Nigeria has only been at peace for 24 months since the return to democracy in 29 May 1999, after four decades of military rule.
Below, I have reproduced a year-by-year timeline of Nigeria’s , which reveals something quite interesting: since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria has been engaged in one form of conflict or another for 19 years. In other words, there were only 16 months in which the Nigeria did not carry out military operations.
To put things into perspective :
Pick any year since 1999 and there is about a 90% that Nigeria was involved in some conflict that requires the deployment of the Nigerian Army.
No Nigerian president truly qualifies as a peacetime president. Instead, besides Abdusalem Abubakar, who assumed position of interim Head of State after General Sani Abacha bite the Apple, all Nigeria presidents can technically be considered “war presidents.”
Nigeria has never gone a decade without war since Independence.
And here is a rough year-by-year timeline of Nigeria’s military operations since Independence in 1 October 1960.
6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970 : Nigerian civil war.
1980 : Maitatsine uprising in Kano. Violent uprising and attacks against religious figures and police forced the Nigerian army to become involved. Subsequent armed clashes led to the deaths of around 5,000 people, including Maitatsine himself, the leader of the sect.
1981 : Territorial disputes between Nigeria and Cameroon nearly escalates into all out war.
1983 – Three Day war with Chad.
1990 : Nigeria leads an ECOMOG intervention force to Liberia in a bid to stop the conflict from spreading into neighbouring countries.
1993 – Somalia. Nigerian and the United States deploy troops to Mogadishu Somalia.
1993 – 1994 : In 1993 Nigerian troops occupied the Bakassi Peninsula. In 1994, after serious incidents of border incursions that provoked shooting, and after many casualties and deaths of soldiers had been recorded on both sides. Realising the futility of going to war with Nigeria, Cameroon submitted its entire set of border-related disputes with Nigeria to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for adjudication.
1997 – Military intervention in Sierra-Leone’s civil war.
2004 : The Nigerian army, navy and airforce deploy forces to the South South Nigeria, as Niger Delta militants declare war on the Nigerian state.
2006-2009 : Nigeria deploys troops to Somalia .
2009 to 2018 : Nigeria is locked in the longest war in its history.
2016 – ECOWAS decides to intervene militarily in the Gambia as a result of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refusing to step down after losing the December 2016 presidential election. Nigeria deploys Air Force Special Forces, fighter jets, surveillance drones to the Gambia and newest warship NNS Unity to the coast of Gambia in a blockade.
This level of military operational tempo is abnormal and costly a 3rd world nation regardless of its status as a regional power. More so the impact on military equipment, the bulk of which needs replacement.
The branch of the Nigerian armed forces facing the most challenges resulting from increased operational tempo due to combat and contingency operations is the Nigerian Air Force.
Usage rate and environmental conditions (terrain and weather resulting in corrosion and structural damage) has battered Nigeria’s tiny fleet of combat aircraft, which has been stretched beyond capacity to the point trainer aircrafts have been weaponized to compensate for fatigue flying hours, and even that is been overstretched. The recent spate of crashes in the NAF is indicative of a force suffering from wear and tear resulting from operational sorties and combat usage. The Air Force does not have a standardized process for determining and documenting useful life estimates, putting the lives of pilots at risk as a consequence.
Now a large airforce can better manage such a condition by rotating aircrafts, thereby allowing for maintenance. Not so with an airforce with only a handful of aircrafts. Airframes are designed to fly a maximum number of before they require modifications and recapitalization. As fatigue flying hours increase, the airframe loses usefulness at an accelerated rate. If the fatigue, stress and extensive damage to these platforms are not fully addressed or mitigated the consequences could be dire.
For some reason the Nigerian Air Force is shying away from acquiring new sets of platforms, preferring instead to waste money on modification and service-life extension programs to meet increased operational tempo, and respond to environmental and operating conditions ( terrain, weather, sand etc). For example the NAF recently configured the entire fleet of the L-39 trainer aircrafts to respond to the need for increased strike aircrafts.
