The Place Of Armed Forces In The Region - Part 1


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The Place Of Armed Forces In The Emerging Regional Scene

-Part 1-




Nowamagbe Omoigui



National War College, Abuja, Nigeria

Wednesday, January 19, 2005




Thank you for the invitation to present this lecture to and partake in a discussion with participants of National War College Course 13.   


This lecture is part of a series of lectures on the development of defence and security policy.   As charged by the Commandant, my specific task is to:


“a).       Discuss the global scene and relate it to the African region.


b).        Discuss how the regional scene may affect the formulation of national defence policies.


c).        How Nigeria’s increasing role as a stabilizing influence in the sub-region is affecting and will continue to affect its defence policy.


d).        Extent to which force structure and the associated funding should be adjusted to meet continuing national commitments both internally and externally, or extent to which foreign policy goals need to be adjusted to prevailing economic conditions.


e).        Give a speculative personal opinion on possible future demands on the armed forces during the next few years.”


There is logic behind this sequence of tasks.  Nigeria, at this point in time, is not merely a snap shot.  It is a dynamic entity that has a past, present and future.  It exists among other nation-states in the region and the world, which also have a past, a present and a future.  For military planning, this imposes a domestic as well as foreign political, social, cultural and economic context, bearing the scars and institutional memory of the past but adapted to the era in which we live in preparation for the future, known and unknown.  


If we accept Liddell Hart’s definition of military strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy” then policy must first be conceptualized in a multifaceted “Vision Statement” by the highest legitimate political authorities of the land, reflective of the consensus of the will of the people.  Political and military aims do, of course, tend to overlap in a mutually supporting manner but the imprint of national grand strategy must be unmistakable, titrated to economic and social realities.  The last formal effort at a Vision statement was the “Vision 2010 report” which occurred under military rule.   The report, however, appears to be in the cooler.


Be that as it may, with the national vision as background, military strategy, or rather a definition of military aim is derived from a threat and capability analysis, encompassing all available and desirable armed forces, which in the case of Nigeria, as defined by the 1999 constitution, specifically means the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  But war is by no means the only method of achieving the ends of policy.  Therefore, it must be understood that military strategy must be cognizant of and sensitive to all other elements or instruments of national power.  In any case, vulnerabilities that have major defence implications can often be identified in sectors of government and communal activity outside the traditional Ministry of Defence periscope.  Recently, the Aviation ministry openly confessed that there were over 70 unregistered and unsupervised private airfields in Nigeria!


Having formulated the applicable military strategy in the context of likely threats, short, medium and long-term, the next logical step is to determine how it will be implemented, in terms of a concept of operations or doctrine, tactics and force structure.    This should ideally be rigorously tested by sensitivity analyses during which basic assumptions are varied to determine the effect of such variation on recommendations for policy.  It may be that the force planned is intended to be used in various scenarios at home or abroad, offensively or defensively, by direct operational commitment or mere show of strength.   Viewed in another way, the requirements for major theater war are radically different from those for low intensity conflict. 


We previously defined Strategy as the conceptualization of the military aim, in support of the vision or grand strategy.  This aim must then be fine-tuned with an understanding of how and when the highest military aim might be achieved.  “Doctrine” refers to “Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives.” “Tactics”, on the other hand, refers to the finely detailed methods used by soldiers, sailors and airmen in performing assigned tasks or “the employment and ordered arrangement of forces in relation to each other.”  It is usually linked to “Technique” which describes the basic methods of using equipment and personnel. 


“Force Structure” refers to the shape, composition and size of defence forces e.g. battalions, brigades, divisions, boats, ships, aircraft, air wings etc.   It must always be understood in the overall context of military capability, which also includes technical sophistication, unit readiness, and sustainability.  The fusion of operational concepts, equipment, manpower and training helps to define the scale of operations the Armed Forces are capable of carrying out within the financial constraints imposed by the political leadership in light of competing national needs. 


