Nigeria's military is the largest in West Africa, but is significantly less capable than its size and equipment inventory would indicate. A large percentage of the Army is capable of little more than basic defensive operations, and most of Nigeria's ships and aircraft are inoperable. The leadership of the military, from junior to senior levels, recognizes the role that the Armed Forces play as Nigeria's most effective national institution, and the principal one committed to its unity.
As a large, complex organization, the Nigerian military contains a number of contradictions, incongruities, and internal disjunctions. It is the largest, most capable military in West Africa with major foreign deployments under ECOWAS and the AU, as well as extensive UN PKO commitments. At the same time, chronic under-resourcing has led to low operational readiness, lack of training, and relatively poor conditions of service. These problems, along with endemic corruption, have made the Nigerian military somewhat of a hollow giant resting on its reputation -- more capable than any other force in the sub-region, but considerably less capable than it should be with tens of thousands of troops and a large stock of major weapons systems and other equipment. A high percentage of the heart of the force -- the 60,000-soldier strong Army's 25 infantry battalions -- are capable of little more than basic defensive operations.
Between 1863 and now, the Nigerian Army has not only grown numerically, but has transformed into a well-equipped force of international standards, and its personnel have successfully engaged in peace keeping missions abroad. The history of Nigerian Army dates back to 1863, when Lt Glover of the Royal Navy selected 18 able-bodied men of Northern extraction, and recruited them into a local force christened “Glover Hausas” to mount punitivee xpeditions and protect British trade routes around Lagos. The NA metamorphosed from this into the West African Frontier Force (WAFF), the Queen’s Own Nigerian Regiment (QONR), the Nigerian Military Force (NMF) in 1956 and the Royal Nigerian Army in 1960. At independence, the NA's strength of about 10,500 all ranks was structured into four infantry battalions with the combat support units. Two Infantry battalions and two artillery batteries were deployed in Northern Nigeria and the other two Infantry battalions were deployed in the South.
The strength of the NA rose to 250,000 all ranks at the end of the Nigerian Civil war of 1967-1970. By the time the civil war ended in 1970, the Nigerian Army had grown to some 200,000 men, among them many untrained recruits. Since then, there have been some violent incidents between army troops and civilians and police, mainly in the North. There had been vague talk of the need to demobilize, but the federal leaders were in no hurry to do so, and Nigeria seemed likely to have a relatively large standing army for some time to come.
For economic reasons and Nigeria's threat perception, the strength was later reduced to about 150,000 all ranks and structured into three Infantry Divisions and Lagos Garrison Organisation (LGO). In 1982, there was another structuring of the NA. Emphasis was placed on increased mobility and improved firepower. That exercisemarked the beginning of the concept of mechanisation of the NA. To make the structure effective, the NA procured more sophisticated equipment and trained more personnel on operational and professional courses locally and overseas.
The poor economic situation of the 1990s necessitated a review of Nigeria'sdefence policy and the restructuring of the NA to match with the economic realities of that time. The period coincidentally witnessed more of NA's involvement in various Internal Security (IS) operations, participation in peacekeeping operations and the imbroglio with Cameroon over Bakassi Peninsula. In addition to these, Nigeria was apprehensive of possible conflicts with her other neighbours. It would require a well-structured force with adequate manpower and equipment to meet these challenges
By the late 1990s the Nigerian Army was too large, but to downsize the army requires alternative employment for Nigerian soldiers to avoid social unrest. The military in Nigeria was very strong and very powerful. The question was not whether that military was going to be reduced in strength or effectiveness, but what attitudes will they have once the civilian government took place. The military had been the greatest threat to civilian stability in the country, and it needed to be trained by an army and a country that understands how a military ought to relate to a civilian government.
The Nigerian military has both suffered from and gloried in its PKO (peacekeeping operations) participation. The Nigerian military's reputation certainly took some hits in the early days of ECOMOG for its unprofessional performance. They generally fought well (with a few notable defeats), but they also looted, engaged in corruption, and committed human rights violations. The latter days of ECOMOG and ECOMIL's performance in Liberia in 2003 seem to have restored some pride in the military. The senior Nigerian military leadership seems to see participation in peacekeeping missions, especially UN operations, as a means of restoring both soldiers' pride and public confidence in the military.
