Ojo, Lagos, Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital, Ojo, Fleet Support Group (West) at Apapa, NNS Wey, a maintenance unit at Navy Town, Ojo, Forward Operating Bases at Igbokoda, Ondo State, and Badagry, Lagos, Nigerian Navy Secondary Schools at Ojo, Lagos State, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, and Imeri, Ondo State as well as a Naval Outpost at Tongeji Island, Ogun.

In addition to his position as FOC, Akpan automatically becomes the Force Commander of Operation Awatse (Hausa word for Scatter), a Joint Task Force (JTF) established to battle oil pipeline vandalism and ensure internal security on inland waterways in South-West Nigeria, particularly in the worst-hit states of Lagos and Ogun.

The JTF consists of personnel from the Navy (the primary service), Army, Air Force, Department of State Services and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

Meanwhile, some prominent indigenes of Nsit Atai have reacted to the appointment of their son, Akpan, who is the second two-star general from the area since their late Political Leader, Major General Edet Adam Akpan (retd.), from Iwok Obio Aduang, blazed the trail for the entire state in 1994.

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The Member representing Nsit Atai State Constituency in the House of Assembly and Member-elect for Uyo/Ibesikpo Asutan/Nsit Atai/Uruan Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Elder Mark Esset, said: “I want to thank God for this wonderful appointment coming the way of my brother. We celebrate this elevation. It is a good one for the state. I pray God to bless him and to enable him to continue to fly the flag of Nsit Atai and Akwa Ibom State.”

The Chairman of Nsit Atai Local Government, Lady Emem Ibanga, sounded more ecstatic: “This is a milestone. By the Grace of God, it is not a mistake that it is in my time as Chairman that this is happening. I am so excited. I have called to congratulate him. We hope to honour him as a local government area.”

She encouraged youths of Nsit Atai to emulate Akpan by showing interest in the Navy and appealed to him to help in their recruitment.

Also speaking, a petroleum mogul, Mr. Emmanuel Okon (Eminence), urged the FOC to relentlessly fight the menace of illegal oil bunkering, which has adversely affected Nigeria’s oil production, and to assist indigenes of Nsit Atai into the Navy.

The Paramount Ruler of Nsit Atai LGA, Edidem Peter Okon Effiong, was full of appreciation to the Federal Government: “I am happy to have that kind of person in my local government area. I am happy that our son has been promoted to that high level after General Akpan. As his Paramount Ruler, I thank the Federal Government for that. I expect that he would remember the youths of Nsit Atai and Akwa Ibom State as a whole in terms of recruitment into the Navy.”

Akpan’s maternal uncle and Village Head of Idikpa Atai, Eteidung Ifiok Joseph Akpan, revealed that “my sister’s son remains humble and relates well with the villagers despite his high rank” and prayed God to lift him higher.

The Village Head of Idikpa Nsit, which was split from Idikpa Atai a few years ago, Eteidung Ime Sampson Ekpo, was grateful to the FOC for meeting the water need of his people and for giving them a listening ear: “He drilled a borehole for the entire Idikpa which we are using today and he promised to do more. We requested him to help our people into the Navy and he assured us that he will do it. We are not there in the Navy. We have presence in the Army.”

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He gave an insight into the admiral’s background: “I know him very well. He comes home. I am not surprised by this appointment because last time I met him there was prospect. I am not surprised by his rise because his father sacrificed to train him. He was born, bred and trained in Lagos. His father was a businessman in Lagos who built a mighty house in the village. With his humility, God will raise him higher. I pray that he becomes the Chief of Naval Staff.”

Akpan is the first Akwa Ibom indigene to be FOC in 13 years.

The pioneer FOC and first two-star Navy general from Akwa Ibom, Rear Admiral Francis Dan Akpan (retd.), from Atabong in Eket LGA, commanded both the WNC and NAVTRAC successively from 2005 to 2007.

Between 2008 and 2010, a former Acting Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State and now the Bishop of the Abuja Diocese of the Mount Zion Lighthouse Church, Rear Admiral Ekwere Udoh Ekwere (retd.), from Ikot Akpaden in Mkpat Enin LGA, and Rear Admiral Sylvester Usoro Umosen (retd.), from Essene in Ikot Abasi LGA, served simultaneously at a point as FOC NAVTRAC and FOC WNC, respectively.

Akpan, the new FOC who turned 55 on Good Friday, April 7, 2023, interestingly shares the same middle and last names with the first FOC, a coincidence he jokingly pointed out to this writer on telephone.

On his part, Akpan, the first FOC, also speaking on telephone, expressed delight with the appointment of his namesake, who, he said, was well known to him.

“We are getting there,” he added, probably hinting at the possibility of an Akwa Ibom indigene becoming the CNS.

No officer from Akwa Ibom has ever headed the Navy or Army.

The state was, however, fortunate to produce, from 1996 to 1999, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Nsikan-Abasi Essien Eduok (retd.), from Mbak Ekpe in Ibesikpo Asutan LGA, who still holds the record of the first and only three-star general from Akwa Ibom even after his death in January 2021.

Credit: Inemesit Ina