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.
A lack of investment in training, failure to maintain equipment and dwindling cooperation with Western forces has damaged Nigeria's armed services. Unlike Nigerian peacekeepers in the 1990s, who were effective in curbing ethnic bloodshed in Sierra Leone and Liberia, those in Mali in 2013 lacked the equipment and training needed to be of much help against al-Qaida-linked forces. In 2014 security swallowed nearly 938 billion naira ($5.8 billion), a quarter of the federal budget. Of that, the defense ministry took more than a third, but only 10 percent was for capital spending. Corruption is a factor in the shortfallsA, ss senior officers pocket money meant for equipment. When democracy returned in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military man, feared the army. The starvation of the military occurred since Obasanjo, as a strategy to ensure they couldn't conduct more coups.
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 -- were capable of little more than basic defensive operations.
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 expeditions 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.
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 Federal Nigerian Government, 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.
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