The Nigerian Army, the largest of the services, had about 67,000 personnel by 2013. Its formations include the 1st Mechanised Infantry Division, headquartered in Kaduna in the north-west, and 2nd Mechanised Infantry Division (HQ Ibadan in the South-West, includes 32 Artillery Brigade at Abeokuta), 3rd Armoured Division (HQ Rukuba Cantonment, Jos in the North-East, and including 21 Armoured Brigade Maiduguri, 23 Brigade Yola, and 33 Artillery Brigades), 81st Division (Amphibious) HQ in Lagos, which includes the 9th Brigade, based at the Ikeja compound in Lagos, 82nd Division (Airborne and Amphibious) HQ in Enugu in the South-East, which includes the 13 (15?) Brigade at Calabar and 34 Artillery Brigade at Obinze/Owerri, and the Abuja-based Guards Brigade. 3rd Armoured Division was responsible in 1983 for the security of areas bordering Chad. Divisions in the Nigerian Army were first formed during the Nigerian Civil War, when in August-September 1967, 1 Area Command at Kaduna was redesignated 1 Infantry Division, 2 Division was formed under Colonel Murtala Mohammed, and the then Lagos Garrison Organisation was renamed 3 Infantry Division, later to become 3 Marine Commando Division.
Promotions are political at Colonel-level and above, and are completely within the purview of the COAS. Officers need to start worrying about politics as Majors and Lieutenant Colonels to position themselves for future promotions and assignments. Command of the Ikeja Cantonment (Lagos) and of the 3rd Armored Division (Jos) are key positions given to loyal officers, because of the significance of these commands in the event of a national emergency, particularly regime instability (Ikeja can control Lagos, and the Armored Division has tanks that are reasonably close to Abuja).
The Nigerian Army always has a pool of fresh young soldiers coming up through the ranks, and recruitment appears to be continuous. A key concern is "Federal Character" in the recruiting pool, ensuring that the Army does not take on a regional imbalance. The recruitment process as full of opportunities for corruption as each potential recruit has to get a series of signatures on a form -- and each signature requires a bribe. The total amount of bribes can be significant and the young recruit certainly won't have that amount of money (If he did, he wouldn't be enlisting). One "system" set up to work around this problem: A potential recruit will find a serving soldier and "rent" his weapon. The recruit will then use the weapon to commit enough armed robberies to collect the funds necessary to pay all of the necessary bribes and the rental fee for the weapon. Once the soldier is in the Army, he will then rent his weapon out to future recruits, and the system lives on.
Once in, recruits are integrated into units with soldiers from every state and region of Nigeria, and receive indoctrination training meant to impart a Nigerian national identity on the soldier. This national identity is one of the features the Army is most proud of, and makes the Army one of the only institutions that truly identifies with Nigeria rather than an ethnic group. It also makes the Army function more as a "tribe" separate from the various Nigerian groups, with a similar level of identification and loyalty. This indoctrination begins failing at the upper reached of the officer corps largely because promotions at that level are politically influenced, which in Nigeria more often than not takes on ethnic and religious meaning. Officers who are not promoted often seek to find a religious or ethnic reason for their failure to advance. Whether this is or is not true has been difficult to assess, but the perception of discrimination, if widely accepted, could have a destabilizing influence on the Army's officer corps, and on the nation.
Lagos and Abuja have garrison commands with the Lagos garrison as large as a division. 81 Division was the youngest Division in the Nigerian Army. The Division was formed on 26 May 2002 when the Lagos Garrison Command (as it then was) was upgraded to a full-fledged Division. The Division therefore inherited the security roles hitherto performed by the defunct Lagos Garrison Command. However a later undated article in a Nigerian online newspaper says the 81 Division was later again renamed the Lagos Garrison Command. In the 1980s, the Army's brigades included the 7th Infantry Brigade in Sokoto. There are also Divisional Artillery Brigades, among which are the 32 and 34 Artillery Brigades, ordinance corps units as well as Combat Engineer Regiments, and many other service support units spread across the country.
Chief of the Army Staff, Lt General Luka Yusuf, warned 12 December 2007 that from January 1, 2008, which is the take-off of Transformation of the Army into “a clearly and purely professional force," any Commanding Officer who uses his position for selfish ends will be severely dealt with. Yusuf said this while decorating 18 newly-promoted generals with their new ranks, said under the Army’s new regime of discipline, commanders are going to be held responsible for misbehaviour of soldiers under them.
