Okay, the title is an obvious hyperbole. Just trying to put the state of todays military into context with the question :-
What exactly is holding back the Nigerian military from being a modern, well-trained and well armed 21st Century fighting force on per or exceeding those of the north Africans ?
Nigeria spent £6 billion pounds on its national security budget in 2014. That’s almost $10 billion in 2014 alone. Cameroon spent just about $1 billion in their security in that same year. But look what they’ve done with the money. They’ve protected their territorial integrity, and on numerous times encroached on Nigerian territory with brazen confidence. They took more than 500,000 Nigerian refugees, feed them, cloth them, they’ve actually come to the aid of Nigerian soldiers who fled into Cameroon, and given them protection. In one instance 400 Nigerian soldiers abandoned their post and fled into Cameroon, leaving behind artillery pieces, armoured vehicles and even tanks.
There comes a time when one has to put patriotic sentiments on the back seat and face reality. The Nigerian military is in disarray. On paper the Nigerian military looks to have made remarkable improvements, that is until you see how much has been expended so far on the military.
Between 2014 and 2018 the Nigerian government has spent over $25 billion on the military. TWENTY FIVE BILLION DOLLARS !
Lets backup for a minute. The state of the Nigerian armed forces has not always been this way. The decline started barely 10 years ago. Nigeria has a track record of being able to liberate West Africa. We were in Sierra-leone, Liberia etc. The Nigerian army is an all volunteer army so there has never been a shortage of brave men and woman fighting bravely to rescue West Africa even with fewer resources.
The situation today is vastly different. We don’t even have an adequate account of the arms and ammunition in the Nigerian armoury. Vastly poorer neighbouring countries seem to have better quality weapons systems and training. Now, it’s obviously easier to train and kit a small army vis-a-vis a large army, but the amount of resources Nigeria has poured into its military in the last 5 years is enough to put it on par with the likes of Egypt, especially give the security situation facing the nation.
There was an incident in which a Field Commander writing an anonymous letter to the President and Commander-in-Chief saying corruption is the key to the crises within the Nigerian military. There are instances were soldiers don’t even have food to eat and go into battle hungry against a motivated Bolo Haram. The supply chain even to deliver food and amenities to troops at the front is corrupt ridden, in terms of army generals giving the contracts to their relatives and they do not even deliver in most cases.
So it’s not like the Nigerian army is devoid of courageous men, it just happens that without the necessary equipment and support structure in place courage is not enough to win wars. It is so unfortunate despite the billions of dollars investments in the armed services, the Nigeria’s military look more like militias than the national army of the 19th largest economy in the world.
Let us examine the three armed services of what was once regarded as the most powerful black nation in the world.
The Nigerian navy is the largest in sub-sahara Africa by personnel and 2nd largest by tonnage. The Nigerian Navy has more tonnage than the next 16 navies in the sub region combined. That’s where the good stuff ends.
As of this writing not one of Nigeria’s surface fleet carry anti-ship missiles of any sort. Likewise no Nigeria warship has anti-aircraft system, no anti-submarine capable weapons systems, no CIWS (Close in weapons system). As such Navy personnel on a vessel on deployment are at the mercy submarines, aircrafts, anti-ship missiles. In a contested environment the life expectancy of those unlucky enough to be on one of these ships hovers between a matter of hours or days.
The only missile carrying warships in the Nigerian Navy -NNS Aradu, NNS Ekpe, NNS Siri and NNS Ayam, are all moribund, in a state of neglect. The Navy has for years requested $260 million to repair and bring back into service NNS Aradu.
That being said, The Nigerian Navy, since the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari has proven itself in the Niger-Delta, where working closely with the Army, it has taught militants that sabotaging economic assets is not a pastime to relish in. Even when the military operations against Boko Haram are mostly affairs in the dry Sahara Desert, the Navy ensured lake Chad is not of any benefit for the terrorists with the constant destruction of any vessel they attempt to deploy on the lake.
