Nigeria’s military capabilities continues to stand still or erode as threats proliferates in the region For decades, the perception of Nigeria’s strength and resolve, exemplified in its peacekeeping and military intervention in several ECOWAS member states, has served as a deterrent to adventurous bad actors and tyrannical dictators.
Regrettably, both that perception and, as a consequence, its deterrent effect are eroding. The result is an increasingly dangerous West Africa threatening a significantly weaker Nigeria. If a decade of a bitter war of attrition against Boko Haram did nothing to serve as a catalyst for Nigeria to build up a military befitting if Africa’s richest country, then unless foreign boots are marching on the gates of Abuja, you wont see a significant change in Nigeria’s puzzling defense posture, that quite frankly stretches the capacity of the human mind to comprehend.
How is it that Nigeria, arguably the most conflict prone country on earth continues to maintain a military that bears the hallmark of a militia than a national army, despite her vast wealth. The nations GDP currently stands at $530 billion, or $ 1.030 trillion when measured in Purchasing Power Parity. When informal sectors of the economy are added that number will probably go higher. Contrary to popular belief, oil accounts for less than %20 of Nigeria’s GDP.
When you factor in Nigeria’s 40 billion in proven oil reserve, valued at over $4 trillion, you realize Nigeria is by far the wealthiest country in the modern history of Africa.To put things into perspective, Lagos state, Nigeria’s smallest state by land area has a GDP in excess of $150 billion. This is bigger than the combined economies of Kenya and Ethiopia, East Africa’s two largest economies.
With 200 million people, diplomatic clout and an unrivaled cultural influence, and perpetual internal and external security challenges one would expect Nigeria’s security services to be among the continents best, and indeed until recently Nigeria did have one of the continents best equipped military.
Today Nigeria’s military power is just “marginal” and trending toward “weak,”. These assertions are based on the military’s capability or modernity, capacity for operations, and readiness to handle assigned missions successfully. Why has Nigeria’s security imperatives taken a back sit in the government’s list of priorities?
Nigeria is a regional power with regional interests. Its military is meant first and foremost to defend the nation from attack. Beyond that, it is meant to protect Nigeria’s interests abroad and ensure the peace and stability in the region, while retaining the ability to engage in more than one major contingency at a time.
Nigeria must be able not only to defend itself and its interests, but also to deter enemies and opportunists from taking action that would challenge Nigeria’s interests, a capability that includes preventing the destabilization of a region and guarding against threats to the peace and security of Nigeria’s friends.
However, as it stands, Nigeria does not have the right force to meet a major regional contingency requirement and is not ready to carry out its duties effectively. Consequently, as we have seen during the past few years, Nigeria risks seeing its interests increasingly challenged and the regional economic and political order it has led.
With a combined armed forces personnel of about 200,000 men, Nigeria has arguably the largest black army in the world. However, simply counting the number of people, tanks, that Nigeria possesses would be insufficient because it would lack context. For example, only a third of its units are prepared for war.
The Nigerian government fail to understand that military power begins with the people and equipment used to conduct war: the weapons, tanks, ships, airplanes, and supporting tools such as communications systems that make it possible either for one group to impose its will on another or to prevent such an outcome from happening.
After the return to democratic rule,(after 40 years of military dictatorship) Nigeria’s new civilian political leaders deemed it rational to weaken and cripple the military in the hope of averting future coup plots has proven to be the biggest strategic blunder for Nigeria. The result of this myopic strategy has been disastrous. The military’s imability to squash the Boko Haram insurgency decisively has resulted in the death of 30,000 Nigerians, over two million displaced and billions of naira in damages.
Today once again Nigeria’s leadership is making another strategic blunder in its military posture. Nigeria is sacrificing long-term readiness to meet short-term needs. The Nigerian Air Force, meant to be the nation’s air expeditionary armed force, is the weakest link in the Nigerian armed forces. This is attributed to its limited and aging air platforms. The service has fallen from two active-duty fighter squadrons in 1993 to less than one Squadron currently. Also of concern is the old age of its fleet.
Unlike most countries Nigeria has historically relied on fighter aircraft’s to defend the nations airspace rather than SAM batteries, as fighter jets offers more versatility flexibility. Today Nigeria maintains of fleet of about nine F-7Ni interceptors for air superiority, and of this number only six are assessed as full-spectrum mission-capable at any given time.