On 14 May 2009 Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, commended the military for defending the nation's territorial environment and also for protecting Nigeria's nascent democracy. He made the commendation when he received in audience the General Officer, Commanding 2 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major-General Lawrence Ngubane. He said that no meaningful development can be achieved in any society if the security of lives and property are not guaranteed. Governor Oshiomhole who also declared that without an enabling environment Nigerians cannot get the best from the military, however assured the G.O.C. of his administration?s continued assistance to the leadership and men of the Armed Forces in the state. The governor further told the Army boss that government was currently working on a joint security team of Army and Police to enhance security, particularly, in the riverine areas of the state, adding that his administration has the support of President Umaru Musa Yar Adua in this direction.
On Jul 1, 2009 The Nigerian Army reiterated its commitment to defend the Country against both external and internal aggressions in fulfillment of its mandate. General Officer Commanding (GOC) 2 Mechanized Division, Ibadan, Oyo State, Major General L.P. Ugubane gave the assurance in Akure, the Ondo State capital when he led a team of his officers on a courtesy visit to the Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko in his office. The GOC who said he was on a familiarization tour of Ondo State, also pointed out that since he took over the command of the Army Division in January this year, he had not got the opportunity to visit the Army formations under him, adding that he had also been to the Army Brigade in Abeokuta on the previous day. He expressed gratitude to the state government on the various assistance rendered to the 323 Artillery Regiment in the state, which include, the provision of portable water at the barracks and a promise to rehabilitate all roads within the barracks. Responding, the governor who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Aderotimi Adelola, told the General that more assistance were already in the pipeline to ensure that the men of the Nigeria Army enjoy dividends of democracy, saying that it is the duty of the government to provide social amenities to the people, and this he added include the military men as they are part of the populace. While thanking the military for its assistance in ensuring adequate security in Ondo State, the Governor urged the Army to address with dispatch, the menace of kidnapping. The Governor assured the Army of his government’s support to facilitate easy execution of its jobs.
The Nigerian Federal Army, which on the eve of the war numbered about 8,000, has grown to a force of perhaps 250,000 and may still be increasing. Its very size poses major problems for the FMG. Gowon and his advisors have decided against an early demobilization, fearing that the release of thousands without employable skills and accustomed to violence might have an unsettling effect upon a none too stable society. There is already a fairly high incidence of crime and violence-often committed by men in uniform-in all parts of Nigeria. The FMG is concerned about this and is trying to retrieve firearms now in the hands of soldiers and ex-soldiers. Nigerian police (about 30,000 men) are fairly efficient but are too widely dispersed to stamp out the current crime wave and are reluctant to arrest men in army uniform. Under these conditions, it is unlikely that there will be more than token reductions in the strength of the Nigerian Army over the next couple of years.
The army is far larger than necessary to provide defense against external aggression, maintain the unity of the federal system, and assist in the preservation of internal security. Keeping this huge force usefully employed and out of the way of civilians and police is a problem. Some training programs have been established, emphasizing retraining of NCO's and junior grade officers, and basic military drills. A crash program of barracks construction is also underway in various parts of Nigeria, where the military will be permanently stationed. Eventually a sizeable portion of the army will probably be enrolled in educational or training projects and some may be assigned to civic action programs. Their plans are still under consideration, however, and for a large part of the army there is still much idleness and time for mischief.
There are clear advantages as well as obvious dangers to the FMG in maintaining such a large army. Merely by its size and presence, the army is now, and may continue to be, a force for national cohesion. Discontented tribal groups, labor unions, or others are less likely to defy authority, so long as the government has a considerable armed force at its disposal. This is true only to the extent that the army maintains cohesion and discipline, and there are some circumstances that favor such stability. Most officers and men receive higher pay than they could hope to earn in civilian jobs. Most have at least a rudiinentary national consciousness, having fought for "One Nigeria", and many officers are personally loyal to Gowon. Moreover, army units are tribally mixed and few officers would be able quickly to assemble and utilize for coup purposes a large contingent of fellow tribesmen.
On the other hand, it could be argued that the army constitutes a major potential threat to security in Nigeria. It remained an ill-trained and ill-disciplined outfit, composed of large units led by junior officers who were also poorly trained. Within the officer corps there was some ill-feeling between the "dirties" (those who had enriched themselves during military rule) and the "cleans" (those who have not). Some officers, as well as some in the ranks, were bored by barracks life, and were seeking diversion, either by stirring up trouble in areas near the barracks or by discussing among themselves the political and military problems of Nigeria. Under the circumstances, a considerable amount of low-level turbulence involving soldiers and civilians would be expected, some intermittent factional feuding among officers, and a growing political awareness in the army.