The Nigerian army is the anomaly in the three armed services. Under the COAS Tukur Buratia, the army has made remarkable progress, especially in the area of standardization. The AK-47 has been replaced with the Beryl assault rifle as the standard rifle for all units. The service is certainly not lacking in armoured fighting vehicles and tanks. The newly formed Army Aviation greatly enhances the army’s operational efficiency.
This is where the good stuff ends.
The Nigerian army is billed as having a strength of about 200,000 soldiers. And yet territories in the border towns have been easily turned over by Cameroonian gendarmes who raid several villages, kill Nigerian civilians on Nigerian soil, take their time to set Nigerian villages on fire, then casually strolling back across the border to Cameroon. Not once, not twice, but five times. The Nigerian government seems to have no semblance of response.
In January a merry band of Cameroonian BIR troops invaded Nigerian communities in Cross River State, the second time in two months. About 100 Cameroonian soldiers stormed the community demanding that the village head hand over some refugees to them. The leader turned down the request and the troops left without hurting anybody.
At about 2:am however, the soldiers returned. Numbering between 50 and 100, they crossed the international border into Danare, and started shooting sporadically, sending the panic stricken community into chaos. This is a calculated offensive from the Cameroonian military on Nigeria. They have shown outright defiance of Nigeria’s territorial sovereignty and despised the consequences of crossing the international boundary to carry out intimidation and harassment on the already alarmed citizens of the community, with warnings of further assault.
They do this because they know the known the current capability of the Nigerian army. The Cameroonians take the security of their territory serious.
The Cameroonian army is a well trained and well kitted. Like the Chadians they never run away from a fight because they have confidence in their capability.
Check out the Cameroonian fighting men. They lack the resources of Nigeria, yet their level of training and organization is evident. Cameroonian troops never run away from a fight. They never ran away from a fight during the golden age of the Nigerian military, they certainly will not run from one today.
It’s quite evident this nation does not have at its disposal expensive weapons systems. What’s equally obvious is the pristin conditions of their military assets, which also is indicative of a highly organised fighting force.
That being said, The Department of State Services (DSS) has done a fair share of the job by constantly dismantling cell after cell of Boko Haram, in most cases before they are able to launch attacks on the innocent population.
The Department’s strategy starved the terrorists of the financing they had hitherto gotten from raiding commercial banks to fund their operations while making such heists appear like the regular criminal robbery. The balance of the fight, a larger chunk, occur on ground battles with insurgents, who often have to be chased for several kilometers or repelled in the many surprise ambushes that are now their staple.
In spite of the reported obstacles and challenges to the war, troops continue to give their best. The can-do spirit in the Army is such that soldiers recuperating from battle injuries, express their eagerness to return to the war front.
To be fair, there is no country in the world completely devoid of corruption, but Nigeria takes the word corruption to unmatched height. In 2016 Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osibanjo said around $15 billion had been stolen from the nations treasury under the previous government through fraudulent arms procurement deals. FIFTEEN BILLION ! BILLION DOLLARS!
To put things into perspective Egypt, ranked 10th in global military power spends $5.47 billion, and receives an extra $1.3 billion in U.S military aid annually. Now Nigeria is certainly not a nation in need of military aid of any kind. The economy of Lagos is larger than the two largest economy in East Africa combined.
Measured in PPP Nigeria is officially Africa’s first trillion dollar economy with a GDP in excess of $1.06 trillion. Given its financial muscle Nigeria has for the last four years outspent the Egyptian military by a factor of 3 to 1.
Amidst the claims by Nigerian security services that they are being underfunded, a total of N4.62 trillion has been allocated to the security sector in the last five years. How this huge sum was spent however remains unclear as there are no reliable performance reports by the security agencies. Year after year, the security sector continues to gulp the highest chunk of the country’s expenditures.
Yet we have an Air Force that borders on ridiculous. Nine F-7N fighters to protest nearly a million square miles of territory and 200 million people.
State of the Air Force.
That being said, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar-led Nigerian Airforce is finally attempting to punch its weight in the counter-terrorism war;
God be praised.
His branch of the military service has been the weak link in the security infrastructure and a chain, as they say, is only as strong as its weakest link.
