The Nigerian military, the backbone of the nations regional influence and national security has eroded to a dangerous degree. Nigeria’s focus on counter-insurgency operations in the last decade has resulted in it slipping in other warfighting areas such as airpower, air defense, naval surface and anti-submarine warfare etc. Many of the skills necessary to plan for and conduct military operations against capable adversaries have atrophied.
Paradoxically the Nigerian military is a victim of the very same democratic institution it is statutory obligated to defend. Once upon a time the Nigerian armed forces was well-funded and in a constant state of readiness. Armed incursions into Nigeria’s territory was seriously dealt with. Indeed it can be said that General Abacha’s the heavy-handed approach to Bakassi was the principal factor in the loss of Bakassi. The prospect for war with Nigeria under a dictator forced Cameroon to take the matter to the ICJ. A case Nigeria had no chance of winning.
Whatever the rational behind the civilian leaderships decision in gutting the army, retiring 400 of Nigeria’s best officers, cancelling planned acquisition programs and basically locking the airforce in warehouses, it has come with a heavy price tag prayed for in blood and tears. Never since the civil war has the territorial integrity of Nigeria being challenged.
For over a year Boko Haram, a sect with less than 5,000 fighters control 17 local governments areas, encompassing the size of Belgium and called the 2 million Nigerians trapped in those local governments its own.. A feat neither Biafra, Chad or any other country could hope to achieve.
All this is happening at a time of unprecedented economic growth. Nigeria became Africa’s biggest economy in 2014, Africa first trillion in 2015 and was classified as an upper middle-income country in 2016, with the second biggest Foreign Exchange Reserve, after Algeria.
Yet funding for the military has been a constant challenge. There were calls for President Buhari’s impeachment for taking money from the nation’s excess crude account to pay for Super Tucano aircraft. The political dysfunction and decisions made by both major political parties, especially as regards funding for the armed forces is shameful.
With Nigeria’s superior geopolitical environment (a $1 trillion economy in the poorest region in Africa), one of the worlds best educated population, leading in all areas of technology, vast arable land suitable for agriculture, no country in world, much less in Africa should be able to challenge Nigeria for regional domination. If the Nigeria project ever fails, it would be because of its own stupidity and mistakes, not because of challenges from other countries.
The weakest link in the Nigerian armed forces is the airforce, not necessarily because of the quality of aircraft, but rather the size of its platforms. Yet if there is any external attack on Nigeria, like it happened in 1983, Nigeria’s first line of defence will have to come from the air. It takes days or weeks to mobilize, equip, and deploy forces to the front, but it takes minutes to scramble a fighter jet for interdiction or air defence. NAF Mig-21 fighter jets harassed Chadian rebels for days, slowing their advance to a halt will the army mobilised to push the invaders out of the Nigerian chain of Islands in Lake Chad.
CHENGDU F-7Ni FIGHTER
The F-7Ni fighter is not a bad aircraft. A 3rd generation aircraft, it’s still a capable fighter and more than able to fulfillits statutory role in defending the nation’s airspace and territory. The problem is that bad things happen to airplanes. If there is one lesson of aerial warfare, it’s that aircraft’s are perishable items. Germany lost 95,000 aircraft’s in World War II. The almighty United States, the greatest military power the world has ever seen since the days of imperial Rome lost 10,000 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters in the Vietnam war. Israel, the most powerful country in the middle east lost a quarter of its airforce in the 1973 October War.
Such losses would be impossible today, not least because we are in the 21st Century, no country has air forces anymore that can absorb such losses. The USAF today, the largest on earth has 13,000 aircraft of which 5,000 of them are combat aircraft. This level of trimming is possible because most air forces now have modern combat aircraft’s, and in sufficient quantities. South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, Gabon, Chad all field 4th Gen aircraft in some capacity.
Countries that for some reason cannot field modern 4th Gen jets compensate for their deficiency in quality with quantity. Why isn’t Nigeria doing the same? especially given the security imperatives of the nation. Having at best six or seven F-7Ni fighters to defend the nation’s territorial integrity is perilous. More so because our potential adversaries know this as well.
Sometimes you need a strong wind to lay bare the consequence of folly. The Boko Haram insurgency and the unfortunate death of F-7Ni pilots (not from enemy fire) did more than devastate the %70 of the airforce fleet of fighter jets. It also showed that when you have only 7 fighter jets, it doesn’t take much to shrink your force to strategic irrelevance. Especially taken into account no airforce in the world can guarantee %100 availability rate. When you factor in low availability rates it might shock many to know that at a given time the Nigerian Air Force may at best be able to scramble between only FOUR or FIVE F-7Ni interceptors only. No is not hyperbole.
The political dimension to the sorry state of our armed forces cannot be over-emphasized. The greatest tragedy that has befallen the Pax Nigeria project is the dirty politics. The weaponization of illiteracy in the North and how provincial we are in the South. And boy are we so proud of it. One need not look any further than the frontline candidates in the forthcoming 2019 Presidential Election.
Our culture has become insanely anti-intellectual. Qualified candidates like Yemi Sowore or even the Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, or millions of other qualified people this country has in abundance will never be allowed the reins of power. We know as Nigerians the pedigree of Buhari, or Atiku Abubakar, or any other candidate we are recycling.