These phases of the professional military input into Defence Policy formulation are guided by certain so-called “principles of war”, which as young officers, you all had to internalize from your earliest days at the Defence Academy.  Computerized operational analysis and war gaming have in the modern era increasingly supported the “principles”, which you had to learn, and apply, hopefully with flexibility, in tactical lessons.  To recap, the principles, as adopted from the British Army by the Nigerian Army, are:


  1. Selection and maintenance of the aim

  2. Maintenance of morale

  3. Offensive Action

  4. Surprise

  5. Concentration of Force

  6. Security

  7. Economy of effort

  8. Flexibility

  9. Cooperation

  10. Administration


Because sea and air warfare are primarily directed at destroying a wide variety of “targets” e.g. ships, aircraft, sea and ground targets, rather than land and forces, they are much more technology intensive than ground operations.  A key “sub-principle” of air warfare, for example, is the need to achieve “air superiority”, quickly, by focusing its attention on priority strategic targets early in the game 


To these lists the concept of Time must added.  Time, time-span and timing are absolutely vital ingredients of the military planning process at all levels.  At a strategic level it distinguishes what is known as the “higher direction of defence” from operational and administrative minutiae.  Those at the top of the management hierarchy of the defence sector must think in a much longer time span than those at the lower ends.    Years before a Lieutenant finds himself or herself confronting a tactical obstacle, a ground attack Pilot takes aim at a target, or a ship ammunition loader loads up a 16 inch gun, defence managers at higher levels should have made long term decisions about manning, kitting, equipment, training, supply etc.  The outbreak of hostilities or war is not the time to begin defence purchases or seek operational, administrative or logistic clarity.  It is in the context of forward planning, aided by strategic intelligence and familiarity with trends in science and technology, that victory is either won or lost.  Unfortunately, the outbreak and outcome of actual hostilities represents the only way defence concepts can be tested and validated.  Hence, the Armed Forces cannot rest on its oars.  It must remain innovative, as it second guesses and justifies all of its assumptions on a periodic basis.


To quote US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "You go to war with the army you have," not that which you want.  Thus, capabilities, vulnerabilities and threats (symmetric and asymmetric) must always be subjected to vigorous debate and periodic review.  This, I suspect, may have informed the last aspect of my task today – to provide a speculative personal opinion on possible future demands on the armed forces during the next few years.


Let us now return to the global scene.




The architecture of the current regional and international environment has been driven by certain historical events, superposed on a primordial canvas. 


The key events include the Berlin conference of 1884-5, which, through the General Act of the Berlin Conference, codified the partition of Africa among scrambling metropolitan European powers.   It was followed, thereafter, by a period of intense mercantile military activity resulting in the creation, by force, of the country now known as Nigeria.  This pattern was reproduced elsewhere in Africa, presaging a crisis of state formation, which would, down the road, bring about numerous intra-state conflicts in Africa.  World War I, in which Nigerian soldiers took part under the British Flag, took place from 1914-18.  It gave birth, on January 10, 1920, to the League of Nations.   The world was, however, to witness another destructive cycle of war between 1939 and 1945.  Again, Nigerian soldiers, alongside soldiers from other commonwealth nations, under the British flag, took part. 


After World War 2, the League of Nations gave way, on April 19, 1946, to the United Nations as a collective security mechanism.  But World War 2 did more than accelerate the demise of the League of Nations.  After the war, erstwhile allies faced each other down across what was described as “the Iron Curtain” in what became known as the “Cold War,” regarded by some as a continuation by political means of the Second World War.    It was in the context of the post-WW2 political economy and strident ideological East-West rivalries that the decolonization process occurred in Africa, culminating, in Nigeria’s case, in independence on October 1st, 1960.  


Initially, Nigeria had an Army and a Navy.    The post-colonial Nigerian Army (NA) traces its origins back to 1863 when British Naval Lt. Glover established "Glover's Hausas." He used the small force of runaway slaves to mount expeditions to the hinterland primarily to protect British trade routes.  From this humble beginning the West African Frontier Force later evolved and gave birth to the Nigerian Army.


The navy, on the other hand, was created in 1958 from the defunct Nigerian Marine Department, which was originally formed in 1914 after the merger of the northern and southern Nigerian marine detachments.  The 'northern' and 'southern' marine detachments originated from the British Mercantile Marine - the armed merchant ships of British shipping and trading companies of the nineteenth century, which in collaboration with the Royal navy, helped to colonize Nigeria.


It should be noted that the establishment of additional branches of the Armed forces at the time of Nigerian independence was not without opposition.  In April 1958, during the conference of the Action group at Calabar, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s political leaders said,”We have neither the money nor the need to embark on such crazy ventures as building a Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force.”   Awolowo took the position that internal security was a Police responsibility and Nigeria had neither belligerent neighbors nor territorial claims against others.  Citing national dignity, others, notably Chief Rotimi Williams, disagreed.


