The Impediments to Nigeria’s Military Transformation. But why?

Nigerian Army

Active Duty Personnel : 160,000 (2016 est).

Reserve Personnel : 32,000 (2013 est)

Chief of Army Staff : -Lt Gen Tukur Buratai.

Nigerian Navy

Active Duty Personnel : 16,000.

Chief of Navy Staff : Ibok Ekwe I as.

Nigerian Air Force 

Active Duty : 15,000

Chief of Air Staff : Air Vice Marshal Abubakar Sadique.

Defence Budget 

2013 : $2.1 billion.

2014 : $5.01 billion (an additional emergency $1 billion exclusively for arms purchases)

2015 : $560 billion.

2016 : $6 billion.

2017  $5.01 billion.

As recently as 2010 Nigeria spent just  1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence. By 2013 Nigeria increased defense spending by 32%, elevating it to number seven in defence spending in Africa. By 2016 defence was nearly $7 billion, outspending South Africa to be come Africa’s 4th largest defense spender, which is commendable.

But the defence sectors needs to be well financed because they employ large manpower and provide critical services to the nation.

Now to the obvious question. If Nigeria ranks 4th in defense spending, why isn’t it reflected in the kind of modern equipments seen in other countries of the same league? Why has transformation of the Nigerian armed forces been on a slow pace despite nearly 15 years of perpetual military operations across the board, from the mangrove swamps in the Niger Delta to peacekeeping in Liberia to urban guerilla warfare in northeast Nigeria to the vast dry plains of the Sambisa.

Incoherent Levels Expenditure 

Nigeria’s defense budget rose %6 between 2000-2003, dropped %16 in 2004, rose again %10 in 2006 and dropped to its lowest in 2007 and rose again in 2008 dropped in 2009 and then rose %32 in 2013. These trends in budgeting portend great challenges for effective planning, equipment maintenance among others, that are imperative for transformation process,

When border skirmishes between Cameroonian and Nigerian security forces in the Bakassi Peninsula nearly escalated into all out war, Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo instructed the Ministry of Defense to devise a blueprint to transform Nigeria’s armed forces. The plan was to forge a mobile well equipped, well maintained and highly motivated force, able to face then challenges of the future and contribute to national development.

President Obasanjo’s National Defence Plan stated that efforts shall be made to modernize and upgrade military equipment to enable the military forces perform optimally.


Beside the acquisition costs of new ships, another 10 percent (N50.4 billion ) was to be allotted for maintenance annually from the Navy’s N594.4 billion as at 2007.


The decision was made to retire the MiG-21 in entirety. The MiG-21 was to be replaced by modern 4th Gen fighters. The SU-27 and SU-22 Flankers were being looked into. With the MiG-21 decommissioned, the NAF purchased 15 Chengdu F-7N Airguard fighters from China as a STOP GAP measure pending the acquisition of new fighter jets to replace the MiG-21 in a $350 million deal. Twelve years, two wars, and $16 billion in cumulative spending later, the Nigerian Air Force is still STOP GAPING

Nigeria’s Defence Budget Fiscal Year 2009-2016

Goodluck Jonathan administration.

  • 2010 – N826.3 billion
  • 2011-N920.3 billion
  • 2012-N92.44.8 billion
  • 2013-N923.5 billion
  • 2014- N9230.9 billion

Security situation under the Goodluck Jonathan administration : Complete chaos.

Mass desertion. Billions of dollars meant for arms procurement stolen, leaving the Nigerian army for the first time in its history outgunned by an adversary, affectung the morale of servicemen and women. The few weapons in service are 1950 era vintage.

Nigerian troops were sent on “suicidal” frontal charges and commanders were stupid enough to think all soldiers with zero morale will nod in obedience. This led to several mutiny attempts.  In one such incident, infuriated soldiers opened fire at a car carrying the commanding General of the army 7 Infantry Division  in Maiduguri,  Borno state, over the deaths of their colleagues.