It’s insane we are the richest nation in Africa. Nigeria has some of the best economists and minds, not just in Africa but in the world. Translating this human capital asset into something meaningful is something else. The Pax Nigeria project is dead. We have seen countries like Rwanda transform itself within a generation.
Nigeria is the spearhead of modernization in the region, it has unmatched soft power, a cosmopolitan nation with the most educated populace, not only in Africa but even in the United States. Nigerians outstrip Asian Americans, Caucasian Americans, Latino Americans and just about any other racial group in America in college degrees. %32 of Nigerians in the United States have PHD degrees. Yet we act like a bunch of hicks from some obscure backwater nation. Ridiculed and mocked by neighbouring countries.
Nigeria is seen as a superpower in terminal decay. We had what used to be the most feared army in West Africa. Today African countries have come to fear Nigeria’s weakness more than Nigerian might. Everybody is wary of a Nigerian collapse, an event that will see tens of millions of refugees fleeing to other countries, a nightmarish scenario no nation will be able to control.
Perhaps the greatest impediment to Nigeria’s development is a weapon that is hard to defeat. Like a double-edged sword it can build and break empires. That weapon is
Nigeria is 58 years old. For 44 years power resided in northern Nigeria. Yet northern Nigeria is arguably the most impoverished place on the planet. Some parts of northern Nigeria makes India look like Sweden in comparison. Why? Because the northern elite have weaponized ignorance and illiteracy.
Northern politicians and social structure deliberately stifle education, restrict global and national engagement and restrain economic opportunities, just so that the ignorance of 85 million northern youths can be used to gather votes along ethno-religious lines.
President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar are a by-product of this. If not how does a relatively advanced country like Nigeria, with some of the best minds in the world consistently churn out as President unqualified people. People who struggle with something as basic as articulation. Nigeria’s development is being held hostage by northern elites with 85 million ignorant northern youths who will always vote along religious and tribal lines and not on merits. It doesn’t matter whatever the Southerners do. Even if the rest of the country throws its back on one candidate, no matter how qualified that candidate is, 85 million northern youths will back northern candidates, counter-balancing who the rest of the country vote for.
We’ve got to make a hard choice as a nation. Do we increase funding for the military exponentially or diminish our status as a military power. Because the government has been deluding the public that we have a military capable of defending the nation. Such lies do not correspond with the reality on ground.
We’ve been living a lie. We stand at a strategic crossroads and we’ve got to come off the fence one way or another. It might be that Nigeria should cease to be a military power and instead of pouring billions of dollars on defence we can as well use it for something else. At least we will get marginal value for the money.
It’s remarkable that Mali, a nation with a defence budget of $68 million already fields the Super Tucano aircraft. In March Nigeria payed $600 million, more than the defence budgets of Ghana, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and Chad combined, on TWELVE super Tucano planes we will likely not see until some time 2022 or 2025. This is an acquisition that does not give Nigeria any tactical advantage. Twelve Super Tucano’s does not enhance Nigeria’s influence, power and respect in the region. Besides it is a great shame that we envision fighting Boko Haram by 2021.
To address the capability gap Nigeria needs to increase spending by as much as $7 bilion annually for the next five years. Without additional funding Nigeria will be unable to maintain its military capacity and capability. Diminished capacity reduces Nigeria’s influence in the region. It is this diminished capability and inability to lead an expeditionary intervention force to flush out rebels from northern Mali that gave France and her allies an opportunity to fill the security vacum in the first place.
It presented Nigeria’s adversaries a target of opportunity, gave Boko Haram Iongevity and have gave rise to the construction of FIVE drone bases and U.S defence treaties with Cameroon, Niger and Ghana. All these developments happening within the space of five years.
Nigeria must embark on a Modernising Defence Programme to strengthen our armed forces in the face of intensifying threats. A French backed Chadian or Cameroonian incursion into Nigerian territory will not end well. Yes in such a scenario Nigeria’s counter attack will be blistering but it will take time, and besides at what price? The damage to lives and property would have been done by then.
The government have recklessly overspent. Nearly a billion dollars on a crop duster called Super Tucano, $300 million enforcing an ECOWAS mandate to force Yahya Jammeh to hand over power in the Gambia. For this Abuja continuously touts Nigeria’s military might.
The thesis that money equals defence is false. Nigeria’s recent military operations in Sierra-Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and even Boko Haram have all been aggressive not defensive. These are against poor, ill-equipped enemies. None of them with ships, planes and heavy amour. Nigeria spends more on defence that the next 24 countries combined. Yet time and again when troops hit the ground they are given tough time by men with beards and AK-47’s.
Chadian and Cameroonian forces invade Nigerian border communities leaving behind chaos and destruction. For $25 billion poured into the armed forces since 2013, the military has delivered appalling value for money.
Nigeria’s defence structure is Ruritarian, drenched in ceremonial, institutional history and abstract nouns. A modern state needs domestic policing, a proactive foreign policy and homeland protection. It needs powerful airforce and sea coastguards and a reserve for emergencies in cooperation with its neighbours. The current row over defence spending and impending dust-up may leave blood on the carpet. It will be well worth it if afterwards someone sits down quietly, ignores the ballyhoo, and asks how much money Nigeria needs to protect itself. The answer might be refreshing.