Nevertheless, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) was formally established by an act of Parliament in 1964, following two years of quiet preparations during which cadets were sent abroad for training.  Initial training and military acculturation occurred under the tutelage of the Ethiopian, Canadian, Indian and German Air Forces.  A strong motive for the establishment of the NAF was to give Nigeria independent airlift capability for force projection and expeditionary operations, following the embarrassing experience during UN Congo operations when Nigerian units were completely dependent upon US military transports for strategic airlift.  Over the course of time, however, driven by internal and external factors, the role of the NAF expanded considerably, only to decay during the latter phase of Nigeria’s long experience under military rule.


Much has happened within and outside Nigeria over the past 45 years, including UN peace support operations, the formation of the OAU (now AU), frequent internal security operations, military coups, a civil war, formation of ECOWAS, border skirmishes with one or more neighbors, defence diplomatic initiatives, bilateral and multilateral regional intervention, including logistic and training support for liberation movements and various OAU and ECOMOG peace support operations. All of these activities have involved all three branches of the Armed forces to varying degrees and have been extensively discussed elsewhere.


From a regional perspective, Africa remains a cesspool of conflict.  I once commented that,


“Sub-Saharan Africa is mired in bitter ethnic feuds and has the world’s lowest growth rate in per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Similarly, life expectancy, the rate at which children are immunized against diseases and caloric-intake in Africa are the lowest in the world. Correspondingly, Africa has the highest percentage of people living below the international poverty line. In recent years, its economic performance has been the worst in the world. Africa cannot adequately feed, educate or maintain the health of its rapidly expanding population, many of whom are internally and externally displaced persons. To compound the problem, there are limited opportunities for extra-governmental acquisition of sustainable wealth. Instead, private wealth is accumulated largely as a result of access to state power. This confluence of power, wealth and social mobility within the state structure, sets up a rat race of gargantuan proportions for control of government power. “


As I further observed elsewhere, 


“In a recent landmark report to the Security Council by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, reflected on a number of causes of conflict in Africa.  They include historical legacies such as the Berlin conference of 1885, the scramble to divide Africa among European powers (without regard for ethnic realities), and the subsequent establishment of colonial commercial and political structures designed primarily to extract resources.  Against this background, Africa became one of several locations in the world where super-power rivalries played out during the cold war.  In the setting of a central strategic stalemate in Europe, cold war antagonists tried to outflank one another in Africa, Asia and South America, using local players as pawns. 


As if this was not enough, the end of the cold war was associated with a rebound phenomenon, in which long suppressed rivalries resurfaced at a time of declining international focus and attention, but nevertheless fueled by excess weapons from cold war stocks.  Other external factors include economic motives on the part of arms merchants, foreign state and non-state actors (like multinational corporations).    But all of Africa's problems cannot be blamed on external factors.  Internal factors that promote conflict include the nature of power on the continent, a winner-takes-all mentality, zero-sum political games, centralization and personalization, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, lack of rule of law, lack of peaceful transitional mechanisms and absence of human rights, all of which are set against poverty, lack of education and a primordial background of deep rooted ethnic and religious mindsets.   And then we must not forget cofactors like conflict creating environmental problems such as water and land shortage and environmental degradation.


In a draft report on the subject a few years ago, the OAU identified certain contributing factors to 26 conflicts affecting over 60% of the population between 1963 and 1998.  These included ethnicity in Rwanda and Burundi, power-sharing in the DRC-1998, Sudan-1983, Sao Tome/Principe 1994 and Comoros 1995, inter-clan and other factional rivalries in Somalia, Liberia and Guinea Bissau, mercenaries in the DRC 1964, Guinea 1970 and Benin 1977, human rights violations under Idi Amin in Uganda from 1970-79 and cold war geopolitics in Chad 1977-80 and Mozambique 1975-92 .  In the post cold war era, however, I am attracted to the classification of African conflicts proposed by Tom Lodge: 


1.                  ethnic competition for control of the state; for example, Nigeria

2.                  regional or secessionist rebellions; for example, Sudan, Senegal

3.                  continuation of liberation conflicts; for example, Angola, Western Sahara

4.                  fundamentalist religious opposition to secular authority; for example, Algeria 

5.                  warfare arising from state degeneration or state collapse; for example, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Congo-DRC 

6.                  border disputes; for example, Ethiopia-Eritrea

7.                  protracted conflict within politicized militaries, for example, Congo-DRC, Sierra-Leone


