WHY I FACED COURT MARTIAL IN THE NAVY â€“ ADMIRAL PORBENI
Rear Admiral Festus Porbeni was, until his retirement from the Nigerian Navy, the minister of transport in General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime. He held many military appointments before becoming the minister of transport.
Porbeni spoke with Saturday Sun recently in Lagos on his military career, relationship with the late General Sani Abacha, Bakassi peninsula and the Niger Delta. He is proud to call himself consul of Romania in the Nigeria Delta.
'I act on behalf of Romania in the Niger Delta without salary. I run the embassy on behalf of Romania in the Niger Delta. I enjoy all the diplomatic privileges accorded an ambassador. When a Romanian was kidnapped in the Niger Delta I intervened and he was released.'
You were in the Navy for many years. How would you assess the Nigerian Navy at 54?
Well, I can say that the Navy now is better than when we were there. It has grown more sophisticated than what we had then. The Navy is at its best and is managing to survive the harsh economic situation. The ships have become more sophisticated and therefore, we need more funds to run the Navy and also men who are dedicated to mount the platforms.
There was a time some senior officers to be exact, Admirals, were tried. What happened?
They were tried because they did something wrong. If they had not done anything wrong they would not have been court-martial and found guilty. The trial was not politically motivated because we monitored the processes and the direction the court-martial was going. Now the trial is over and the court has taken its decision and we believe that the whole process was to instill discipline in the force. All we can tell the younger naval officers is that they should be disciplined and show loyalty to the country and the service. Also, they should be honest in their dealings and be dedicated to duty.
Some people say that Nigeria's problem is leadership. Is there any magic to leadership?
For me, leadership means loyalty to country and dedication to duty, because a leader who shows loyalty and dedication will enjoy followership. As s leader you must involve the people following you; you must think of their welfare, their interest, education and career; you must take them as your own and when you do this, you will have good followership and a good leader needs a good followership.
What then are the challenges of leadership?
Dedication is one of the challenges of leadership, because you might not be forced to be a good leader. Leadership entails your ability to control people and make them follow your direction without them asking questions. However, in a situation they ask you questions you must explain to them why it has to be. You must carry everybody along. For instance, if you ask them to do something, there must be necessary logistics to enable them do it.
Why did you enlist in the Navy?
The motivation for me was just the urge to serve. Luckily, I was born in a riverine area and my elder brother was a member of the Nigerian Merchant Navy and sometimes I went onboard merchant ships with him, where I ate good food and I enjoyed the interaction. That was the attraction and that led me into the force and I never regretted it. I have no regret serving in the Nigerian Navy and rising steadily to where I found myself. If I have another opportunity to return to this world, I will still want to be a naval officer, because navy is life and I have learnt a lot in this period of my career. Everything that you need to work with in life you are taught in the navy. The navy teaches you how to manage life's problems. Look at our divisional system. It teaches you how to manage human beings. If you look around the world you will discover that the armed forces are the ones being used to achieve many things, which had been hitherto difficult to manage. For instance, disaster management. In places that are disaster prone, the military is used to ensure that people's safety is guaranteed. If there is a plane crash, the people sent there to manage the disaster are military men.
But there are rough times in military, did you experience any?
I had some unpleasant moments while serving in the Nigerian Navy. For instance, I was made to face a general court martial when some cadets died in Onne Port after I had left Naval College, Onne, where I commanded a ship. Then I was wondering why I was being made to face court-martial when I was no longer in charge. Luckily for me, I was discharged and acquitted. But that court martial gave me a traumatic experience.
You are doing some things in Bayelsa. Could you share this with us?
I organise a football tournament every October 1. It's called Admiral Porbeni football tournament, to mark the creation of Bayelsa State. The draws of the tournament start from the local government and on October 1, after the match past, the finals of the football tournament holds.
The government of Olusegun Obasanjo handed over Bakassi to Cameroun. How do you feel about this?
As a junior officer, I wrote a paper on this issue, which was presented at the Nigerian Navy week celebrations, I said that Bakassi belonged to Nigeria and should not be handed over. First, there was a plebiscite, which was to come back after 10 years. With this, Nigeria has handed over Southern Cameroun to Cameroun. So in a nutshell Nigeria should not have handed over Bakassi because it belongs to Nigerian territory.