In the ensuing period Boko Haram operated with near impunity, carving out territory the size of Scotland and declaring a Caliphate, effectively cutting off 17 local governments and 2.2 million people from the rest of the country.

Muhammadu Buhari administration

  • 2015-N934 billion
  • 2016- N93429 billion
  • 2017-N465 billion

From the above statistics we see clearly that with far fewer resources President Buhari in the space of 13 months was able to contain, and subsequently pushed out Boko Haram from captured Nigerian territory. By the middle of his second year in office the Nigerian army has successfully dislodged Boko Haram from the dreaded Sambisa forest, the once impregnable forte of the Jihadi group.

This remarkable feat was achieved because the President quickly took proactive measures to turn things around.

1. He fired the nation’s service chiefs and appointed capable commanders, who reorganised their respective arm almost independently from the government.

2. He moved the operational headquarters of the war from air conditioned offices in Abuja to the trenches in Maiduguri, Borno state, the epicentre of the war against Boko Haram.

Why is the Nigerian military still using weapons from the 70’s and 80’s, even though it has one of the largest defence budget in the region ?



The T-72 M and Vickers III Eagle Main Battle Tanks make up the Nigerian Army’s armoured Brigade. These Tanks are vintage 2nd generation Tanks. Transition to 3rd and 4th generation Tanks is not huge priority for the army because the Tanks are still capable enough given the relative absence of tanks in the armies of our neighboring countries.


LIght attack :

 Alpha Jet

L-39 Albatross

Aermacchi MB-339

Interceptor aircraft :

Chengdu F-7Ni Airguard.

With respect to attack aircrafts, until recently, the Nigerian Air Force never faced a threat to justify replacing its entire inventory of aircrafts right away. This was the major reason. Against an enemy that employs hit-and-run attacks, suicide bombing, ambushes etc what Nigeria needs to deal with such an unconvenional and faceless enemy is intelligence gathering. Hence no surprise the Nigerian Air Force have focused and priotised  ISR and ISTAR capable aircrafts over 4th generation combat aircraft given the current threat environment.

Also the current crop of attack plane in the NAF are modular designs and can be upgraded to remain relevant. Modern 4th generation aircrafts are dependent up in their sensors, search radars, weapons systems and avionics,than raw aerodynamic performance.

Investing in ISR platforms with these capabilities serves as a force multiplier for the NAF by providing 4th generation capabilities to the NAF on a much lower cost than acquiring brand new planes, which are expensive and time consumer to field when you take into account it takes an average of two years of training for pilots to fly such complex systems.

An F-7N jet used in tandem with aircrafts such as the ATR-42 or Super King 350i sensor plane coupled with its supersonic speed and high service ceiling gives it superior combat value if used in large enough numbers.

Nature of threat.

Setting aside Western and Eastern Bloc powers, the aircrafts of most developing countries are periodically upgraded to keep them relevant to the upcoming threats and effective in their intended mission.  Until the level of threats drastically changes, you  don’t really need a new aircraft.

Nigeria does not have to tow the line of the likes of Uganda or South Africa just yet. We have a war to fight. They do not. Uganda acquired the highly capable SU-30 Flanker with few air to air missiles, no air to ground missile, no maintenance contract, it’s being used for National Day parades or astethic photo ups  today.

South Africa acquired 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden yet turned down the request for a Top Gun Academy in South Africa. Today there are only six qualified South African pilots to fly the birds.


BM-21 GRAD. 

The BM-21 GRAD  might be vintage 1960’s but it can still get the job done. The GRAD can fire rocket projectiles  21 km far out and has an impact crater of 1000 radius.


Like the BM-21 GRAD, the RM-70 is 1970 tech,  but it can still get the job done. The 40 barreled RM-70 fires 123.4mm rocket projectiles 25 km down range.

Field artillery troops receive target coordinates.
Artillery crew getting into firing position.
RM-70 in firing positions.


Nigeria’s fleet of Infantry Fighting Vehicles are amongst the most modern in Africa. No surprise given the nature of threat Nigeria faces.

BTR-4 Infantry Fighting Vehicle 


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