Nigeria: Suffering a Crises of Strategy

NIGERIA. This black behemoth is home to 200 million people, or roughly the combined population of Italy, France and Britain put together. This behemoth is not only big but incredibly wealthy. It has the 9th largest proven oil reserves in the world, with 38 billion barrels valued at $4 trillion in today’s prices and yet explored deposits in the historically contested Lake Chad basin having already lost the oil rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.

Nigeria’s economic might is beyond precedent in the modern hitory of the black race.  It is the 19th largest economy in the world and is Africa’s first trillion dolkar economy with a GDP of $1.06 trillion (measured in PPP). The city of Lagos alone, the smallest state in Nigeria by land size, has Africa’s 5th biggest economy, with a GDP of $175 billion in FY 2017/18. To put things into perspective the GDP of Lagos is larger than the combined economy’s of two of East Africa’s largest economies Kenya and Tanzania plus the economies of all 16 ECOWAS member states combined. This is not hyperbole.

With such a large population, economic wealth, vast energy reserves and a volatile socio-political climate one would expect the Nigerian armed forces to be Africa’s largest and well equipped fighting force, matched by just few nations on the continent. Sadly the reverse is the case. While countries like Algeria and Morocco are punching far above their weights, Nigeria seems determined to maintain a consistent record of punching far below her weight, making Nigeria the laughing-stock of Africa in some instances.

Perhaps no surprise why Nigeria still grapples with putting to rest the Boko Haram challenge. When the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2019 Nigeria’s position as the regional economic and military hegemony in the West African sub region was uncontested. The idea of foreign military presence in the ECOWAS sub region seems absurd. There was no need. Nearly a decade later Nigeria finds itself in an impossible position, surrounded by U.S military bases and infrasrtucture stretching across Cameroon, Niger and Mali.

The United States is also building an air force base in Ghana and has already signed a strategic military cooperation with the United States despite strong oppositions from the Nigerian government. West Africa is officially the region with the most concentration of American drone bases outside the continental United States.

This already powerful force is augmented by a French air base in Chad and Mali and a base to house another squadronof Mirage 2000 fighters currently under construction in Agadez Niger Republic and Southern Cameroon. With all these assets one would expect Boko Haram to have been hunted downed and wiped out long ago. But strangely enough, the greater the presence of foreign military bases in the once peaceful ECOWAS sub region, the stronger Boko Haram is becoming, evading the most sophisticated drone network in the world to bounce back with more men and weapons no matter the level of defeat and casualties influcted in them by the Nigerian army and airforce.


For a country of its size and with multiple security challenges in virtually all the nations geopolitical zones– Boko Haram over a wide area of the north east, communal violence between herdsmen across the north central zone (Middle Belt), oil theft and related maritime crime in the Niger Delta, making the gulf of guinea the world’s number one piracy hotspot, and of course committed to several peacekeeping missions abroad,  the Nigerian army’s personnel strength is widely considered inadequate.

The Nigerian military is under-staffed, under-trained and over-stretched. Nigeria’s 1: 1,000 ratio of military and paramilitary personnel to overall population is lower than those of all its neighbours (Chad 3.4: 1000; Cameroon 1.2: 1000; Benin 1.1: 1000), except Niger (0.7: 1000).79.

The overall threat level to Nigeria and its interests is high while the condition of the Nigerian military, at best, is marginal. Without a large and powerful airforce Nigeria cannot defend herself from a near peer or superior adversary.

President Buhari has received repeated warnings from senior military officials across every service, testifying to the readiness crisis facing our military. In fact these report was what prompted President Buhari to call for the creation of domestic arms manufacturing capability for military self-sufficiency. Yes

The personnel problems are the collective product of shortcomings in manpower planning, recruitment, training and deployment. Manpower planning requires regular stock taking and inventory analysis (including phased discharges, voluntary and compulsory, as well as desertions and deaths), analysis of potential threats and de-termination of numbers and quality of personnel that will be required in the future.

Over the years, this process was largely neglected, resulting in significant manpower gaps in many units. The recruitment process, guided by the Nigerian Army Administrative Policy and Procedure No. 1 of 2005, stipulates that the minimum educational requirement for a recruit is the West African School Certificate (WAEC). It further states that recruitment is subject to the federal character provisions of the 1999 constitution and pre-scribes standard physical and medical requirements, as well as vetting procedures.

