In the event of a large war can Nigeria reactivate its mothballed air assets to a useful state?

The Nigerian Air Force has a compliment of 21 MIG-21 and 19 Sepecat Jaguars that can on paper be activated within 365 days to provide air asset for Nigeria during a national emergency of existential proportion. In fact Nigeria’s war plan calls for such actions to be taken. If these aircraft’s in storage were in service,  Nigeria will have the 4th biggest attack fleet in Africa.

But are these decommissioned aircrafts in storage in conditions that allow making them airworthy possible? or are they just sitting there and awaiting their fates as museum relics. The Jaguars for example are kept in storage type facility.


The Sepecat Jauguar is the most advanced and only 4th generation fighter aircraft ever acquired by the Nigerian Air Force. Nigeria became the first and only African export customer of the Anglo-Franco built aircraft, aquiring two squadrons of the jets in the mid eighties.

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NAF Sepecat Jaguar 1984
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NAF Sepecat Jaguar 1984
NAF Sepecat Jaguar in Fanborough Scotland.

However Nigeria’s efforts to acquire precision weaponry for the aircraft’s were frustrated by the French government, who accused Nigeria of having imperialistic and expansionist motives in the region.

Nigeria’s small Jaguar force did not operate long. Despite being Africa’s most populous and one of its richest nation, unstable governments caused by corruption, repeated coups and counter coups and the resultant sanctions by the West left Nigeria unable to afford a safe level of operations, or to keep maintenance contract with BAE Systems going.

By 1992 Nigeria had flown its last jaguar. The 16 surviving airframes have been basically derelect ever since and have passed the point of being flyable without millions of dollars in investments. Several attempts and feasibility studies on potentially making them airworthy were carried out in 2009 but the cost running into the hundreds of millions was deemed prohibitively too costly.

NAF Sepecat Jauguar in storage
Decommissioned Sepecat Jaguar 
Decommissioned Sepecat Jaguar 
Decommissioned Sepecat Jaguar 
Decommissioned Sepecat Jaguar 

In October 2011 the Jaguars were put up for auction but the level of endemic corruptuon in the country could hardly mark a purchase attempt an attractive proposition.


In the late 70s Nigeria acquired 25 MiG-21MF and six MiG-21UM from Russia. By the early 1990s all were put in storage due to lack of spares and cash.

NAF MiG-21 Fishbed 1983
NAF MiG-21 Fishbed in Maiduguri 1983

In 2001 Nigeria invited bids to turn its ageing MiG-21 fighters into service. The likely bidders were Elbit Systems, an Israel Aircraft Industries and Aerostar team. The company had earlier sold several Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicles to the Nigerian Air Force to monitor oil pipelines, making Nigeria the first country in Africa to tactically employ the use of drones.

But the United States under the Bush administration was offering Nigeria second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs. To beat the Americans there were reports suggesting that an offer by a Russian company to swap the MiG-21s for RSKMIG-29 Fulcrums was firmly rejected by the Nigerian Air Force.

What is bizarre about this decision is that just two years prior the Nigerian government announced the sale of its MiG-21s, Sepecat Jaguars and Alenia G222s to pay for general fleet upgrades and maintenance. Nobody showed interest.

A decommissioned NAF MiG-21 fighter

By 2005 Nigeria was once again swimming in petro-dollar from increased oil production and prices, but instead of replacing its obsolete fighter fleet with modern 4th generation aircrafts or at the very least refurbishing the 22 MiG-21s, Nigeria spent $360 million on 15 Chinese made Chengdu F-7Ni fighters and three FT-7Ni trainers.

NAF Chengdu F7-Ni fighter deploys chutes as it lands in Maiduguri during combat operations against Boko Haram,

A ridiculous amount of money and a significant loss in air combat capability that persists till this day.

In 2005 the government announced it spent a quarter of a billion dollar on 15 F-7Ni fighters as a stop-gap measure while it searched for a suitable replacement. Nearly 15 years later the NAF is stil stop-gaping.


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