Conflict types can be major or minor, superficial or deep-rooted, short term or long term, and they can overlap.  A country like Nigeria, for example, has a variety of low-grade ethnic and religious conflicts that result in chronic blood letting without the country actually being in an open declared state of war.  It keeps the country off balance as it teeters dangerously on the edge of qualifying as a “failed state” - unwilling or unable to function like sovereign entities in discharging basic responsibilities like tax collection and guarantee of protection of life and property. “


The Cold war era was also characterized by military rule in many African countries, including Nigeria.  As Decalo once observed, at any moment in time, up to 65 percent of all Africa’s inhabitants and well over half of its states were governed by military (or military derived) administrators. Institutional memory for true civilian rule became distant in many countries. During the sixties, for example, there were 27 successful coups in 13 countries in the region. Nine other governments put down coup attempts. This left only seven countries with no publicly reported efforts at forceful seizure of power during that period.  By 1989, very few sub-Saharan African countries had been spared the trauma of extra-constitutional seizure of power. Among these were Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.   Since 1989, however, membership of this exclusive group has whittled down even further. Indeed, if one were to include serious failed attempts at seizure of power, the list of those who live in the rarified atmosphere of political and constitutional control of the military would comprise only Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Senegal and Swaziland.  South Africa and Namibia - both relatively recently independent - may also be considered to be in this group although both have had serious internal security problems to contend with, short of conventional full-scale coup attempts. South Africa under Apartheid also witnessed extensive military involvement in decision-making particularly during the Total Onslaught Strategy of the 1980s.  


To a large extent the decolonization process on the African continent came to an end with the end of apartheid in South Africa, although “aftershocks” of decolonization continued to plague a number of countries.  This occurred against the backdrop of the end of the Cold War between the super-powers and the major alliances, NATO and the Warsaw pact.  The exact date has been argued back and forth but in his memoirs, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev identified the Malta summit of December 1989 as the end of the cold war.  This presaged the failed coup of August of 1991, which brought Boris Yeltsin to power, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.


As a result of major strategic re-alignments, the post-war era has brought about numerous new opportunities and dangers.  From the bipolar configuration of the Cold War has emerged a uni-polar configuration in which the United States seeks to maintain superpower dominance.  However, counter-efforts are in play by others, notably Russia, China, France, Germany, Japan and the European Union to reconfigure world politics and economics along multi-polar lines. 


Contemporary Global Threats


Collective security arrangements are now more focused on a whole variety of transnational issues, including environmental security, immigration and customs control, smuggling, sea-piracy, non-proliferation (of small arms, mines, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction), counter-terrorism, anti-crime cooperation, drug enforcement, and more recently, humanitarian peace-support dimensions such as refugee assistance and AIDS. 


The recently released report of the United Nations High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change has identified six clusters of threats, which the panel recommends the world, as a community, must address. They are:


  1. War between States;

  2. Violence within States, including civil wars, large-scale human rights abuses

and genocide;

  1. Poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation;

  2. Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons;

  3. Terrorism; and

  4. Transnational organized crime.  


The panel posits that developmental initiatives will help combat poverty, while bio-security measures will help deal with AIDS and bio-terrorism, even as it builds up public health capacity.  Preventive diplomacy and mediation, perhaps backed up by defence diplomacy, should help prevent wars between States, assist in preventing unconstitutional overthrow of governments, protect minority rights and regulate natural resource access and use.  Consequences of Africa’s crises of State formation, including border disputes, are also a priority as are measures to prevent the spread and use of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons.  The panel also recommended the prevention and control of terrorism, sensitive to human rights considerations as well as the rule of law.  Trans-national organized crime, dealing with money laundering, narcotics, small arms and human trafficking also came under scrutiny as well as the use of strategic minerals like diamonds to fund conflicts in Africa and elsewhere.  Of particular note, nation-states are expected to protect civilians within their borders from large-scale violence but if unable or unwilling, the international community will carry out humanitarian operations, conduct diplomacy, monitor developments and, as a tool of last resort, use force. 


Peace support operations, namely, peacekeeping, peace enforcement and post-conflict peace building, continue to be a prominent part of the international security tool-box.  Backed by mandates appropriate to the situation, such activities should have the capacity to deter violence, confront it if it occurs, and address the need for demobilization, disarmament, rehabilitation and reintegration.   In collaboration with appropriate organizations, State institutions should be rebuilt as the need arises.  Nation-States are encouraged, therefore, to maintain standby military and paramilitary units and build up capacity for tactical and strategic air and sea-lift.