In practice, these provisions are poorly observed, resulting in a deeply flawed process. In trying to meet the federal character requirement, the recruitment process often takes in many applicants from states with poor schools, who do not meet the minimum educational requirement. Most are from the north and the majority of them are barely literate whose enrolment into the institution is greatly influenced by the “Naija who you know ” factor where, like the super eagles everybody has a list. The President’s List, First Lady’s List, Honourable Minister’s List, the Emir’s List and so on, with little regard for martial potential or merit.

As many applicants seek to enlist not out of patriotic duty but for a salaried job with privileged status over civilians, finding genuine, service oriented recruits is increasingly difficult, turning the army into a professional all volunteer fighting force on paper but a poorly trained conscript army in reality. The military has elaborate training institutions, and the service headquarters issue training directives to units and formations annually; but how can you train someone who cannot read a map, or read for that matter?


The army has not more than three brigade combat teams fully manned and equipped for a major conflict. The army has between 50 or 77 T-72M1 tanks, some of which have been lost in battle. The army also has about 100 Vickers Mk.e tanks, a quarter of which have been lost in attrition.


For air defence the army’s most potent anti-aircraft missile system is the French made AMX-30 ROLAND SHORAD (short range air defence).  The army has 16 ROLAND SAMS but due to spare parts (the ROLAND is no longer in production) and insufficient Maintanance, only about half of them are available for combat. One has already fallen into the hands of Boko Haram fighters.

AND F-7NI fighter in a maintenance hanger


The Nigerian Air Force is worse off, short in virtually every area of air power besides qualified pilots, helicopter gunships and strategic air lift capability. Despite having a decade to improve readiness and billions of dollars of petro-dollars, Nigeria’s military faces a readiness crises so severe that, in the event of a major conflict with a large well equipped adversary, it could capitulate.


Perhaps more worrisome and consequential for the future of the Nigerian military than its current readiness and equipment crises is the crises of strategy. Nigeria has been at war for more than a decade yet the country has no comprehensive national defence strategy. It should be clear to all by now that Nigeria is stuck in the fight against Islamic extremist terrorism. But even if Nigeria were to win the current war against Boko Haram, affiliated terrorists groups are now operating in many countries in the region out of no where. And they are all well armed.

This has been a perfect excuse for the United States to expand its counter terrorism operations in West Africa. Nigeria needs to give up the idea that it will be allowed to completely defeat a jihadi group whose activities is been used as justification for expanding French and American military presence in the region. Billions of dollars have been spent building huge military infrastructure across seven countries in West Africa.

In the age of big power competition for influence in Africa between the West, led by the United States and France, and East led by China and to a lesser extent Russia, these military bases are West Africa are of strategic importance to the powers that be. They will never leave. If there is no justification to do so, they will create one, The proverbial genie is out of the bag, Nigeria is now facing a new era in global conflict characterized by protracted small wars with extremist groups, sometimes instigated by world powers to gain a strategic advantage with no regard or respect for the people of Africa.

Nigeria must confront the reality that it is Africa’s biggest black nation with unmatched soft power,the world’s greatest entrepreneurial populace with an independent mind-set and can do spirit and some of the worlds largest reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals, and as such is involved in a conflict which can neither be avoided nor can be won with the present state of affairs.

The failure to recognize this truth has allowed Nigeria’s political leaders to avoid the necessity of devising a new strategy, one based on the fact that Nigeria will have to live with the permanent presence of French and American military bases just kilometres away from its territory. This makes Nigeria the perfect candidate for political and military blackmail. All of Nigeria is within 10 to 15 minutes reach from Reaper drones and fighter jets and submarines.

Military reform is overdue. The President promised 2016 to set up a committee with a mandate to formulate a plan for reforming the military. Besides the firing and subsequent appointment of new Service Chiefs, no concrete steps have been taken in this direction. Introducing a comprehensive reform program, which is likely to involve significant costs, may be challenging in the country’s present economic situation. But it cannot be avoided.

Nigeria needs to start thinking beyond the COIN bubble and start acquiring and fielding modern air defense systems in sufficient numbers, it needs at least two squadrons of attack aircrafts, more early warning aircrafts and a well equipped navy with ships with offensive and defensive weapons capability in the gulf of guinea where %80 of Nigeria’s oil is derived from.

Nigeria might be in a military disadvantage now that the powers that be can spy on nation’s economic and military activities with impunity and at will, but nonetheless if reforms are followed through and effectively implemented it will improve Nigeria’s capacity to address current security challenges and possibly spare it from new problems in the future.


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