The National Security Implications of Nigeria’s Military Decline.

Nigeria is facing a time of uncertainty and peril. The eight-year-old insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram persists. In the East an older problem, Biafra separatist agitation the South East, is provoking dangerous domino effects in the north and Niger Delta.

The Nigerian army’s heavy boot response to pro- Biafra sentiments risks escalating into full blown conflict.

In the Middle Belt deadly clashes between herders and farmers are escalating across the central belt and spreading southward.

The interesting thing to note is that the greatest existential threat to Nigeria’s territorial integrity since the civil war is happening at the time of Nigeria’s biggest military decline since the civil war.

The Nigerian military is battling at least fourteen security challenges across the country. An overall active duty force of 150,000 men is scarecly enough to protect 170 million people on strategic level. The Nigerian military, which has units deployed in 28 of the 36 states, is overstretched and unable to provide troops with sufficient resources. Some exhausted troops are complaining of not being rotated. The rainy season could further hamper operations, enabling Boko Haram to regroup and rearm.

Indeed it can be said that between 2002 and 2008, Nigeria was in quasi “on and off” state of emergency, and since 2009 Nigeria ‘‘ has effectively been permanently in a state of emergency’’.

Nigeria’s military decline might not necessarily be a recent phenomenum, it could go way back, but the past reputation of Nigeria’s military capability and exploits was enough to act as a deterence to keep potential aggressors in check, so long its kept under wraps. 

Unfortunately the cat is out the bag, no thanks to Boko Haram. Nigeria today is deficient of the military power it once had to engage countries that are hostile to Nigeria and everybody knows this. Nigeria’s traditional enemies can scarecely believe their luck. Its open season on Nigeria.

Think this is hyperbole? …..not even close.

Toyota War

In the early eighties, the Chadian army’s military exploits were the stuff of legends. They carried out successful -albeit illegal military operations in Sudan. Barely had the dust settled when the numerically inferior Chadian army defeated the libyan army, one of the best equipped fighting force in Africa. It should be noted that the Libyan military was powerful enough to be consideed a strategic enemy to the United States.

In June 1980, the powerful Libyan army captured a huge slice of northern Chad, capturing Faya largeau, the key center of northern Chad. Beginning in October of that year, Libyan troops airlifted men and supplies to the airfield. Faya Largeau was then used as an assembly point for tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles that moved south against the capital of N’Djamena.

By December, an attack spearheaded by Soviet T-54 and T-55 tanks, and reportedly coordinated by advisers from the Soviet Union and The German Democratic Republic, brought the fall of N’djamena, the Chadian capital.

The Libyan force, numbering between 7,000 and 9,000 men of regular units and the paramilitary Islamic Pan-African Legion, 80 tanks, and other armored vehicles, had been ferried across 1,100 kilometers of desert from Libya’s southern border, partly by airlift and tank transporters and partly under their own power. The border itself was 1,000 to 1,100 kilometers from Libya’s main bases on the Mediterranean coast.

The waring factions in Chad united and responded with fury. Facing a well equipped force with 80 tanks, the Chadian forces displayed some remarkable tactical innovations..

In a modern version of the traditional raiding party, they used Toyota all-terrain vehicles, lightly armored French-made Panhard cars, and antitank and antiaircraft missiles to play havoc with Libya’s powerful mechanized armoured brigade.þ

Between 2,000 to 2,500 Chadian troops routed a 5,000-man Libyan garrison at Fada, captured and destroyed a large number of tanks.

Shortly after the main Libyan air base of Wadi Doum was captured by Chadian forces. Although strongly defended by mine fields, 7,000 troops, tanks, armored vehicles, and aircraft, the Libyans Base was overcome by a 2,000 strong Chadian attacking force equipped with trucks mounted with machine guns and antitank weapon

Two days after Chadian troops attacked, the Libyans evacuated their main base of Faya Largeau, 150 kilometers farther south. More than 3,000 Libyan soldiers had been killed or captured or had deserted. Large numbers of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters were captured or destroyed.

In effect, four-wheel-drive Toyotas defeated a Libyan force of 8,000 men and fleet of tanks. To the victor belongs the spoils. The Chadians captured two batteries of Libyan SAM-13 anti aircraft missiles and missile-targeting radar systems and $1 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry.

Buoyed by the victory over the powerful Libyan army and capture of advanced weapons, the Chadians decided to carry out their next military adventurism on Nigeria- their target? A chain of Islands in the Lake Chad basin and Borno State with prospective oil deposits. A decision they will come to regret.

Nigeria have contested the ownership of several islands in the Lake Chad in the past. In 1983 over 2,000 battle hardened Chadian soldiers, led by the intrepid Idris Derby, overran islands under Nigerian control and claimed them for Chad. Several days later they invaded several communities in Borno State.