The panel reiterated the need for UN organs like the General Assembly, Economic and Social council, Commission on Human rights and Security Council to function even more effectively to enhance international security, while coordinating their activities with regional groups.  Reforms have been proposed to alter the basis of membership of the Security Council and exercise of veto power.  A Peace Building Commission has been suggested.


National and Regional Trends


To place things in perspective, let us first speculate on the likelihood of the identified global threat clusters in or around Nigeria.  To do this I have constructed a Table and classified the likelihood of the listed threat cluster as low, intermediate or high.  Individual War College Syndicates are invited to do their own analyses as an exercise.  The following is my personal opinion:





War between Nigeria and another Nation-State


Border tensions with Cameroon over colonial borders have been mollified but can still flare up if mishandled.  If hostilities break out they will likely be brief, constrained by intense diplomatic pressure. 

Violence within States (including Nigeria), including internecine communal conflicts, ethnic and religious insurgency, genocide, various other human rights abuses, high-profile assassinations etc.


Self explanatory

Poverty, Infectious disease, Environmental degradation


Self explanatory

Nuclear, Radiological, Chemical and Bio weapons


Nigeria has a nuclear reactor at the Ahmadu Bello University under IAEA supervision.  Nigeria is a signatory to the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, Biological Weapons Convention and Nuclear Weapons Convention treaties. However, there have been lapses in control as reflected in the return of radioactive material by Halliburton, and more remote cases of foreign dumping of radioactive waste in the Delta region. At the ECOWAS summit of June 1988 a "dump watch" alert and information-sharing system was set-up. Nevertheless, the radioactive waste management system in Nigeria remains weak.    Although Africa claims a desire to be nuclear free, waste disposal weaknesses pose a threat and other powers outside Africa with nuclear, bio- and chemical weapons may not be so restrained.



Nigeria has some nation-states in its neighborhood that may be vulnerable to be used as bases for international radical Islamist terrorist activity.  Some Nigerians have been listed as belonging to al Queda .  Nigeria has a history of non-Islamist hijackings of ships (NNS Ibadan 1967); and aircraft (Nigerian Airways 1967, Nigerian Airways 1993). Hostage taking on and off Oilrigs is common in the Niger Delta.  Just before and during the civil war (1966-67) an urban bombing campaign occurred in Lagos.  Letter bombs have been used against prominent journalists in the late eighties and roadside bombs against perceived enemies of the State in the nineties. Recently, the Anambra State Government House was attacked with a bomb.

Transnational organized crime


Trafficking in drugs, humans, money, small arms, Oil bunkering, piracy etc. Banditry.



That said, in the last ten years, democratization appears to have gained ground as a preferred approach to governance in Africa.   Many countries, Nigeria included (since 1999), have declared a willingness to embrace western-liberal traditions of civil-military relations, which recognizes civil supremacy over the military.  This has led to efforts at defence transformation and security sector reform with varying degrees of seriousness.  The trend has created a structural framework for defence policy formulation and implementation at least in part assisted by United States and United Kingdom funded democratization initiatives. 


Internal conflicts remain the overwhelming form of violence in Africa, associated, nevertheless, in some cases, with spillover effects.  War between States is decidedly rare. Regional groupings such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) have, with or without UN or EU assistance, deployed peace-keepers to various conflict zones at various times in the recent past.  Based on an agreement between African Chiefs of defence in May 2003, the AU plans to create a joint defence force under its Peace and Security Council by the year 2010.  Meanwhile, in 2003, an agreement was reached on a regional stand-by force of 6,500 men (built around a core of 1500 men) in the ECOWAS sub-region.  Troops have been pledged but they have not, as of the time of writing, been activated.  Although these initiatives are weighed down by weak military establishments, Anglophone-Francophone rivalries, HIV/AIDS and funding issues, they will doubtless be assisted by the willingness of G-8 countries to fund the training of peace-keepers in Africa.