The Airforce has not done much to assert its role in the counter-terrorism war effort, forcing the Nigerian army to call for an independent air wing.
But can one blame the Army? Each time troops have been ambushed on ground is a signpost to the failure of the Airforce to maintain eyes in the sky and coordinate with its sister services. Every time terrorists strike in a town and flee into the neighboring countries or the dessert it exposes the failing of the Airforce in trailing them and relaying their positions to those on the ground to do something about it.
One would have thought that by now, working with the other services especially the intelligence arm, the Airforce would have chanced upon the terrorists making one of those their propaganda video so that it can blast them to the hereafter same way Russian Airforce has likely pulverized Daesh (Islamic State) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an Airstrike.
What one has instead seen is an Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar who thought, of all times, the festive Sallah season is the best time to ply the populace with tall tales and bogus directives.
First came his chest beating as to how the Airforce foiled an attempt by Boko Haram to breach the peaceful Eid-el Kabir celebration in Borno. He apparently did that by bombarding them, same thing he has not achieved in his two years of piloting the affairs of that service.
It possibly did not occur to him that if he had lived up to billing in previous time the task of getting rid of these terrorists would have been 99 percent achieved by now. Next was the ridiculous directive for Sambisa Forest to be “completely” cleared.
Again, a perfunctory perusal of the archives would remind the Chief of Air Staff that the 2017 Nigerian Army Small Arms Championship (NASAC) held inside Sambisa Forest in the wake of the flushing out of the insurgents. Had the Airforce been on hand on the scale that Nigerian expected the missing air support would have ensured that those that regrouped are trailed down to the last of their bolt holes before they had the time to recover and begin their current round of nonsense.
Such statement, which the Air Chief has not done anything to refute, clarify or rephrase, is an aberration coming from him. Has anything changed about his inventory of aircrafts that will he use to clear Sambisa Forest? Negotiation for three JF-17’s began in 2014. Its 2018 neogitations are still ongoing with no date on when the aurcradts will bw delivered, or if there will be any delivery. Reconfiguring trainer aircrafts for combat duties in the longest and most toughest war in Nigeria’s history shows the serious lack of urgency and seriousness on the part of the Nigerian Air Force.
Since as civilians we know Abubakar to be the lord of the skies, is he by chance converting the Air Force into performing ground roles? Is he envisaging a scorch-earth operation that will yield a disproportionately high civilian casualty? Will his hype make terrorists drop dead and why the hype in the first place? What is he targeting? The Chief of Air Staff once pandered to celebrity protesters in such fashion when he flew Oby Ezekwesili and her band across the Sambisa Forest area.
The trip turned out to be a pointless waste of taxpayers’ money with the only benefit being that it helps defined those that constitute Air Marshal Abubakar’s audience – jobbers that are desperate to roll with government. Such desperate publicity stunt from an organization like the Air Force would do Nigeria and the entire country no good as it will amount to playing God on the war against insurgency. When a man who should be making eyes available in the skies decides to rather engage in talkfests then the terrorists know they have not much to fear even when driving convoys of 50 Hilux Pickups across open terrains. They know that no matter sabre rattling
Air Marshal Abubakar engages in he does not have boots on ground to take them on where it matters most. Air Marshal Abubakar has to be told in clear terms to concentrate and fight in the air. If he had performed his role effectively in the air by now Boko Haram could have been history. It is understandable that the military as a unified entity is communicating with Nigerians and the world to give perspective to the counter-insurgency war and curtail Boko Haram’s propaganda.
But prancing around the place as if the air force is the entire military is in the region of an overkill, his noise it too much noise. As opposed to assuming the position of Nigeria’s military imprimatur, Air Marshal Abubakar should work on improving his service’s capabilities and clear all its challenges.
This should include finding a way to accelerate the air coverage he has not provided in the initial two years he has been in office; he must pick up his slack so that the burden would be lighter on the other services and by extension bring about greater efficiency. In addition, he has to of necessity check in with fellow military chiefs to confirm where his input is needed as opposed to making beeline solo runs to the detriment of the war efforts.