The Nigerian military is on the verge of being over stretched. The overall threat level to the Nigerian Federation is at an all time high, while the condition of the Nigerian military is at best marginal, no thanks to a decade of high intensity constant battles.
The Nigerian army, a 180,000 strong fighting force has only three brigade combat units out of more than 30 fully manned, equipped and trained for major conflicts. The army has just 40 -T-72 M tanks that can be sent into combat at a moments notice (out of 77). Support fighting vehicles like the BMP-1 (just 4 in service) are too few to make any meaningful tactical impact and have no plans to purchase more Infantry Fighting Vehicles this in 2018.
Due to lack of spare parts and a lack of maintenance culture, less than %30 of Air Force’s combat aircrafts are currently available for combat. In addition the Air Force has shrunken significantly and is the smallest it’s ever been.
The Nigerian military is certainly not underfunding, so what then are the reasons for this readiness crises?, afterall Nigeria’s multi-billion dollar defense budget is well within the level necessary to support current size and operational tempo, so there is no shortfall of resources. Besides, when it comes to emergency funding no African country comes close with the resources at Nigeria’s disposal.
Yet, despite the unprecedented financial commitment of the government for years to improve readiness, the state of the Joint Services continue to atrophy. The recent incidences of unauthorized encroachment and violations of Nigeria’s territory by Cameroonian and Chadian troops bears credence to the fact that Nigeria’s military faces a readiness crises so severe that, in the event of a major conflict with a relatively well equipped adversary, it could break.
Yet more consequential for the future of the Nigerian armed forces than its current readiness crisis is the crisis of strategy. The military has been at war for more TEN years. Just two weeks ago Nigeria deployed Air Force personnel to the Gambia, and there are reports that the Buhari Administration is considering sending more Nigerian ground forces to the Gambia.
The Buhari administration has already upped the ante in the fight with Boko Haram by constantly declaring Boko Haram has been technically defeated and announcing his intention to annihilate terrorist organizations in West Africa. These are but the latest swing of the strategy pendulum between the two choices of deepening Nigerian involvement in ECOWAS or withdrawing from them.
It should be clear to all by now that Nigeria is stuck in a resource sapping war of attrition against Boko Haram. Even when tactical victory is achieved The celebration is often short-lived as Boko Haram bounces back in spectacular fashion with new material and resources. This has always been the case.
Nigeria needs to give up the idea that this is a fight it can win if the status quo around Nigeria’s perimeter remain the same.The government must confront the reality that it is involved in a conflict which can neither be avoided nor can be won if the core sustenance of Boko Haram is not tackled. The failure to recognize this truth has allowed successive administrations and their military advisors to avoid the necessity of devising a new strategy, one based on the fact that there is likely no end to the war with Boko Haram unless Nigeria takes the bold step and says enough is enough, – if its war the enemies wants, its war it will get and mobilize fully for war. Optics matter and this will signal Nigeria’s resolve.
A new strategy might not be necessary were there no other dangers to occupy the Nigeria’s attention. But today there are at least three nations that potentially pose a threat more harmful to Nigeria’s security than that presented by Boko Haram.
The decade long fight is requiring an enormous expenditure of resources and lives, and adding to the wear and tear on Nigeria’s already pitiful platforms and personnel while, in a budget constrained environment, draining the armed forces of resources desperately needed to modernize its aging force structure for the fights to come.
The Nigerian government must figure out a way to give priority to the more serious threats to national security while still fighting what could be a generational conflict against terrorism. The state of the Nigerian military’s stockpile of munitions is illustrative of the impact Nigeria’s decade long strategy has had on the readiness crisis that threatens to overwhelm the Nigerian military.
The use of artillery has historically become synonymous with how the Nigerian army fights, in fact the army’s tactical doctrine is centred around artillery firepower, and as such the Nigeria army have expended thousands of tons of artillery shells against Boko Haram.
So many 122 mm and 155 HE (High Explosive) munitions have been expended in the fight against Boko Haram that the army is beginning to run out of them, despite the fact that the Goodluck Jonathan Administration in 2015, outside the official defence budget, approved an emergency $1Billion to buy more munitions.