Nevertheless, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), peace accords in Angola, Congo-DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea-Ethiopia and Sierra Leone have, with rare exception, not brought about expected regional peace.    There continues to be violence in Burundi, Congo-DRC, Liberia, Somalia, Uganda, Chad and Sudan.  A new rebel group has emerged in Eritrea.  Coups and or mutinies have occurred in Sao Tome, Cote d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau, where the Army Chief was even beaten to death, allegedly for withholding troop wages.  A planned business funded mercenary invasion failed with fanfare in Equatorial Guinea.  What began as a failed military coup in September 2002 in Cote d’Ivoire has since evolved into a civil war punctuated by ceasefires and cease-fire violations.   In one particularly significant violation, French peace-keeping troops were attacked by Ivorian Government jets, resulting in the retaliatory destruction of the Ivorian Air Force by French forces.  Both countries had, until then, maintained a mutual Defence pact! 


Border incidents continue to be problematic, particularly trans-national banditry in the northeastern part of Nigeria.  Another twist in the saga has been the occurrence of violence, instigated by a self-styled “Taliban” radical Islamist group in the Northeastern part of the country.  In the maritime environment, hostage taking, illegal seizure of offshore oil platforms, oil bunkering, pipeline vandalization and local inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic violence continue to occur with mixed success achieved by Military and Police intervention units.


But it has not all been bad news.  The Angolan ceasefire has held, perhaps in part because of the death of Jonas Savimbi.  So has that between Kenya and Somalia over their border.   The UN mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has drawn down, although the security environment faces difficulties from Liberia and a potential future threat from the reconstituted Armed Forces of Sierra Leone.  Before its final pull out, however, UNAMSIL, along with the Government of Sierra Leone, carried out a National Security Exercise designed to test planning procedures at strategic and operational levels following disengagement. In Sudan, there has recently been a ceasefire between the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, although the crisis in Darfur remains an open sore.  Deployment of AU troops (including Nigerian units) has been hampered by a combination of factors, including lack of local capacity for strategic airlift.  While the Chadian government continues to fight with the Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJT), it appears to have reached a deal with the National Resistance Army (ANR).   Nigeria and Cameroon have avoided open hostilities over the Bakassi dispute although the process of border negotiations following the World Court judgment has stalled recently.


International radical Islamist terrorism has reared its head in Africa in recent years.  As may be recalled US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked in 1998.  In 2002, an Israeli aircraft narrowly missed being shot down on take off from Mombasa airport by ground-to-air missiles.  A tourist hotel in the area was blown up with a car bomb.  




The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to roar through Africa and African militaries.   Its prevalence is two to five times higher for military personnel than for civilians.  Its military implication as a “delayed fuse, armed forces denial” weapon is profound. 


As I observed elsewhere,


“Rates of HIV infection in African militaries may be as high as 60 percent in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo and no less but probably even more in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.  The Kenyan Army buries at least two (2) soldiers every week from AIDS.  In Nigeria, President Obasanjo announced that 11% of returnee soldiers from West African peacekeeping operations were HIV positive.   There is concern in some quarters that even senior officers have not been spared.  An unanswered question is whether these returnee soldiers will proceed to contaminate their unsuspecting spouses and girlfriends at home.  More recently the UN has made it mandatory for peacekeepers to be provided with condoms along with their rifles.  HIV screening and counseling are recommended.


However, while most emphasis is on recent patterns of transmission, what I find most intriguing is much more remote.  During the Ugandan-Tanzanian border war of 1979, for example, the 207th Tanzanian brigade camped and then advanced from Bugandika to Kyebe to Kyotera to Masaka and on to Kampala. This route of advance later became a well-known AIDS trail. It was ascribed to loose sexual activities on the part of the soldiers, but how they got the virus in the first place has never been determined.  Unusually high HIV rates among former guerrillas (ANC, ZAPLA, ZANLA, SWAPO etc.)  has been a source of concern to me for many years but one has never found a verifiable explanation – although apartheid South Africa certainly maintained a Bioweapon program.  Their guerrilla camps were located in east and central Africa (including Tanzania) but they all moved back home when Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa became independent.  The integrated armies of those countries (along with the never ending war zones of the Great Lakes region) now have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa.” 


Indeed, according to the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, in certain South African military units, the rate is as high as 90%.


Fortunately military establishments in various countries like Nigeria, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Uganda have taken steps to deal with the problem.  According to the IISS, in the Ugandan military, the HIV rate has actually dropped from over 10% in 1990 to less than 7% in 2003.


Regional Defence Cooperation


Moves toward a stand-by regional force in western and other parts of Africa have been mentioned.  In collaboration with the AU and other sub-regional organizations, the French led "RECAMP" concept (Renforcement des Capacités Africaines de Maintien de la Paix) continues to train soldiers from selected groups of countries, and the US led African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) continues to function.  Funds continue to be provided for related aspects of democratization, although there have been hiccups with Nigeria over alleged military human rights abuses at Zaki Biam. 


