As an oil rich regional superpower, Nigeria has maintained a formidable, technologically advanced military for decades, until recently. However in the last couple of years there has been a paradigm shift in the military balance in the region. While Chad and its neighbors have designed and acquired weapons platform with Nigeria in mind, none of the weapons systems Nigeria has acquired in the last decade is explicitly designed to fight or defend against a modern-day near peer adversary with the resource of the state.
In fact, many of the weapons Nigeria fields today, while sophisticated are tailored for a Counter Insurgency and asymmetric kind of war. The fact the Nigerian government recently spent close to the entire defense budget of Chad ($650 million) on 12 Embrae Super Tucano aircraft, while its air force is lacking in fixed winged combat aircraft numerically and qualitatively bears testament to the neglect of Nigeria’s conventional military arsenal in favour of specialised weapons for asymmetric warfare. A strategic blunder with consequences that will be far-reaching.
In 1978 Gadaffi’s army invaded Chad with the intention of annexing the Aouzou Strip, the northernmost part of Chad, which he claimed as part of Libya on the grounds of an unratified treaty of the colonial period. Enjoying air superiority Libyan troops moved into the Strip and established an airbase just north of Aouzou, protected by surface-to-air missiles.
The action caused strong adverse reaction in Paris, and was immediately condemned by France, which on 11 January offered to strengthen its garrisons in friendly African states and on 15 January placed its Mediterranean fleet on alert and sent Mirage fighter jets
French Mirage fighter jets deprived the Libyan forces of their habitual infantry, exactly when they found themselves confronting a mobile army, well provided now with anti-tank and anti-air missiles, thus cancelling the Libyan superiority in firepower. What followed was the Toyota War, in which the Libyan forces were routed and expelled from Chad, putting an end to the conflict..
Libya to save face was threatening to impose an oil embargo, while France threatened to react if Libya attacked another bordering country.
In an ironic paradox, in 1983 Chad, Nigeria’s supposed ally, now reveling in euphoria from its victory over Gadaffi’s powerful army attempted to replicate the Libyan style invasion on Nigeria. Flushed with new weapons supplied by France ground troops invaded the north eastern state of Borno, in a surprise attack. By the Nigerian government recovered from the shock 16 Islands had fallen to the Chadian army.
The Nigerian army, backed by air power crushed defeated invading Chadian army, taken back all 16 Islands and putting an end to Chadian occupation of Nigerian territory. This victory came because Chad had neither the resources nor manpower to take on the Nigerian military. The French stayed largely out of it because unlike Libya, France was not willing to pay the price of a potential military engagement with Nigeria, especially when Chad was clearly the aggressor.
Well that was 35 years ago. Today, by virtue of its strategic security alliance with France in the region and its attendant well equipped army, Chads military power is already on par with Nigeria in the region.
What does the balance of military power tell us about a potential war? What are the differences in the combat capability of the two nations? What would a conflict look like? First, it is important to understand the differing defense aspirations of the two nations.
Chad has a truly regional set of security commitments enshrined in treaties and less formal arrangements. These include formal pacts with France and the United States as well as highly developed military relationships Cameroon, Niger and the United States.
Nigeria, on the other hand, has few formal alliances and does not — at least at the moment aspire to operate a regional security network because of its domestic security problems.
While Chad is beginning to talk about a more influential role as the regional policeman (and plays host to France’s most important overseas military base on the highly strategic Lake Chad basin ), this difference in ambition will persist into the next decade and probably beyond. At present, Nigeria still retains the ability to control West Africa, dominate and operate at will in the Lake Chad basin, overpower any regional competitor (notably Cameroon and Chad), and compete with France in the region.
Even though Nigeria’s defense budget of around $3 to 5 billion dwarfs Chad’s estimated spending of perhaps $536 million (exact figures are hard to obtain, although Chad certainly has the second largest military budget in the region), the military balance is approximately equal in the region now.
Chads military and diplomatic clout are increasing as the country forges more strategic pacts and equip its military, while Nigeria is largely static, focusing primarily on domestic problems, thereby ceded regional influence to countries like Morocco and the Francophone alliance.
A second key point of comparison is the capability of air and ground forces. There is virtually no scenario in which large numbers of Nigerian ground troops would fight Chadian ground troops, with the possible exception of a repeat of the 1983 Chadian invasion and Nigeria’s retaliatory strikes, and that is hard to imagine.
But if a country that has territorial claims with virtually every country bordering it allows its military capability to atrophy so rapidly, then the deterrence factor is lost. This dramatically increases the prospect for conflict, or worse, a continuous interfering in Nigeria’s domestic political scene without fear of a potential retribution. Either way the Nigerian people will pay a terrible price.
AIR POWER/AIR DEFENCE
Here Nigeria enjoys a narrow but dwindling advantage in air power. Nigeria’s combat aircrafts (both fixed and rotary wing) are still numerically superior. Pilot proficiency and training is also higher, as Nigeria does not hire mercenary pilots.
The problem is Nigeria’s air superiority is rendered useless given Chads dense network of anti aircraft missiles that can threaten Nigerian aircraft’s even within Nigerian airspace. Chad has two batteries of SA 17 Buk M2 9K37M2 surface to air defense missile system. The United States in the 80s provided Chad with 24 Stinger missiles and 7 launchers. On top of that France, which provides air shield for most of Chad also mantains an MQ-9 Reaper drone base.