The reaction in Lagos (then Nigeria’s sit of power) was that of shock and betrayal.

In 1980, Nigeria publicly condemned the presence of the Libyan army in Chad, stressing that Libyan military presence in the war-ravaged central African nation was preventing a solution to the instability there.

Nigeria sponsored five extraordinary conference, with a call to untangle the web of political interests threatening to end Chad. When Libyan tanks and jet bombers drove Hissene Habre and his guerrilla forces from Ndjamena, Nigeria for the first time hinted at the possibility of intervening militarily by deploying forces to the 3rd Amoured brigade near the border with Chad. 

Nigeria’s response to Chadian military adventurism was met with an overwhelming military response that left no one in doubt of the cost of engaging the Nigerian Army militarily.

The Nigerian armed forces were under the simple going but honest President Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The then GOC of the 3rd Division in Jos under whose command the Northeast fall was Major. General Muhammadu Buhari. The Commander was given the mandate to flush out the invaders.

Chad had been in a prolonged civil war and the ruthlessness of Chadian soldiers were not lost on the Nigerians. The Nigerian army, then the most powerful and professional fighting force in black Africa.

Rather than launch a blistering counter attack with mechanised forces as the Chadians expected, the Nigerians took no visible action for nearly a week. Having seen how Muammar Ghaddafi’s tanks and armoured forces were decimated, the Nigerian army was averse at makeing the same mistake. Major General Buhari will use mastery of strategy and terrain to teach the Chadian invaders a bitter lesson.

General Buhari sought to finnish off the Chadians in a pincer assault. By allowing the Chadians to probe deeper and deeper into Nigerian territory until they were hundreds of kilometres from the Chadian border, General Buhari effectively entrap the Chadians by deploying forces at the rear. Artillery spotters and scouts worked round the clock, secretly monitoring Chadian movements and positions.

Taking advantage of the Nigerian army’s superior night fighting capabilities and tactical manoeuvre doctrine, General Muhammadu Buhari led an unexpected blistering night operation.

On the night of the operation Nigerian field artillery guns began a massive and sustained artillery bombardment simultaneously on all occupied positions. After nearly  40 minutes of a sustained barrage, a sizeable number of Nigerian troops that moved into position under the cover of darkness commenced their attack east of the Chad basin.

In confusion Chadians were driven into the pincers of the Nigerian attack as they retreated southward. In the dead of night the panic stricken Chadians ran straight into the lake, dozens drowned, many more were cut down by friendly fire. 

The lucky once who broke through the encirclement ran straight into the Nigerian Army 3rd Amoured Brigade commanded by General Muhammadu Buhari, who gave Chase to the retreating invaders right across the border into Chadian territory, a controversial move that sparked a row between the Nigeria’s head of State Shehu Shagari and his General Buhari, a bad idea that sealed his politixal fate. Months later Shagari would be overthrown in bloodless coup by the General he admonished.

Needless to say, the bitter memory of this stunning defeat at the hands of the Nigerians left an indelible mark on Chadian strongman Idris Derby. The Chadians never dared encroached into Nigerian territory – until that is, the Boko Haram insurgency.

Unfortunately Nigeria has relatively wasted its potential on the diplomatic stage, punching far below its weigh class. Nigeria’s tepidity in responding to blatant acts of aggression against Nigerians by Nigeria’s francophone neighbors bears testament to that fact.

There are at least two approaches to tackling an act of aggression or challenge: one is diplomatic and the other is hostile reprisal.

History has shown that countries that elect for reprisal attacks have military muscle. Countries like the United States, Russia, Turkeym Israel and France have on numerous occasions used kinetic power to punish the oppresive country.

An attack on an American or Israeli citizens in Nigeria can see a battalion of U.S or Israeli Special Forces arrive in short notice.

In Africa South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria are countries that have at one time or another used its military muscle to unleash punitive attacks in an aggressor.

Unfortunately, today Nigeria is deficient of the military power it once had to engage countries that are hostile to our citizens. Between December 2016 and December 2017 Chadian and Cameroonian troops have carried out unauthorised unilateral unauthorized military actions in Nigerian territory.

In the case of the latter, Cameroonian troops has on four different occasions crossed into Nigerian territory, kill hundreds of Nigerian citizens and burn down whole villages, with not even a single verbal condemnation coming from Abuja.

Once upon a time this would have been unthinkable and nothing short of a deceleration of war, inviting the full military retaliatory response from the Nigerian army.

Deficient in military power, it is fair to say Nigeria has activated the mechanism for a robust diplomatic response in recent years to tackle issues involving the brutality of Nigerians in diaspora. This has to some degree yielded results. The South African government is now better sentisied that the Nigerian government frowns at the weak intervention of the South African police when Nigerians at being attacked.


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