Overall, the US is increasingly less standoffish in its approach to the region.  In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the United States has moved to establish Defence alliances with weak states in the African region which it fears may be vulnerable for use as a staging ground for anti-American terrorist activities.  These include the Golden Spear Force, which is an 11-nation joint task force for terrorism and disasters under the command and control of the US Central Command. 


Simultaneously, the US is negotiating military training, base and refueling agreements with Mali, Senegal and Uganda and has increased patrolling off the Horn of Africa by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based in Djibouti.  There are unconfirmed reports of negotiations for base rights in the Gulf of Guinea.


Brazil, on the other hand, has entered into a naval training and equipping alliance with Namibia.




All instruments of national power, including the military, must be sensitive to events in the region, and understand how they may threaten or assist the country in reaching its policy goals.  The regional scene sketched in the preceding section is part of Nigeria’s overall threat and opportunity complex, the external element of which has a domestic spill over potential.  Clearly, therefore, the Nigerian Armed Forces must adapt itself to the changing environment. Such adaptation, subject to funding, should include defining appropriate military strategy, concepts of operations, tactics and force structure to be able to respond flexibly to a range of scenarios.  The proposal for changes in the membership structure of the UN Security Council, for example, represents an opportunity for the country, which should dictate more circumspection and caution when presented with military temptations to violate international law for short term gain. 


One of the dilemmas of the African military is the over-emphasis on the protection of territorial integrity.  Unfortunately, however, this has not been the role for which most African militaries have, in fact been used, nor does it appear – as our table of Threat Clusters demonstrates - that it will be the case in the future.  The main utility of the military has been in non-conventional roles such as internal security, peace-operations and civic development.   Unfortunately, Nigerian military units, like many of their counterparts elsewhere continue to be primarily driven by a defence doctrine that is oriented toward conventional warfare with a traditional conventional external foe. 


To this end, I favor a strategic defence review that is capabilities and vulnerability based, on the basis of which modular units of forces with a range of capabilities – optimized for non-traditional tasks - should be established and maintained, no matter how small.   


Indeed, at a lecture titled “Peace-Keeping as a Military Operation” delivered in 1998 to Course 6 participants at this War College, Major General C. Iweze (rtd), a veteran of both peace-keeping and conventional operations, observed that the


“Nigerian Military was for a conventional enemy, but the type of crisis that peace keepers are faced with today has no clear boundary and the enemy is not clearly defined. Thus our armed forces need to be organized, equipped and trained for today’s reality.”


They should be built up, I dare say, block-by-block, in direct proportion to the likelihood of the identified threats.  The “tool box” should be broad and deep, ready for repackaging as the need arises.  Nevertheless, I propose a “just-in-time” approach to force design and logistics.  The basic building blocks of a conventional force should be maintained, ready for rapid expansion at short notice with pre-positioned logistic stocks.  


Given Nigeria’s weaknesses, the best way to address the increasing regional posture of metropolitan superpowers in the neighborhood is to be quietly proactive and constructively engaged.  Africa should adopt a continental consensus on the issue and dissuade individual countries from entering all sorts of uncoordinated bilateral and multilateral external agreements without first seeking a regional alternative.  Unfortunately, individual African countries may have other incentives that drive their behavior.  This is a major challenge for the AU.


The range of capabilities should include air, land and sea components of:


  1. Peacekeeping, Peace Enforcement and Post-Conflict Peace Building; including the multifaceted civil-military and intelligence networks that are integral to the successful completion of such operations.


  1. Border Protection.


  1. Low Intensity Operations and Asymmetric warfare.


  1. Counter-terrorism (with the capability for interoperability with designated allies)


  1. Regional Security (with the capability for interoperability with designated allies)


  1. Safe haven and Evacuation Force operations


  1. Maritime protection (with the capability for interoperability with designated allies)


  1. Search and Rescue, Disaster Relief and Humanitarian assistance (in concert with other instruments of State)


  1. Psychological Operations and Civic assistance programs.





Nigeria’s increasing role as a stabilizing influence in the sub-region is a two edged sword.  On one hand, if appropriately publicized and appreciated at home, it could be a source of pride to the country and an affirmation of its perception of itself as a regional power, no matter what others might think.  On the other hand, it has serious financial and policy implications, throwing up pressures on the traditional budgeting process in a relatively poor country which has enough problems of its own to contend with. 