Almost every truck in the Chadian army is fitted with anti-aircraft guns.
In 2011, an American Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, bluntly told Congress that Africa is about to become the new Middle East.he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I’m very concerned about the proliferation of weapons, notably shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, which we assess there were perhaps as many as 20,000 in Libya as the operation began, yet we are taken no action to secure those weapons sites.
Gaddafi had thousands he said.
“If the depots that were looted had hundreds, and all we can see are a few dozen, the big question is: Where are the rest? How many of them are not under rebel control? Many of those we know are now not accounted for, and that’s going to be a concern for some period of time.“
In late March 2011, Idriss Déby Itno, the president of Chad, claimed he was “100 percent sure” that these man-portable air-defense weapons (MANPADs) had been stolen by criminals planning to sell them to Al Qaeda.
Thirdly, the balance of ISR capability and intelligence gathering platforms is worth examining; and here Nigeria enjoys its largest advantage over its Francophone adversary. Nigeria operates a continuous, highly capable force of Airborne Warning and Control aircrafts, unmanned systems which includes attack drones, which Chad cannot.
But even that is begining to change.
In December 2017 the United States formally handed over to Chad two Cessna C-208B light reconnaissance aircraft.
In February 2018 Cameroon received two C-208s, from the United States, and Cameroonian airmen were sent to the United States for training.
In 2017 the Nigerian Air Force announced it was in partnering with the Nigerian Space Agency NASRDA. This gives Nigeria the ability to monitor areas of interest, such as airfields, command and control stations, etc.
Chad has an active duty force of about 30 thousand men, barely the size of Nigeria’s reserve force of 32,000 men. Nigeria has an active duty force of about 200,000 men. But what the Chadian army lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for it in sheer firepower.
Thanks in part to strong defense ties with France, Chad operates a myriad of amoured and infantry fighting vehicle that exceeds those of the Nigerian army in absolute terms.
Collusion between Boko Haram and Idris Derby
In November 2015 a Chadian citizen was arrested on Sudanese their territory, not far from the border with Chad, in possession of 19 SAM-7 anti aircraft missiles, a terrifying cargo intended for Boko Haram in Nigeria, and whose sponsor was non other than Chads president Idris Derby.
A cool customer with the look of a snake hypnotizing his prey, neither military, civil servant, nor part of any security service, he has had constant access to the President. This character out of a spy movie was recently questioned in Al-Geneina, the provincial capital of West Darfur, a town about twenty kilometers from the town of Adre in Chad, by Sudanese Secret Service agents.
A simple routine check stopped the large transport truck taking him to Chad. To avoid a search of his vehicle, Bichara Gnorti brandished a pass signed by Chadian authorities. This heightened the suspicions of the Sudanese, who decided to search the truck bottom.
Imagine their surprise discovering boxes containing 19 anti-aircraft missiles straight out of the stocks of the Sudanese Army arsenal. Handed over swiftly to the local military police, the Chadian was speedily interrogated and revealed a staggering fact: he had obtained the equipment after bribing half a dozen senior officers of the Sudanese army.
Pushing their examination further, the Sudanese got a confession … that President Deby personally was responsible for charging Bichara Gnorti with the task of acquiring the equipment and of conveying it to northern Nigeria where people – whose telephone numbers he had – were to take delivery at a specific location. The destination was clear: it was for Boko Haram!
Obviously, this astounding situation only serves to confirm everything that has been rumored for several months about the collusion between the Chadian despot and the Nigerian terrorists. The announcement to great fanfare of the signing of a pseudo cease-fire agreement between the terrorists and the Nigerian state set tongues wagging across the continent a few weeks ago.
But an incident that has just given goose bumps to all Chadians is when, during an unannounced visit to the Djermaya refinery, the Sultan President confessed that the current shortage of fuel in Chad was due to the fact that unscrupulous marketeers have hijacked hundreds of tanks of fuel meant for local consumption to sell in northern Nigeria and the Central African Republic!.
Nigeria frequently laud the prowess of its military machine. However, the reality is that the Nigerian military has been gradually losing its edge over other countries in basically every spectrum of military power. The Air Force’s fleet is the oldest it has ever been. It is unfortunate that despite a decade of war Nigeria cannot even field TEN modern fighter jets. The country relies on nine F-7Ni fighter jets to protect a country of 200 million people with 40 billion barrels in oil reserves.
President Buhari recognized the military’s decay, and made reversing it a central focus of his presidential campaign. But four years into his administration, it is already clear he will not be able to halt the erosion. Although there are some bright spots such as the improved ISR and unmanned systems, the military will continue losing ground. Splashing half a billion dollars on 12 turboprop aircraft or buying helicopters in pairs president’s and the proposed spending increase for the military isn’t enough to restore lost capabilities.
But on the flip side, what more can a President do when the political atmosphere has become so toxic that Nigeria has almost become ungovernable ? There were calls for the Presidents impeachment over the Super Tucano deal. Even among those who grasp the profound dangers of modern warfare, there is doubt as to whether conventional warfare or terrorism should be the primary focus of interest for the Nigerian military. So building political consensus behind a coherent military posture is difficult.
Which means the long decay and lack of investment of the Nigerian military, which began amidst the transition from military rule to civilian rule, is likely to persist until something really horrible happens to focus the minds of Nigerians on the consequences of being unprepared.