None of this would pose much of a threat to the FMG, or to the cohesion of Nigeria. The dangers were that local squabbles can easily become riots, which might be difficult to put down, and that political discussions tend to be dominated by tribal interests, suspicions of corruption, and ties between officers and civilian politicians. There were reports of plotting by junior officers against the regime. These came to naught, but the atmosphere wes conducive to plots and conspiracies.
Gowon and his advisors were well aware of the potential threat to themselves from an idle or discontented army. Indeed, Gowon was more concerned with army affairs than with internal political problems, economic development, or foreign relations. His plans for the army centered around the provision of vast amounts of new equipment and training. Before this ambitious program can get underway, how-ever, Gowon will face serious challenges. Given the situation he confronts-centrifugal forces at work in the Nigerian Army, the divisive effect of corruption in the military, uncertain loyalties and allegiances, conflicting ambitions of key individuals, and the gradually rising pressures from civilian tribal and regional factions-we think Gowon will have great difficulty in staying in office over the six year period which he has said is necessary for the turnover of power to civilians. Much will depend on Gowon's success in bringing Nigeria together.
The Nigerian Army concluded plans in early 2007 to commence a comprehensive restructuring of its force. The restructuring exercise which is based on the recommendations of a committee on Nigerian Army Force Structure is expected to begin a ten year phased restructuring development starting from the first quarter of 2007 to terminate in 2016. Among the major components of the force structure are the adoption of a four-division structure from the existing five divisions and the creation of an additional amphibious brigade. Also embedded in the project is the relocation of some units particularly in line with some specific terrains and other conditions in the country.
Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Owoye Andrew Azazi, has called on the Federal Government to continue to pay adequate attention to the logistics problems of the Nigerian Army. Gen Azazi made the call while receiving the new Minister of State for Defence, Architect Mike Onolem-Emen in his office in Abuja. The COAS who stated that the Army was planning to prune down its five divisions to four also pointed out that some units of the Army would be relocated in the process. Responding, Arch Onolem-Emen said he was delighted to visit the Army Head quarters before other services considering its roles as the oldest force of the Nigerian Armed Forces. He promised a good working relationship with the army adding that he would ensure adequate financial support for the direct labor system of executing Nigerian Army. Projects especially the barracks rehabilitation projects currently going on across military formations in the country.
The Nigerian Army invites applications from suitable qualified Nigerians for the grant of Short Service Combatant Commission (SSC) as officers into The Nigerian Army. The Short Service Combatant Commission offers an excellent opportunity to young Nigerians who want to have an experience in the Nigerian Army without necessarily having to spend their entire career life in it. The SSC is open to male civilians or serving male military personnel. Short Service Combatant Commission will be granted for10 years. 6 years will be on active list renewable thereafter for a period up to 3 years. No extension is admitted after the 9th year of commission except on conversion to regular combatant where applicable. Cadet officer who successfully complete the Military training shall be granted the rank of Second Lieutenant. Conversion to regular commission is not automatic. It is based on availability of vacancy and other criteria that are or will be in force. All graduating cadet officers must sign an acceptance of the terms and conditions governing the Short Service Combatant Commission before they are granted commission into the Nigerian Army.
Between 2001 and 2008, the Nigerian Armed Forces entered into contractual agreements and/or taken delivery of the following:
- NINE Mi-34 helicopters
- SIX Mi-35P gunships
- Mi-24 gunships
- FOUR Mi-17 utility choppers
- SEVEN Agusta A109 Power helicopters
- FOUR Agusta A139 helicopters
- 77 units of T-72 tanks
- 16 units of AMX-30 tanks
- 50 additional units of T-55 tanks
- 67 units of MT-LB APC/IFVs
- 193 units of Otokar Cobra APCs
- 47 units of BTR-3 APCs
- 18 units of BTR-70 APCs
- 6 units of BTR-60 APCs (probably complimentary hardware from Russia)
- 18 units of Panhard M3 APCs
- 70 additional units of 8X8 MOWAG APCs
- 18 additional units of Oto Melara 105 mm howitzers
- 23 additional units of Palmaria 155mm self-propelled howitzers
- 48 units of BOFORS Archer 155 mm gun-howitzers
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