When Master Warrant Officer, MWO, Edet Okon (Rtd) (BO 391), joined the Nigerian Navy in 1981, his dream was to serve the country and defend her territorial waters to the best of his capability.
From his first state of deployment, Lagos, to Rivers, Cross River, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Delta and many other remote communities, Okon discharged his duties with diligence and was never found wanting.
Now retired, Okon’s pain and regret is serving his fatherland for 32 years while leaving in shanties with his family. In this edition, Okon tells Encounter how despite deductions from his monthly salary for accommodation, he was evicted twice from his assigned quarters while on official duties.
He also narrated his ordeal of losing his first family and a 15-month-old child to pneumonia due to the accommodation challenge and how his efforts to get justice from Naval authorities met brick walls.
How it started
After joining the Nigerian Navy in 1981, I was allotted block 169 Apartment II Road 3, Navy Town, Lagos, as my permanent accommodation. The necessary documentation was issued in my name.
I stayed in the accommodation until 1983 when I was transferred to Port Harcourt, Rivers State. While in Port Harcourt, I was alerted by someone that the Naval authority in Lagos had broken into my apartment, moved my properties out, and reallocated the apartment to another personnel.
I was shocked because I was never officially informed about the development more so when the Naval authority in Lagos was aware that my deployment to Port Harcourt was without accommodation.
When I reported the matter to my command in Port Harcourt, I was given a letter which stated that I was in transit. Being in transit means that I was just given a temporary place to sleep since I have official accommodation in Lagos.
When I returned to Lagos, I was shocked to find a stranger in my apartment. I wanted to force my way into the house and throw his things out, but my colleagues advised me not to do so.
When I reported the incident to the admin office, the commanding officer told me that it was a mistake that would be rectified. I was asked to go back to my command in Port Harcourt with an assurance that I will regain my apartment. I went back and waited for six months but nothing was done. During this period, my wife was pregnant and staying at a friend’s house.
Lost 5-month-old baby, marriage
The situation remained the same for four years until I was transferred back to Lagos. The saddest part of the incident was that even when I was not staying in the apartment, my money was still being deducted for the payment of the accommodation.
It was raining heavily the day I finally returned to Lagos with my wife, five-year-old, and 5-month-old son. I went straight to my apartment believing that the matter would have been resolved but to my greatest shock, the illegal occupant of the apartment refused to open the door.
I was outside with my luggage and family in the rain for hours. We slept in a shanty from Friday till Monday since the admin officer where I could report the case had closed. Most of my properties were damaged in the rain.
By Monday I reported first to where I was posted to avoid a pay cut. I told them my challenge and begged to be allowed to sort things out, but the authorities there refused. I kept duty from Monday to Wednesday before someone came and relieved me.
By the time I rushed back to Navy Town, I met my 5-month-old baby dead. My wife too was almost at the point of death. When my dead baby was examined, he was said to have died of chronic pneumonia which might have been exacerbated by the long exposure to the rain.
We continued to stay in a shanty after my child’s death. Despite the admin office’s assurances, nothing was still done about removing the illegal occupant in my apartment. When my wife could no longer bear the pain of squatting in the shanty, she decided to be following me with our daughter to my duty post. She would stay under a tree outside my workplace with my baby until the close of work.
Evicted from temporary accommodation
When I could no longer endure the pain of seeing my family suffer while I served my fatherland, I begged some colleagues who assisted me to get accommodation somewhere in Ipaja. The place was very uncomfortable but I managed it with my family for about three months until a bank that bought the house came and threw us out.
From there, I moved into another uncompleted building in Gowon Estate and was evicted again by the owner after a few months. We got tired and decided to return to our former shanty in Navy town.
When it became obvious that nothing was being done about evicting the person in my apartment, I conducted an investigation and discovered that the illegal tenant was a relative of a former Chief of Naval Staff. At that point, I just gave up hope of regaining the apartment.
Abandoned by wife
We continued to leave in the shanty until I went on official duty in Oyo State. When I came back I didn’t see my wife and child. I was told she had packed her few belongings and left with my child. That was how my wife left me and our marriage ended.
Another forceful eviction
After my wife left, I moved to my workplace where I stayed for more than a year before a friend informed me about a police officer who wanted to leave an apartment because he wasn’t comfortable staying among Naval officers. I was told the Policeman was looking for someone to pay him for the apartment.
So I paid him and he handed over the apartment ( BT. 88 Flat 5 1st Floor, Gowon Estate, behind Custom Block at 34 Road) to me. I started buying property little by little until I met my second wife.
Sometime in 1996, the Navy again transferred me to Port Harcourt. After some years in Port Harcourt, I was moved to Abuja. While in Abuja, I asked my wife, who had given birth to two children and was staying in my Lagos apartment to visit me. That was during the Commonwealth Head of States conference in Abuja.
My daughter was seriously sick and since I could not travel because of my official duty, I asked my wife to come to Abuja. A few days after they arrived in Abuja, I was informed that the Naval authorities in Lagos had again forcefully opened my apartment and moved my things out for another family.
When I heard this I had to secure a pass to enable me travel back to Lagos to see what was happening. I was very angry when I arrived in Lagos. I entered the house and saw a young boy of about 17 years. He knelt downand started crying and begging me. As I looked around I saw his father’s portrait. He was my good friend.
The son told me that his father was sick and taken to the hospital where he got missing. They were subsequently ejected from the barracks, but a court order was served on the Navy for immediate provision of accommodation for the officer’s family. It was in that situation that the barracks authority ended up giving them my apartment. I was touched by their condition and couldn’t do anything.
Complaints blocked from reaching CNS
The situation remained the same from 2004 when I was posted to Warri, Delta State to 2008 when I was transferred to Calabar, Cross River State. When I resumed duty at NNS Victory, I channeled a complaint to my commanding officer. When the Chief of Naval Staff, CNS,Vice Admiral I.I. Ibrahim visited our command and heard my case, he was angry about all the treatments that were meted out to me and directed my Commanding Officer to verify my complaints and forward his findings to the Flag Officer Commanding, FOC, Board of Inquiries and Eastern Naval Command.
The report cleared me of any act of indiscipline, acknowledged my ordeal and recommended financial compensation. Unfortunately, my FOC did not forward the report to the appropriate quarters because he knew that the CNS would ask him to compensate me since I was working under his command. I kept disturbing my Commanding Officer, but he insisted that it was the FOC that was holding back the report.
Posted Offshore for complaining
I met the FOC and pleaded with him to send the report but instead of sending the report, he drafted me offshore. I stayed offshore in Wakadome in Sao Tome for 6 months. During that period, the CNS that was supposed to handle my case retired.
In 2012, I was hoping to pick up the matter again but I was compulsorily retired. Instead of serving 35 years, I only served 32 years. Till today, it is only pension that I have been collecting. No gratuity.
I served my country well and almost died during the rise of militancy in the Niger Delta region. I lost my son and marriage and was homeless while serving my country.
I want the world to hear my cry. If the Navy has already recommended that I should be compensated, why am I still being neglected? Why would my country treat me like a slave?
Complaint’ll be reinvested-Source
When contacted, a senior naval officer at the Naval headquarters, Abuja, told Encounter that Mr Okon’s case was truly pathetic and promised to offer assistance.
“His story is a truly pathetic one but he should follow the proper channel to bring it to the ttention of the Chief of Naval Staff.
“When that is done, his matter would reinvestigated to ascertain what really happened and why he was not compensated,” the source said.