NASIR EL-RUFAI ON FRIDAY
Recently, this column analysed Nigeria’s defence spending and raised concerns about the poor equipping of our armed forces. The write-ups reflected pride in the Army for its various peace-keeping roles from the 1960s to the recent ones in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia and concluded that our military deserved credit for stabilizing and democratizing Sierra Leone and Liberia in 1990s.
This, my brother Sanusi Lamido Sanusi once tragically observed, is a peculiar Nigerian tendency of exporting what we lack (like true democracy, internal security), while ironically importing what we have in abundance (like petroleum products)!
Ever since, I have received diverse responses from informed Nigerians. Many confirmed the alarm I raised about the state of equipment in the armed forces, while others disagreed with the claims about Nigeria's stellar peacekeeping roles. The one point of agreement was that the deterioration of the quality of governance in the country has equally impacted the peacekeeping capacity of the Nigerian Army and the Police. Is this administration bent on destroying one of the areas where Nigeria established a global competitive advantage?
The United Nations (UN) was formed after World War II to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Peacekeeping is undertaken under the auspices of the UN and other regional groupings like the African Union and ECOWAS to end violence between contending parties, restore peace, build social capital and physical infrastructure destroyed by conflict, and get the ex-combatants to respect any agreements and commitments made. The UN has led nearly 50 peacekeeping operations since the 1950s, 40 of them in Africa.
Nigeria joined the UN in October 1960 and a few weeks later offered our military officers and men as peacekeepers to the Congo; Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo cut their military teeth as young officers on this mission. Since then, we have been involved in over 20 such operations in and outside Africa, largely under the UN. The notable exceptions included the ECOWAS monitoring group (ECOMOG) which we led in the 1990s to end conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone – and reportedly spent between US $8-10 billion.
The army is hierarchically organized, starting with a 'section' consisting of about ten men (and women!), with a corporal or sergeant as a section commander. Five sections make up a 'platoon' commanded by an officer - second lieutenant to captain with a staff sergeant as the second-in-command. Three platoons make up a 'company' of at least 90 men led by a major. Three companies make up a battalion which is made up of at least 270 infantry officers and men, with support staff like military police, intelligence, medical, supply and transport, imam and chaplain, raising a typical battalion size to at least 500, and as many as 1,100. A battalion is usually commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel. Amongst the various corps of the Army, the Infantry and Armoured are organized as battalions, while the Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps are organized as regiments; so battalions are often larger in size. Three battalions make up a brigade in the Infantry Corps - the heart of the Army. The size of a brigade varies from corps to corps, depending on the mix of equipment and human resources. A brigade is commanded by a brigadier; three brigades make up a division, commanded by a major-general. Nigerian peacekeeping contingents have ranged from a platoon to a division.
The Nigerian Army’s 60,000 officers and men are distributed across five divisions and a special brigade. The major equipment of the Army includes battle tanks, reconnaissance vehicles, personnel carriers, Howitzers, field guns and rocket launchers, as well as anti-tank guns and surface to air missiles. Like every institution in Nigeria, the levels of equipment holding and state of preparedness of the Army have deteriorated to a level that it can hardly meet its constitutional role – a decay that is directly affecting our competitive edge in peacekeeping which was one of our few successes.
We have every reason to be proud of our peacekeeping record. Some of the peacekeeping operations that we have been involved in include sending a battalion to Congo (ONUC), 1960-1964; military observers to New Guinea (UNSF), 1962-1963; battalion to Tanzania by bilateral agreement, 1964; military observers during the India-Pakistan conflict (UNIPOM) 1965-1966; battalion and staff officers to Lebanon (UNIFIL) 1978-1983; battalion and staff officers to Chad (Harmony I, via bilateral agreement) 1981-1982; brigade to Chad (Harmony II under auspices of the OAU) 1982-1983; military observes during Iran-Iraq conflict (UNIIMOG) 1988-1991; division to Liberia (ECOMOG) 1990 to date; military observers for Iraq-Kuwait (UNIKOM), 1991, and to Angola (UNAVEM II), 1991-1992; training teams for Sierra Leone (NATAG), 1991; company to Angola (UNAVEM III), 1992-1995; military observers to Namibia (UNTAG), 1989-1990; Western Sahara (MINURSO), 1991; and to Cambodia (UNTAC) 1992- 1993;
We also contributed a battalion and staff officers to Somalia (UNOSOM), 1992-1994; battalion and staff officers to the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR), 1992; military observers to Mozambique (ONUMOZ), 1992; a battalion to Rwanda (UNAMIR), 1993; training teams to The Gambia (NATAG), 1993; military observers to Aouzo Strip (UNASOG), 1994; and to Israel (UNTSO), 1995; and more recently Liberia – ECOMOG where a Nigerian General , Suraj Abdurrahman is Liberian Chief of Army Staff; to Sierra Leone – UNMIL; and finally, Dafur - UNAMID, which we will discuss in some detail as it is an ongoing operation. Our hope is that we will learn from the current failures to retrieve our national image and our reputation in the global peacekeeping community.