The lack of ability to fly and maintain aircraft, especially in a high-tempo/threat combat environment, means that its usable inventory of such aircraft is actually much smaller. Yet Nigeria spends hundreds of millions of dollars on aircrafts useful only against non state actors that have no air power. The $600 million spent on acquiring 10 Super Tucano aircraft, while Nigeria lacks the necessary aircraft’s to protect the nations airspace epitomizes Nigeria’s short-sighted strategic policy.
Granted, looking at the capabilities of Nigeria’s potential foes, spending money buying modern expensive platform is totally unnecessary. The F-7N and even Alpha jets is good enough to meet Nigeria’s security imperatives.
Older equipment can be updated with new components to keep it relevant, and commanders can employ fewer units more expertly for longer periods of time in an operational theater to accomplish an objective.
But at some point, however, sheer numbers of updated, modern equipment and trained, fully manned units are going to be needed to win in battle against a credible opponent when the crisis is profound enough to threaten a vital interest. The number of combat capable aircrafts in the NAF is beyond laughable and stretches the capacity of the brain to comprehend. How can a country like Nigeria rely on less than TEN fighter jet/interceptors for to protect the nations airspace.
The picture gets gloomier when considering the fact that some percentage of the aircraft’s will always be unavailable because of long-term maintenance overhaul, employment in myriad engagement and small-crisis response tasks that continue even during major conflicts; and the need to keep some portion of the force uncommitted to serve as a strategic reserve.
This means at a given time the Nigerian air force can put at a maximum less than five F-7N fighter jets for high-speed intercepts and to mantain air superiorityin the nations airsace. The absurdity of this situation is sad to say the least.
An Air force built to field only about 10 fighter jets would also be an Air force that could find itself entirely committed to war, leaving nothing back as a strategic reserve, to replace combat losses, or to handle other Nigeria’s security interests, as we can see from domestic events, from Boko Haram to the potential rise of another Islamic Shia sects, to militancy in the Niger Delta to clashes in central Nigeria between herdsmen and farmers.
Unfortunately this is how the Air Force thinks about meeting operational demands and is at the heart of the current spat between the Nigerian Army and Air force about the roles and contributions of the various Army components. A capability caused by lack of adequate platforms that led to the Army’s request for an independent Air Component, a move that infuriated the Air Force. In turn the Air Force is busy building its own army. It currently has two Special Forces units and is in the process of creating another one.
While the Navy is maintaining a modest capability, it has little ability to surge to meet wartime demands. Virtually all of the Navy’s recent acquisitions are platforms designed solely for low intensity operations against non state actors. None of Nigeria’s capital warships carry anti-ship missiles.
Nigeria’s anti-submarine capability it once had in the 80’s is long gone. The Lynx anti-submarine helicopter is no more in service with the navy. NNS Aradu, NNS Ayam and NNS Expe, the only ships with missiles and torpedoes are rusting away in the dry docks of Lagos due to lack of funding for maintenance.
Yet the navy continues to spend money on coastal patrol crafts, vessels armed with 32 mm calibre guns, while neglecting the assets needed to protect Nigeria’s EEZ and vital offhore oil infrastructures from state actors with capable navies.
The inability of the Nigerian military to police her territory due to inadequate assets, makes Nigeria vulnerable to attacks by land, air and sea. Nigeria’s approach to security emboldens the enemy to take actions against Nigeria with little or no fear of retribution. Weakness encourages aggression.
Nigeria, it appears is unwilling to pay the cost of acquiring the total number of platforms Nigeria needs to defend and police her territory. The vast majority of the acquisition goal of the military has been adjusted downward (if not canceled), and the military finally fields fewer platforms (at a higher cost per unit) than it originally needs to be successful in combat.
The consequences of Nigeria’s negligence risks recreating a “hollow force”, where units exists on paper but are staffed at reduced levels, minimally trained, and woefully ill-equipped. To avoid this, the services have traded quantity/capacity and modernization to ensure that what they do have is “ready” for employment.
The Nigerian military, while still quite capable nowhere near where it used to be. Its deference factor bu virtue of size and resources is gone. Today it is overstretched to near breaking point. It’s gonna require sufficient resources to remedy this situation.