The Nigerian Navy originated from the colonial maritime department of the Royal Navy, which was the recognized naval force in Nigeria before the independence of the country from Britain. This department got established in 1887, long before the amalgamation of the northern and southern parts of the country.
The department was sort of a quasi-military organization then and it was combining the duties of the modern day navy with those of the inland water ways and the Nigerian port authority. They took part also in various military operations, especially against the Germans in Cameroun; that was during the World War 1, which was fought between 1914 and 1918.
The colonial administration in Nigeria then did not think it was necessary for the proper navy to be established for Nigeria. They were of the opinion that it was the duty of the Royal Navy to provide required naval protection to Nigeria.
The maritime department was thought to be adequate to protect and secure Nigerian ports and its coastal approaches and also provide the required harbor services for the Royal navy ships that are on West African patrols. This situation continued until the Second World War came to an end in 1945.
Once the Second World War was over, the colonial administration decided it was time to place emphasis on port-related duties for the Marine Department. They then made a proposal for the establishment of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
Those officers that were in the Marine Department, who were all Royal Navy Reserve officers refused to give up on this idea of the creation of Nigerian Navy one of such officers was Captain Skutil. This man was the very first officer that headed the Nigerian Navy Defense Force (NNDF) and he assumed this position in 1956.
He was undoubtedly a very strong believer in the establishment of Nigerian Navy. His enthusiasm was so obvious to the extent that the late rear Admiral Nelson Soroh could not help but speak commendably about the riles of Captain Skutil in the establishment of the Nigerian Navy.
In 1956, a policy statement was made by the government for establishment t of the Nigerian Naval Force. The NNDF started operation on the 1st of June, 1956 with eleven assorted ships and crafts; these comprised 2 survey vessels, 2 training boats, 1 patrol craft, 3 VIP boats, 1 tug and 1 general purpose launch.
The very first naval legislation was however passed on the 1st of August, 1956 by the House of Representatives. It was later assented to by Sir James Robertson on the 5th of September, 1956; Sir James Robertson was the Governor General then. This naval legislation was titled the Nigerian Navy Ordinance.
The NNDF was then designated as the Royal Nigerian Navy. After Nigeria became an independent country in 1963, the prefix “Royal” was removed from its name and it became Nigerian Navy (NN). There were some limitations in the ordinance that set up the Nigerian Navy. For one, the Nigerian Navy was only allowed to patrol 3 nautical miles since this was the limit of the territorial waters. The post independent Navy Act of 1964 however corrected the shortcomings. With the Act, there was removal of the principal limitation of the Nigerian Navy to the country’s territorial waters.
Only very few patrol boats were at the disposal of the Nigerian Navy in these early years. After sometimes anyway, the number of boats grew and the Nigerian Navy became a multi-mission maritime arm of the Nigerian Armed Forces having various peacetime and wartime roles.
The Nigerian Navy was charged accordingly by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 with the defense of Nigeria by sea.
Aside from that defense role, the Nigerian Navy was also charged with the duties of enforcing and also assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all pollution laws, fishery protection laws, bunkering laws, immigration laws, and custom laws.
They were also charged with the enforcement of all international and national maritime laws acceded to or ascribed to by Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy was also charged by the Armed Forces Act to enforce and assist in the coordination and enforcement of all maritime laws, be it international or national.
They are also involved in the enforcing, coordination and promotion of safety regulations in the territorial waters and the EEZ of Nigeria.
The roles mentioned earlier do cover the full spectrum of diplomatic, policing and military functions of the modern day navy.
The Nigerian Navy contributed a great deal to the war during the Nigerian civil war their activities took full swing after the Aburi Talks were aborted in January 1967.
The Nigerian Navy continued to police the Nigerian territorial waters all through the period of the Nigerian Civil War to enforce the orders of the Federal Military Government on banning of shipping in the eastern part of Nigeria. During this period, the Nigerian Navy blocked the eastern coast effectively. As a result, large scale importation of arms and ammunition needed by Biafrans was rendered almost impossible.
The Nigerian Navy was also involved in several amphibious landings during the Nigerian civil war. Very good example was the Bonny landing that took place in July 1967. This was labeled as the very first of its kind by a third world country. This was later followed by the Delta Ports amphibious operations and this took place in the middle of September, 1967; it led to the recapture of the Sapele, Koko and Warri Ports from the Biafrans.
The liberation of Calabar was also carried out in November 1967 by the Nigerian Navy. The amphibious landing of the 3rd Marine Commandos at the beach-head in Oron was also another operation worthy of mentioning. This led to the capture of the mainland of Cross River State.