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Nigerian Army - End Strength

The Nigerian Army, the largest of the services, had about 67,000 personnel by 2013. The most demanding personnel problem was managing the steady demobilization of the armed forces from about 300,000 in the early 1970s to a scheduled member of perhaps 75,000 by 1993.

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.

Its very size posed major problems for the Federal Nigerian Government. Gowon and his advisors 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 was already a fairly high incidence of crime and violence-often committed by men in uniform-in all parts of Nigeria. The FNG was concerned about this and tried to retrieve firearms in the hands of soldiers and ex-soldiers. Nigerian police (about 30,000 men) were fairly efficient but were too widely dispersed to stamp out the endemic crime wave and were reluctant to arrest men in army uniform. Under these conditions, it wes unlikely that there will be more than token reductions in the strength of the Nigerian Army.

The army was 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 were clear advantages as well as obvious dangers to the FNG in maintaining such a large army. Merely by its size and presence, the army in the 1970s was and continued to be a force for national cohesion. Discontented tribal groups, labor unions, or others were less likely to defy authority, so long as the government had a considerable armed force at its disposal. This was true only to the extent that the army maintained cohesion and discipline, and there were some circumstances that favored such stability.

For economic reasons and Nigeria's threat perception, the strength was reduced to about 150,000 in all ranks by around 1980, and structured into three Infantry Divisions and Lagos Garrison Organisation (LGO). To meet targeted force reduction levels, in 1990 the army began discharging soldiers who could not read or write after the fouryear literacy campaign (1986-89), strictly enforcing disciplinary codes, and encouraging early retirements.

By the late 1990s the Nigerian Army was still too large, but to downsize the army required 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.

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