The achievements of Nigeria’s peacekeepers in Africa and elsewhere led the UN to entrust to us the lead role in global peacekeeping; since 1999, Nigeria's successive ambassadors to the UN have chaired the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping. The Head of the Darfur Mission and Joint Special Representative (JSR) of the UN Secretary General, Ibrahim Gambari, is a Nigerian. Until 2009, my brother and former Nigerian army and defence chief, General Martin Luther Agwai, commanded UNAMID, and Lt-Gen Chikadibia Obiakor was the UN military adviser on peacekeeping operations for two years until 2010. In UNAMID Darfur, Nigeria was the largest troops contributing country (TCC), with four battalions, one military hospital, military observers, and staff officers.
However, the poor equipping of our troops has resulted in the total loss of confidence of the UN and other observers in the Nigerian Army. In fact, the UN has recently questioned the operational capacity of our troops in Darfur. The government of Sudan in March, 2010 and January, 2012 protested to the UN Security Council over what it considered “the deliberate re-arming of rebel groups in Darfur by Nigerian troops”. This may not be unconnected with the ease with which Nigerian troops, out of the 53 participating armies, are easily captured, disarmed or killed. In the 5 years of UNAMID, Nigerian troops have never won any fire fight or fought back in self defence, resulting in the highest casualty recorded by any contingent.
In February, 2010, a Nigerian military patrol of company strength was intercepted by a rebel group and disarmed completely with their armoured personnel carriers (APCs) seized without any resistance. In January, 2012, another Nigerian patrol was waylaid by a small rebel group and disarmed. Apart from taking their weapons, the commander was killed. From these failures, the humanitarian community in Darfur and international NGOs prefer being led by other national troops; the Sierra Leonean forces that were trained in 1990s by the Nigerian Army are now more valued than our troops!
The February, 2012 visit of the American envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Smith to our Minister of Defence, was principally to do with the poor performance of Nigerian troops in Darfur. What are the reasons for the decay in our peacekeeping capacity? Poor equipment, corruption, poor personnel selection and training, inadequate feeding and neglect of the welfare of officers and men seem to be the reasons - symptomatic of the general malaise in governance in Nigeria under Jonathan.
Our equipment holdings are disgraceful and totally unacceptable; every country earns money from its Contingent Own Equipment (COE) - from uniforms, boots, face masks, compass, rifle, mortar, RPGs, APCs, power generating sets, kitchen equipment and even furniture. They are inspected every month and payments made, but our military and police contingents cannot meet up to 20% of the COE required by the UN. Out of over 45 APCs for four battalions of 800 troops, less than 7 are serviceable. Some of the problems of the APCs are as basic as batteries and tyres. The equipment available to our troops is enough to demoralize them when compared to other countries. The Nigerian government is supposed to earn $6,000 monthly for each APC. By contrast, each Rwandese battalion can boast over 50 vehicles. Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) are today the weapon of deterrence to wade off ambushes, but it is rare to find any with Nigerian troops.
The process of selecting troops for peace missions is also flawed. Some battalions are loaded with clerks, cooks, batmen and orderlies who can barely handle a weapon, but are well-connected! It is not unusual for legislators, retired military officers and traditional rulers to influence the selection process, so competence and capacity get compromised. Some of these ill-trained soldiers simply take to their heels when under attack. The end result is the high casualty rates of our officers and men. Similarly, poor feeding affects the performance of our troops. The UN pays for the feeding of the troops but in our case, the money is provided to the home government to ensure the inclusion of local content. What is ultimately provided by the MOD/Presidency contractors never meets the expected international standards. The Rwandese government allows the UN to directly feed their troops and so four Rwandese soldiers share one whole chicken during a meal. A Nigerian soldier is not likely to see a piece of chicken throughout his or her six months tour of duty in Darfur.
How is the money paid upfront by the UN for our participation in peacekeeping spent? Other countries use the funds to sustain their military and add value to their national economies; in Nigeria, such funds and even the income tax deductions from the earnings of military officers are not remitted to the treasury but supposedly re-channelled into the armed forces - with no accountability! The monies earned from peacekeeping are not recognized as revenues, the procurements not subject to rigorous ‘due process’ scrutiny on spurious security grounds and therefore often looted by the Ministry of Defence and the Presidency.
Many observers opined that the policy changes introduced by two former Chiefs of Staff, Agwai and Azazi, to transform the army into an American-type institution destroyed the British military tradition of valour, honour and integrity. These two army chiefs, between 2003 and 2006, introduced the policy of achieving C+ at the staff college as the main criterion to earn promotion and command appointments. This was abused and mediocre officers were able to buy their way and move up to command positions.
The poor performance of our troops today is a direct consequence of deficits in command capability. Currently, over 90% of those who placed Nigeria on the world map with their extraordinary feats in Liberia and Sierra Leone are out of service due mainly to the C+ policy. It is time to correct these errors, equip our armed forces better and restore our nation’s reputation in international peacekeeping. It is not too much to ask of a real commander-in-chief.