I came across a 2015 article from the Washington post which states that the United States considers Chad as the preponderant military power in West Africa. While this might not be factually correct one cannot deny the Chadians have some of the most fearsome infantry men in the region. Indeed the performance of Chadian soldiers in recent times is nothing short of commendable.
We’ve seen how, smarting from the humiliating defeated at the hands of the Nigerian army and air force, a handful of Chadian soldiers on Toyota pickup trucks ambushed and destroyed two amoured colums of Libya troops, forceing the retreat of 2,500 Libyan soldiers armed with tanks and amoured vehicles. In November 1986 Qaddafi had ordered a major offensive against Chad. The Chadians routed the Libyan garrison at Fada, killing 784 Libyan soldiers.
In an incident before that the Chadians captured a Libyan controlled airbase, killing a staggering 1,269 Libyans, taking 438 prisoners and destroying a large amount of Soviet built weapons, including Tupolev bombers, MiG -21 fighters, Mi-24 helicopter gunships and hundreds of tanks and amoured vehicles. The Chadians lost only 29 soldiers.
I couldnt help imagining a Nigerian amoured battalion subjected to a similar attack. I realised that Mali became Chads means of showcasing what might happen if Nigeria ever fought an infantry intensive battle against Chad today. In Mali the Nigerian army deployed 800 men and two Mi-24 helicopter gunships.
By contrast Chad deployed 2000 troops and hundreds of amoured vehicles. This well equiped Chadian troops were chosen to fight side by side with the French Foreign Legion,,while the ragtag AK-47 wielding troops from Nigeria were relegated to rear guard duties and manning checkpoints. The Ghanaians deployed a handful of cooks and drivers.
The year 2013 was a bad year for Anglophone West Africa. This was the first time since independence that a Nigerian war-fighting function has been bested by a Central African country right in in our backyard.
Waking up to this revelation came as a rude shock to the Nigerians and was all the more disturbing because the Nigerian army- the pride of West Africa has been the guarantor of peace and security in West Africa for 40 years.
Nigerian soldiers were amongst the most feared. They had the toughest training of any infantry because of its selective process was very stringent. Nigerian artillery made potential adversary in the region tremble, it had the best trained artillery men. The Chadians most feared what they called “steel rain”. This consisted of a mix of BM-21 Grad Multiple Launch Rocket systems, field artillery guns , self propelled howitzers and cluster munitions carried by Nigerian net fighters.
When Chadian troops invaded several islands in the Lake Chad area and villages in Borno, state northeast, Nigeria, the Army General tasked with flushing out the invaders – General Muhammadu Buhari for nearly a week ordered his forces to stand down, allowing the Chadians to to probe deeper into Nigerian territory.
When Chadian troops were 50 miles from Maiduguri Nigerian artillery smothered Idris Derby’s much vaunted ground soldiers in a massive series of night long artillery barrages.
This took Chadian troops by surprise. Expecting Nigerian tanks the Chadians had dug in 15 ft deep trenches to trap tanks and amoured vehicles ( like they did against Libya’s Amoured columns ). Confused and disoriented Chadian troops broke ranks and fled in all directions, some straight into the hands of concealed Nigerian troops who had stealthly crawled into positions, waiting in ambush, many drowned. The lucky ones made a run for the border. The Chadians never made any incursion on Nigerian territory again- Until recently.
Chad’s military involvement in Mali and lately in all neighboring states sheds light on capability of the Chadian army and the Dictator Idris Derby regime’s ambition to be a regional military power. In 2014, reeling from an increase in Boko Haram attacks the Cameroonian dictator Paul Biya gave a passionate plea for help as his army was stretched too thin to deal effectively with the insurgents. Within days hundreds of Chadian troops and amoured vehicles rolled into the streets of Yaounde to the esctatic sheers of Cameroonians.
These developments serves as a deadly analogy for what might happen to the Nigerian army should it find itself in a ground war with Chad or its surrogate Cameroon. Even without French support the Chadian Air Force fleet of strike aircrafts now outranks ours qualitatively. Also the Chadian surface to air missiles now out range ours by more than half.
They have aquired anti tank missiles to negate our advantage in amour. To put things into perspective, the Nigerian army has a total of about 180 tanks. Chad has about 80 MILAN I anti tank missiles, 200 MILAN II anti tank missiles,50 TOW anti tank missiles and an undisclosed number of Stinger anti aircraft missiles. For one Nigerian tank the Chadians have 5 anti tank missiles.
Tragically the qualitative and numerical advantage Nigeria enjoyed over its Central African adversaries are gone, intentionally destroyed by the past three administrations in a sacrifice to the god of political correctness and paranoia over the potential of a potential coup plot.
We agreed to give up all our stockpile of cluster munitions, cancelled planned aquisition programes, and practically locked up our air force in a hanger. When the Niger Delta crises emerged Nigeria spent a quarter of a billion dollars on 15 Chengdu F-7Ni fighters from China “as a stop gap measure” and forgot all about it.
The performance of the Chadian army in Mali West Africa and the Central African Republic, the audacity of the Chadians to carry out unauthorized air and ground operations in Nigerian territory and brag about it, the audacity of Cameroonian BIR troops to illegally cross into Nigerian territory, kill hundreds of Nigerian civilians and burn down whole villages, not once but three times, the unexpected appearance of a Cameroonian navy warship at the Eastern Naval Command in Calabar, strongly demonstrates that over the past 10 years our Francophone have gotten a capability jump on us and are showing it with their boldness.
Their stock of anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles and fighter jets are far superior than ours. Does this mean that the Chadian and Cameroonian army is superior to ours? No, not in the least, even if combined. If Nigeria fought Chad and Cameroon today, even on multiple fronts we would win.
Ours is an all volunteer force of 180,000 men, 32,000 reservists and 150,000 paramilitary, which is more than the combined armies of all of West Africa plus Cameroon and Chad combined.
Though out fixed winged strike aircraft fleet is pretty much outdated small, the Nigerian Air Force is far more superior when measured in an all inclusive basis (ISR/ISTAR, attack drones,helicopter gunships, logistics). But going by recent developments and Nigeria’s sluggish approach to modernizing its strike assets, the cost in blood and resources of any contest would be high.
The tragic decline of the Nigerian armed forces holistically that was once amongst the most reverse and feared in Africa should serve as a cautionary tale. The diminution of military capability in the Nigerian armed forces comes at an inauspicious time; where advanced military facilities and airbase’s are springing up all around Nigeria and world powers are struggling for control in what was once Nigeria’s domain.
France is setting up an entire new military aalliances in the sahel. The Americans are building Reaper Drone facilities and training centres, the Moroccans, a north African country are vying for membership in ECOWAS.
Our complacency and the lacklustre approach of our corrupt ridden civilian government to fixing our military and build a proactive foreign policy has cost us dearly. We have forfeited what formerly was our diplomatic and military hegemony in West Africa to the Central Africans, North Africans, France and the United States, and we can only imagine what deadly consequences may result from our complacency, decline and refusal to invest in our miitary and lack of clear cohesive foreign policy.