The following section provides descriptions of the level of operational tempo and recommendations.
Mi-17 17sh ( Multirole aircraft)
The Mi-17 helicopter provides for transportation of troops, supplies and equipments to the battlefield. It also doubles as a Medivac (medical evacuation), aircraft recovery, parachute drop, and a search and rescue helicopter.
Usage rates for current operations easily averages 60 hours a month ( my own personal estimate) or more, yet there are only eight Mi-17sh helicopters in the entire airforce inventory. With deployments to all geopolitical zone of the country under such tempo this helicopter cannot receive timely and scheduled depot-level maintenance due to limited funding and availability to remove aircrafts from the field for overhaul. Just two weeks ago (as of this writing) on Mi-17 helicopter was lost when it crashed, killing both pilots.
For such a high tempo the NAF should have at the very least double-digit number of MI-17’s in service. There should also be special funds set aside from capitalization budget for maintenance.
Hercules C-130 (Cargo/Transport Aircraft).
The Hercules is a long range turbofan powered heavy military cargo aircraft a large unobstructed cargo compartment. The average hours flown per year has more than triple due to combat, peacekeeping and contingency operations in the last decade.
This aircraft requires an insane level of maintenance every year, and the fleet should be rotated to balance flight hours, so all planes face nearly the same number of hours under combat and contingency conditions. Unfortunately there are only three C-130 Hercules in service with the Nigerian Air Force.
Dassault Donnier Alpha Jet.
The Alpha jet is a high performance trainer aircraft but can be configured quickly to perform light attack roles through selected use of rockets and other air to ground weapons to accomplish missions in an uncontested environment. This ” force multiplier” capabilities gives the NAF a low-cost way of applying tactical aircraft inna rapidly changing battlefield scenario. The missions are primarily ground attack, force projections, interdiction and close and deep air support.
Because of this secondary light attack capability the Alpha jet had been used more often in combat and contingency operations than any other aircraft in the history of the Nigerian Air Force. This aircraft has seen service in Sierra-Leone, Liberia and Mali.
Depot-level maintenance has reduced by ad much as %40 because of availability. This aircraft has been subjected to the most Dervice Life Assessment Program. As the workhorse the NAF, a tripple fold increase in operational flying hours and the resultant depreciation of the airframes has seen the number of Alpha jets from 22 as recently as five years ago to 12 in service today.
Chengdu F-7Ni Fighter Jet
The mission of the F-7N interceptor is to close in and destroy enemy aircraft in Nigerian airspace using speed, manoeuvre and firepower. Acquired in 2005 as a stop-gap measure, the F-7N is fast reaching its estimated useful life. Because of its nose air-intake, the aircraft has been greatly affected by corrosion and dust because they were not kept in hangers dust storms.
Combat and accidental losses have not been replenished, as a consequence, of the original 15 acquired in 2005, there are only about eight or nine in service. Field level maintenance is modest.
The Nigerian Air Force fleet of fixed winged aircraft is on the verge extinction and needs to be replaced. As Africa’s largest economy and energy superpower, Nigeria has a myriad of ways to fund a massive overhaul of the NAF.
Setting aside the fact it has the 3rd largest Foreign Reserve on the continent, Nigeria has the resources to acquire types platform without depleting the nation’s reserves in cash. Just last week signed a contract to sell Indonesia 11 Su-35 fighter jets.
This in itself is no big deal. The big deal here is that it is a barter agreement. This semi-fifth generation fighter jet will exchanged be exchanged for batches of palm oil, rubber and other commodities. These goods will cover more than half of the contracts value of $1.1 billion. Indonesia did not want to pay currency and offered to Palm oil.
Enter Nigeria :
Fifteen outdated F-7N Airguard : $350 million .
Weaponization of six Super Puma helicopters : $466.5 million
Twelve Mi-35 Helicopter gunship : $432 million
Ten Super Mushank trainers : $10.2 million.
Three JF-17 Thunder : $36 million.
Twelve Super Tucano : $500 million
Yet Nigeria has a 3rd rate airforce.