Nigeria has to be the only major regional power in the world that thinks, air and missile defence systems are of little relevance for the protection of the nation’s territory. As a consequence Nigeria has refused modernising its air and missile defence systems for decades, and from the look of things there are no near or future plans to address this gap in air defense capabilities.
Nigeria currently has 16 obselete ROLAND SHORAD (Short range air defense) system in service, and a handful of MANPADS (Man portable air defense system). There is zero medium range air defense system.
But why the lack of interest in air defense systems ?
Nigeria erroneously perceives a direct territorial threat involving conventional military means as an unlikely event today and in the foreseeable future. Nigeria does not rule out however crises or conflicts on its borders with over resources, which could require Nigeria to defend her territory if need be.
Nonetheless, Nigeria is primarily focused on non-military risks posed by terrorism, peacekeeping operations and the activities of criminal networks. Crises and conflicts caused by such phenomena may affect Nigeria’s security in the broader sense. They may thus create reasons for the government to deploy forces.
Taking into consideration Nigeria’s perception of threats, air defence systems are considered to be of little relevance for the defence of Nigeria’s territory. Nigeria sees no risk of a conventional attack, or of an attack using short-range missiles (up to 500 km –Chad is not regarded as a potential enemy), afterall no potential enemy possesses such capabilities, although some might acquire them in the future.
This flawed reasoning is also reflected in the Strategic roadmap of the Federal Ministry of Defence of 2017, concerning proposed savings on armament and military equipment. Nigeria’s Military High Command concludes that surface-to-air defence systems are of little importance with regards to the defence of Nigeria’s territory.
Nigeria believes however that force projection assets are important for conducting ‘out of area’ operations, as Nigeria’s military engagement in the region is on the increase.
But deploying forces abroad comes with its attendant risk, air and missile defence systems may be necessary for the protection of facilities and of Nigerian or regional mobile forces. They should counter a wide range of symmetric and asymmetric threats: from multi-role combat aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, to cruise missiles, rocket, artillery or even mortar shells.
It is imperative Nigeria wakes up from the illusion of invincibility and see air defence capabilities as important even in the regional context. Nigeria should be aware of the risks posed by instability in the region’s autocratic regimes to the northern and southern peripheries of Nigeria . We are providing military assistance to two ECOWAS members, as demonstrated by Nigeria’s involvement in the Gambia with the deployment of Air Force Special Forces, teachers, lawyers amd health experts to the country.
Moreover the rapidly shrinking Lake Chad is a potential power keg waiting to explode. Lake Chad has been main stake of the border conflict between Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger, as the rapidly disappearing lake draws community nearer. While there is no anticipation of any future large-scale war over water, past history reminds us that increasing water scarcity can induce regional tension and potentially lead to an escalation of some sort, necessitating the use of military force.
More importantly, air defence capabilities should be considered in the context of Nigeria’s diplomatic clout, military capability and economic influence within ECOWAS, therefore an Integrated Air and Missile Defence System, should correspond to Nigeria’s position as the most powerful country in West Africa.
The Franch in its bid to curb Nigeria’s overwhelming economic and military influence is secretly pushing for equally powerful North African Sahel States to join the ECOWAS regional bloc. A robust air defense system will be of strategic significance in the wake of the Franco-Sahel invasion of West Africa.
Finally, wilful negligence in the area of security is akin to gambling with the lives of Nigerians. The fire brigade approach to national security gave us Boko Haram and cost the lives of 30,000 Nigerians, with over a million people displaced. It will be wise to learn from this mistake. Since future risks and threats are unpredictable, the Nigerian Armed Forces should maintain and develop a wide range of capabilities, even on a small-scale, so that they can be gradually expanded if needed.