Part II. Forgotten Fact: When Tensions Between Nigeria and Equitorial Guinea Almost Led to War

In 2010 Equatorial Guinea announced a five-year, $250-million maritime security program essentially the creation of an integrated naval and air capability that will surpass that of the Nigerian Navy. Given the strategic maxim that military planning must be based to a large degree on the capabilities, rather than the stated intent, of neighboring or competing states, the move by Equatorial Guinea should as a wake up call Nigerian naval strategic planners, demanding a quick and apt response.

This signaled the start of a potential naval arms race with a re-defined strategic architecture in West Africa.In response the Nigerian Navy instituted it’s own 5 years Security Architecture that placed premuim on information gathering and Network Centric capabilities. In 2010 Nigeria took delivery of two ATR-42 MARITIME PATROL Planes.

The most sophisticated ISR gathering platforms currently in operation in Africa. Nigeria’s actions brought a coherent military-security framework into life, highlighting issues which are vital to Nigeria’s Naval primacy in the Gulf of guinea in a way in which some earlier boundary disputes were not.

Granted, Equitorial Guinea is a small country compared to Nigeria, and of course will not supplant the Nigerian navy in primacy for now. Capabilities take years to develop; intent can change in moments. But Nigeria must address the fast changing realities in the Gulf of Guinea, which has supplanted the Somali coast as the piracy headquarters of the world.

It’s 1991 again, but with a stronger Equitorial Guinea. This means that Nigeria’s naval defense planners must develop capabilities over the long term to be ready for any rapidly emerging eventuality. In the Gulf of Guinea context, Equatorial Guinea has in fact been quietly shaping its defense capabilities over the past few years, particularly as its offshore energy assets come on stream and produce revenue surpluses.

This has given Equatorial Guinea profoundly more wealth than, say, two decades ago. As well, the offshore Equatorial Guinea oil and gas producing areas are often contestable or at least close enough to cause friction with neighbors (Gabon, Nigeria, Cameroon). Equatorial Guinea, too, has often had a fractious relationship with its major neighbor, Nigeria, even though Malabo has depended on Abuja for subsidies and even military training and security coverage.

Equatorial Guinea has announced it intends to be a major player in Gulf of Guinea and that it has the capacity to influence sea lane security to and from Nigeria and Cameroon and that it will not be a passive participant in the region. A number of incidents have occurred in recent years to indicate that Equatorial Guinea forces – components of the Guardia Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (GNGE) will take aggressive action with regard to what they feel might be penetrations or violations of Equatorial Guinea’s sovereign space or economic zone.

Make no mistake, Equitorial Guinea is no match for the Nigerian Navy. The total manpower strength of Equitorial Guinea’s Navy is only 3,500, including a significant number of foreign nationals (mostly Americans) in key slots compared to Nigeria’s 20,000. But this might be history repeating itself again.

We can remember all too well the furor that arose between Nigeria and the United States in 2000, when it was revealed that the U.S was secretly undertaking a program geared at Equatorial Guinea military expansion, while at the same time calling for the Nigerian government to “democratize and professionalism the Nigerian Army by cutting its active duty force to half, even while it was working on a contract initiated with Equatorial Guinea to help train and expand the Equatorial Guinea military.

This revelation did not go well with the Nigerian government, especially as the Nigerian Army had just emerged from successfully fighting a range of wars and peacekeeping operations in Africa with few resources and yet remarkable success.

Lt.-Gen. Victor Leo Malu, the then Nigerian Army Chief of Staff questioned the U.S plan to reduce the size of the Nigerian military from 100,000 to 50,000, and their need to have access to sensitive military information.
The then Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was warned by the Russians and other external advisors at the time, that the U.S program had questionable capabilities and motives, as well as ill-suited background, for training the Nigerian Army, and the Nigerian Government was warned as well of the United States’s legally questionable role in providing actual combat operational command to Croatian forces engaged in ethnic cleansing in the Krajina area of what is now Croatia, during the Yugoslav break-up in the 1990s.

Nonetheless, Pres. Obasanjo, unwilling to alienate the Clinton Administration, dismissed Gen. Malu rather than resist the demands of the United States.
Now, however after encircling Nigeria with six Reaper Drone bases that surprisingly unable locate and identify Boko Haram terrorists for 5 years now, the United States is once again engaged in helping a state which has, arguably, potential concerns with Nigeria in the naval domain.

The U.S military initiative with Equatorial Guinea is maritime oriented. The U.S is providing personnel in security, search and rescue, detainee processing, information technology, logistics/maintenance, and administration.

This task order is the first part of a multi-year contract, with a potential value of approximately $250-million. The program is designed to provide nationwide coastal surveillance coverage for Equatorial Guinea. Jim Jackson, general manager for the MPRI International Group, noted:

“This important contract award represents a strategic opportunity to contribute not only to the vital maritime security of Equatorial Guinea, but also provides a thoughtful approach toward establishing long-term stability for the entire region.”

