REAR ADMIRAL PORBINI: AS MARINE SPORTS/TOURISM ACTIVIST IN AFRICA

Piriye Kiyaramo

Tourism is an important source of employment and income generation, particularly for local economies and remote communities, where economic opportunities may otherwise be limited.

Tourism activities that take place on and around coasts may include bathing, whale watching, diving, sailing, rowing, yachting, fishing and cruising among several others.

Marine and coastal tourism depends on maintaining the health and resilience of the marine environment so that people can continue to enjoy and use it. Tourism, however, exerts serious pressures on the environment, as it leads to the building of infrastructures (e.g. marinas and ports) and the use of the sea by people.

Coastal and marine tourism is an important sector in Europe. Both tourism and recreation are expected to increase in the coming years as marine and coastal areas remain the top touristic destinations in Europe. Cruise tourism is also predicted to grow in the near future.

Sadly, Nigeria, a maritime nation, blessed with a minimum of 3,500 waterways and varying other maritime potentials for immediate use, has left the resources not being put into use or underutilized. The above statement is regret of Rear Admiral Festus Porbeni (Rtd), who served in the Nigerian Navy for 33 years and retired as Rear Admiral.

“First of all, I’m an Ijaw man. I was born in the water. My love for water is derived from my background as an Ijaw man. I went to school, paddling canoe in my village. When I joined the Navy, it was easier for me to work effectively. When I now retired, I said, let me get back to my element, focusing on recreational marine sports”, he said.

A serving honorary consul of Romania to the Niger Delta and a former minister of transport, is the president of the Nigerian Rowing, Sailing and Canoeing Federation as well as vice president of the Confederation of African Canoeing (CAC).

Rear Admiral. Festus Porbeni on Friday, December 8, 2018 commissioned “Admiral Porbeni Canoe and Kayak Lane” at the Jabi Boat Club Abuja, preparatory to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I put this up because when I found out that football has stadium, boxing has gym but rowing has nowhere and saw no reason why rowing would not feature in the National Sports Festival,” he said at the commissioning of his self-funded marine sporting facility.

“First and foremost, there was a time Nigeria wanted to host commonwealth games and we found out that we had no lane for rowing and it annoyed me that we could not host the Games”, he further lamented.

Speaking on the federations’ preparation towards the upcoming All Africa Games and Tokyo 2020, Porbeni said “we are already planning towards it and that’s why we will use this National Sports Festival to select our athletes for the All Africa Games and Tokyo 2020. Once the athletes are selected, they will be based in this town.

“Like I said earlier, anything maritime is a bit obscure and not many people are exposed to it. Not many people even see what the Navy does, because they are in the water. The Air Force and the Army can be seen on the surface—on air and on the road respectively, but one has to go to the water to see the Navy.

“Luckily, we have succeeded in establishing a national sports festival. With that, more people will be aware of it and will become part of it. The last time we trained in Calabar waters, Liyel Imoke, the then governor of the state was very cooperative. So, Calabar is in the forefront of rowing today. You can imagine their rivers all over and the advantage they present.

“First, we are manufacturing some boats here in Nigeria with the collaboration of NELO. NELO is the largest canoe manufacturer in the world, designing and creating boats for racing, touring, fitness, sea racing and slalom. With that collaboration, we are going to spread to the West African countries; they are going to be buying boats from us and that is a big economic venture and of course, now that canoeing is in the national sports festival, that means we will be having them to come and buy boats from us; we will create jobs for the boys.

“NELO will come here to teach us how to make the boats. NELO will first make 60 units and after the 60, we will continue making the boats ourselves. Canoeing, like anything maritime is a little obscure. I am president of rowing, sailing and canoeing; so, they are three federations that I am in charge of. And of course, canoeing and rowing federation have over 21 medals in Olympics because they make up big Olympic events and here, we were just toying with it.

“But I am gradually moving the sports on now. Since I came on board, we have been moving forward. I presented two Olympians—Jonathan Akinyemi and one other person in the last Olympic in Brazil. We already have the boats which I bought from South Africa”, he added.

As a naval chief, he commanded ARADU, Nigeria’s naval ship which was the country’s biggest pride in her Navy at that time. Having left office as minster of transportation under the General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime in 1999, Admiral Porbeni had turned to business, investing mainly in maritime, oil and gas, communications and insurance. He has continued to fund marine sports and recreation without looking back as a true mariner he is.

Admiral Festus B. I. Porbeni, a Professional Navigator and Underwater Diver, graduated from the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna in 1967. At graduation, Admiral Porbeni was the best Cadet in service subject in the 3rd Regular Course.

He was commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant in 1969. He served the Nation in various capacities including being the Pioneer Defence Adviser and later the Resident Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1982-1988 with accreditation to Cameroun, Gabon and Sao Tome & Principe. As Ambassador, he worked assiduously to promote and sustain the relationship between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

Admiral Porbeni was Commandant of the Nigerian Naval College, Onura, Director of Research & Analytical Studies (DARAS), and Nigerian War College, He served in the Provisional Ruling Council as the Flag Officer, Eastern Naval Command. He was the Commanding Officer NNS Argungu which he sailed from Bremen Germany to Lagos Nigeria, Commanding Officer NNS Aradu, the Nigerian Navy Flagship, He was the Minister of Transport between 1998 and 1999. Admiral Porbeni is vast in many languages and has received many military honours both locally and internationally. He is a Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) and the current Romanian Consul General in the Niger Delta Region. Admiral Porbeni also serves on the board of many other companies