The Nigerian military doesn’t spend much time thinking about how Nigeria could lose a war. Neither do Nigerian political leaders care. Granted, genuine surprise attacks are very rare at the strategic level, for the simple reason that mobilizing large military forces is a huge undertaking and hard to conceal. Hence opponents are likely to see it coming. Besides, Why would any country want to attack Nigeria knowing such a attack will draw devastating counter attack.
While optimism is a laudable characteristic, it can be dangerous if not tempered by cold realism. Nigeria should plan and hope for victory in war but also needs to think about how it could be defeated. After all, Nigeria’s potential adversries are right at our doorsteps covertly providing safe harbour to Boko Haram insurgents.
Predicting specific events in the future security environment is a tall order. Nearly every war in history came as an unexpected surprise. Nonetheless, thinking about a future war is important since it provides at least a way to prevent or limit it. It is the strategic obligation of military defence planners to think and prepare for the unthinkable.
For Nigerian defence planners, current trends may suggest at least three feasible scenarios that could lead to an embarrassing defeat for the Nigerian military in a war. I will sketch one of them here, and the next two on Saturday.
LONG DRAWN OUT WAR
The first possible option for a future Nigerian adversary might be to drag war out because of Nigeria’s numerical superiority. Nigeria is the master of short, intense “scorch earth “wars where it can bring its numerically superiority to bear in the classic lets get this job done and over with attittude Nigeria adopts to warfare.
We’ve seen this play out in Liberia, S-Leone, Chad in 1983 and in the early stages of the Boko Haram conflict, that saw the U.S Secretary of State John Kerry criticize Nigeria’s high handed and “disproportionate use of force” in its crack down on Boko Haram terrorists in Maiduguri and the recent deployment of air land and sea assets to the Gambia that spooked the embattled Gambian leader Yahya Jameh into finally agreeing to step down or risk military confrontation with Nigerian and Senegalese forces massed at the border.
Long wars however will be a different matter for the Nigerian military. It has always been the bane of the Nigerian military as we have seen in the 10 year long campaign against Boko Haram. A long drawn out war entails strategic organization in logistics, supply, communication and an uninterrupted supply route.
The corruption that pevades Nigeria’s military establishment makes attaining this level of efficiency in logistics and supplies practically impossible. Welfare funds for the men in the front are often siphoned. Delivery of basic supplies such a food, water and medical supplies are contracted to private individuals, often times family relatives or close allies to those issuing out the contracts.
We’ve seen Boko Haram insurgents take advantage of these vulnerabilities by hanging on to the fighting with just about enough men until the patience of the troop on the front erodes. The prolonged fighting saps the morale of the troops, who become disgruntd and angry. By this time the soldiers are fighting to preserve their very on lives. The survival instincts that comes with this often leads to desertion, mutiny or a genera general break down in the command.
Someday a conventional enemy might try the same thing. Nigeria does not have the structures necessary to expand its military and, most importantly its war production allowing it to grow stronger as the war progresses. Weapons lost to attrition often take too long to replace. It took nearly five years for the NAF to take delivery of just two new MI-35 helicopter gunships from Russia. Negotiating for and taking delivery of a new class of weapons systems such as fighter jets can take nearly a decade.
It is not clear that this would happen in a future war, but we cannot deny that Nigeria has little industrial capacity today and weapons are procured in trickles. The NAF for example has inducted more sewing machines and gym facilities in the last 5 years than not has combat aircraft. Negotiation for the acquisition of three JF-17 Multi role fighters from Pakistan began in 2015 and there is still no clear date on when it will be delivered.
This means that Nigeria might not be able to expand or even replenish its stockpile of weapons. If the Nigerian military ran out of them while a conventional war was underway, the President and his advisers would have to choose between fighting with the knowledge that without munitions Nigeria might suffer greater casualties, or negotiate for peace from a position of weakness.