This is serious stuff. The contract envisions completion of a surveillance site network and operations centers in Equatorial Guinea within three years. This would be followed up by two years of sustainment and maintenance support for an estimated contract total of five years. In fact, the emphasis of the contract – given the hiring pattern implies a greater emphasis on physical security, rather than merely the integrated surveillance system, although that is clearly part of the program.

We talking American boots on the ground in the Gulf of Guinea. The U.S/Equatorial Guinea program includes the construction of AIS (automatic identification system), radar, and command and control. The program could expand to include L3’s Raytheon/Beech King Air-based aerial surveillance systems, as well as light patrol vessels.

Now, the Nigerian Navy is not particularly lagging behind in this endeavour. In 2014 Nigeria began looking at an integrated national surveillance and response system, linked through a command and control function with all the Armed Services, the Intelligence Community (IC). In 2015 the Nigerian Navy incoprated the Falcon Eye Martime surveillance System, one of the most sophisticated Maritime surveillance Platform in Africa.

Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipé all that they have common security threats, quite apart from any potential friction between them, and with other neighbors such as Cameroon which, thanks to Obasanjo has blocked the Nigerian Navy’s access to the Atlantic ocean in the east.

Significantly, and without any increase in budget, the Nigerian Navy literally “bootstrapped” its way back into a reasonable operational capability over recent years. It recently took delivery of two Stealth Offshore Patrol Vessels from China, several Patrol Craft from Israel, rebuilding ships which had been thought to have been beyond salvage and expanded its Maritime Domain Awareness system with sophisticated sensoa

As a result, and without fanfare, the Nigerian Navy has re-emerged as a factor in the Gulf of Guinea region.Nigeria, however, faces a far greater challenge than Equatorial Guinea. Its coastline and offshore facilities are in a far more complex situation than those of Equatorial Guinea, and the volume of facilities, pipelines, and traffic are far greaterWhereas the Equatorial Guinea forces have been growing, commensurate with the financial surpluses generated by energy exports for years now, the Nigerian Military have for years been delibrately underfunded.

Thanks to Former Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo, although once a military head of state and a former Army general, he gave up the Bakassi Peninsula without consulting the Nigerian Senate and fully embraced the US Clinton Administration’s view that the Nigerian military should be suppressed and kept on a reduced budget.

Even so, the Nigerian Armed Forces, as with the Navy’s example, were able to adapt to the situation. It took Boko Haram to bring Nigeria back to it’s senses. The presence of the United States in the Gulf of Guinea means Nigeria will now be encircled on virtually all sides, including the Atlantic by foreign, military presence. The new security paradigm implies that the Nigerian Government will now be forced to act rapidly if it is to contain its own security concerns and also retain its dominance of the Gulf of Guinea.

In 2016 President Buhari ordered the Nigerian Navy to draft the framework for a Gulf of Guinea Commission to begin developing offshore security modalities from the immediate Gulf of Guinea region down to Angola and South Africa. It is noteworthy that the Nigerian Navy’s Naval blockade of the Gambia in 2017 was borne out of the new naval framework that emphasized the use of the Nigerian Navy in a proactive way in pursuing the nation’s national interest.


Equatorial Guinea has expanded its military capabilities considerably in recent years. During the past decade, the EGN has obtained two lightly armed (Typhoon G mounting of an Oerlikon 20mm cannon with electro-optical guidance) 24.8m and Shaldag Mk.II fast patrol vessels aquired from Israel. The EQN also has an Air Wing in the form of two new Enstrom 480B Guardian turbine helicopters which are used on maritime duties.

The Air Wing has also acquired a steady supply (now totaling six) of Ukraine-surplus Mil Mi-24V Hind helicopter gunships and at least one Mil Mi-172 utility helicopter. The Air Wing has also obtained four Su-25 strike aircraft variants (two Su-39s, Su-25TM second generation variants, transferred from Ukraine and possibly carrying Kopyo (Russian: Spear) radar for air-engagement combat, along with RVV-AE/R-77 air-to-air missiles, and Kh-31 and Kh-35 anti-shipping missiles), along with two Su-25UB trainers.

There is nothing in the Nigerian military’s arsenal that can match these aircraft, until that is the delivery of the JF-17 Multirole Fighter. The Air Wing also has two Czech Aero L-39 advanced jet trainer/strike aircraft, and possibly one An-26 transport aircraft.

Nigeria though have an unassailable advantage in manpower and training. Virtually all of EGN platforms rely on foreign aircrew and maintenance personnel, and mostly operate from Malabo airfield, where the bulk of the Air Wing operates. Much of the Equatorial Guinea hydrocarbon wealth has been derived from fields around Bioko Island, the seat of Government and the capital, Malabo. However, the mainland region borders at the Atlantic on areas claimed by Cameroon and Gabon. A dispute between Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea over an island off the mouth of the Ntem River in Cameroon remains unresolved.

A dispute with Gabon over sovereignty over the Gabon-occupied Mbane area and its associated islands is under United Nations mediation.The potential for disputes over rights to the coastal waters remains high, and could lead to confrontation in the oil and gas producing Corisco Bay area. Equatorial Guinea faces a significant geographic challenge to its limited, albeit growing, maritime and air forces. It is a challenge which can only be met through the application of tight coordination and high technology.


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