Even Field Commanders are complaining that their stocks of munitions are being depleted faster than they are being replaced ,and just yesterday (6 April 2018) Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari gave his approval for the release of an emergency $1 billion to the military to procure munitions. This is a very expensive way to fight a war.
The Nigerian military needs to devise a new strategy, one that reduces the costs of fighting terrorism while improving those systems and forces focused on deterring if possible, and fighting if necessary, increasingly capable adversarial nation states.
The best way the Nigerian military can reduce cost is to go scorch earth on Boko Haram, completely obliterate them to the point of no return. The best way to do that is to go after the group’s resource mechanism.
How Does Boko Haram Gets Its Cash ?
Nigerian Intelligence believes Boko Haram has a yearly budget in the tens of millions of dollars. In private, however, intelligence agencies admit that the real Boko Haram budget is closer to between $50 million or $100 million.
However it is widely believed that since 2015 Boko Haram stockpiled cash amounting to several millions of dollars in preparation of a major campaign to seize control of the Sambisa forest at some point in the future. Boy were they spot on.
Where exactly does the Boko Haram get all this cash? The sources are many and varied.
Kidnappings is an important source of revenue for Boko Haram. Although the Nigerian government remains resolute in not paying ransoms to Boko Haram, Nigeria’s adversaries have been willing to pay ransom their citizens. France and Cameroon have both paid multi-million dollar ransoms in staged abductions to free their nationals, providing Boko Haram with the hard currency it needs to prosecute its attacks.
Smuggling is another major source of funding for Boko Haram.The same networks that is to smuggle in arms and munitions, is used to smuggle in men and material, cash etc. Ostensibly speaking Boko Haram has plenty of money. Considering that the Boko Haram leader, the Barbarian Abubakar Shekau is uneducated and inexperienced in matters of finance, it is remarkable that he could administer a multi-stream financial empire that was spitting out yearly several millions of dollars in income, and that they could do this while in hiding in from the tree most powerful armies in the region in remote barren wilderness.
While a clear-cut victory is far from inevitable, at the current rate, it is conceivable that the Nigerian army forces will defeat Boko Haram and ultimately killing or capturing its leader Abubakar Shekau. The focus, then must shift to Boko Haram’s foreign backers who keep the Jihadi group constantly replenished and go after Boko Haram fighters who at their peak numbered nearly 20,000.
When a conflict ends, either through force or negotiated settlement, terrorists are likely to disperse in numerous directions. Boko Haram fighters are unquestionably capable. Taking advantage of the immense size of the Sambisa, they have skillfully used tunnels and subterranean networks to move men and materials, and have perfected the production and deployment of Katyusha type rockets and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
For Nigeria to prevent the vicious circle of a Boko Haram Comeback, the hard-core fighters must be killed or captured. Dislodging the group from camps and territories and declaring victory does not constitute absolute victory.
Lastly and most importantly is for Nigeria to dismantle Boko Haram’s finance structure. Boko Haram has been able to adapt to battlefield setbacks and generate new sources of revenue to support the group’s mission because Boko Haram continues to receive financial assistance from supporters in permissive neighbouring countries. This will continue until the Nigerian government is bold enough to cut off its revenue streams decisively.
Nigeria clearly lacks a national strategy to counter Boko Haram’s fundraising tactics. The previous administration weakened Nigeria’s diplomatic and negotiation stance towards the terrorist group when it fell for the embarrassing scam perpetrated by Chadian dictator Idris Derby, and has failed to take meaningful action to deter foreign governments from making ransom payments to Boko Haram.
Relying on Nigeria’s historic adversaries to crack down on Boko Haram’s cross-border smuggling and facilitation networks is akin to pointing a gun to your head and pulling the trigger.
Nigeria alone had to develop an effective intelligence units to track what goes in and out and a robust and formidable military to serve as a deterrent. Sponsors of terror must know with %100 certainty that there will be a price to pay for meddling into the domestic security affairs of the Nigerian Federation.