The precolonial and colonial era witnessed the activities of various navies in Nigerian waters. This was to be expected in view of the role which war ships played in British defence policy in West Africa and the significance of navigable rivers in British military strategy in Nigeria. British naval ships par ticipated in all coastal colonial campaigns in Calabar, Port Harcourt and the conquest of Lagos in 1861, after which Lagos became the main naval centre. While the presence of the British navy was felt early along the coast, the hinterland experienced it two decades later.
In 1886, the Royal Niger Company established its naval headquarters at Asaba and later at Lokoja. The company needed its navy to maintain communication between one part of its territory and another, resupply its forts and garrisons established at strategic positions, as well as transport troops and patrol the Niger and Benue rivers. They were also used to prevent smuggling, to bombard towns and settlements or to blockade or destroy those towns considered to be hostile to the Royal Niger Company. Some of the ships, like the "Empire" and "Liberty," were fitted with 21/2 pounder guns. With the revocation of the charter of the RNC in 1900, the British government took over the ships and paid compensation. The navy of the Royal Niger Company had a compli ment of Nigerian ratings as well as a few from
Sierra Leone and Ghana. With the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914, the Nigerian Marine Department was created. The department took part in foreign operations during World War 1 where it helped in flushing out the Germans in Cameroun. Apart from its police duties, the department aiso performed military duties such as mine sweeping and coast guard duties.
The Nigerian Navy took so long to get established mainly because the British government had no need for a fully operational navy in Nigeria as the Royal Navy could be called upon at short notice to carry outmajor operational tasks in Nigerian waters. In 1956, the Nigerian Naval Service was established and charged with the responsibility of naval defence of Nigeria within its territorial waters, hydrographio surveys, maintenance of Nigeria's customs laws as well as naval and maritime training duties. At inception, the Nigerian Navy had a nucle us of 250 officers and men drawn from British ex service men and from staff of the Mand Waterways Department, Ports Authority ancf Maritime Department.
There were 11 assorted boats and harbour crafts at its disposal. In 1958, a naval base was established at Apapa with a training school. Pressure from Parliament in the same year made the Nigerian government to provide a deep water jetty and other modem facilities at the other base. An antisubmarine craft was also procured. In 1959, the British government donated two mine sweepers to Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy was expanded and finally established by an act of Parliament in the same year.