The exigencies of sudden troop deployments require approval and supplementary budget allocations from the National Assembly, both procedures that can take time.   Hence the concept of an “Operational Fund for Regional Operations” makes sense if the appropriate modalities for fiscal oversight and control can be assured.  There must also be a discussion of how such funds would be replenished by those countries or authorities that benefit from the stabilization operations of the Nigerian military.  It is impracticable to make open-ended commitments.  Conversely, when presented with opportunities to source international donors, the military must not be shy to use such access and funds for infrastructural maintenance or capacity building. 


A related problem is that of defining Nigeria’s role and place when operating in a multinational configuration to which Nigeria is the leading source of funds and troops.  How far can and must Nigeria go to ensure that it retains or has command?  How comfortable should the Nigerian High command be for Nigerian Troops to serve under foreign command? These questions have been posed deliberately to allow debate, since it may be that there is no right answer. 


The deployment for extended periods of time of Nigerian troops on regional “stabilization” assignments has effects on morale, increases the risk that troops will engage in potentially scandalous sexual activity, and possibly contract communicable diseases if not managed carefully.  It might also have long-term effects on family relationships back home.   There is a school of thought that peacekeeping troops need to be rotated every six months – a convention that has historical roots in the Second World War.  Nevertheless, more recently, a concern has been expressed by UN authorities in Sierra Leone that six-monthly rotations may in fact be too frequent because of the disruptive effects of frequent hand-over to new units on a smooth longer term peace-support operation.  Some have proposed one-year long operations.  The truth, I suspect is in the middle.  If properly funded, troops may go on 9-monthly rotations with opportunities provided for rest and recreation in “Conjugal Safe Havens” (CSH) outside the immediate operational area.  Their wives can be flown to meet with them at the CSH for short periods when they are on leave, or they can be permitted to take “Home leave” and replaced temporarily on a one on one basis by other soldiers, in order not to disrupt operations. 


The other concern about the effect of Nigeria’s increasing sub regional role is the fact that it has the potential to deplete available forces for internal security and territorial defence duties at home.  This creates tension in force design estimates in the Defence Policy document because of unpredictability on overall Force levels that may be appropriate, particularly given the frequent inability of the Police to handle internal security crises.


The “Regional Stabilizer” role must lead to an honest assessment of Nigeria’s expeditionary and force projection capability drawing from many years of experience.  This military is an old military with an institutional memory that dates back over 140 years in many parts of the world.  It needs to reach deep into the aggregate experience of the unit history of the armed forces to come up with rational plans for force design in the 21st century.  Indeed, if it is willing to reach farther back in time into traditional African military heritage there may be insights that could prove useful in this operating environment.


If we assume (or are mandated by Policy) that military muscle should back Nigeria’s increasing sub regional diplomatic role in line with National interests, and can be paid for, then we must begin to evaluate the establishment of a standing regional Force Projection Platform as part of a Joint or Unified (i.e. Air, Land and Sea) Expeditionary Command (built around a Brigade) which will enhance our ability to project expeditionary forces within a credible time frame.  Such a platform should have pre-packaged logistics and training facilities where designated back-up troops can transit for appropriate “just-in-time” kitting, orientation and subsequent air or sealift.  Components of the land element of the standing Expeditionary Command would, ofcourse, have been deployed within hours of an order from the National Command Authority which, hopefully, would have negotiated appropriate Status of Forces Agreement with the recipient country or authority.  Because of Nigeria’s notorious inefficiency and disorganization, I do not think an ad hoc arrangement would be appropriate, where personnel and units from the branches of the Armed Forces would be brought together on a case-by-case basis and then disbanded afterwards.  Instead the unit should be standing, and troops from other units may rotate in and out of it to maintain a system wide opportunity for continuous peace-support training through coordinated exercises with Air and Naval elements, as well as allies, as required. 


A variation on the above theme must be considered, given the state of advancement of plans for an ECOWAS stand-by force.  There needs to be a discussion about whether Nigeria can simultaneously commit troops to the ECOWAS stand-by force as well as an independent Nigerian Expeditionary Command (NEC).  It may be that there is a need to retain flexibility for bilateral arrangements outside the ECOWAS or UN framework, with the NEC dovetailing as a deep reserve to the ECOWAS Standby Force.  Or perhaps such an arrangement, while diplomatically attractive (as was the case with British troops in Sierra Leone), may be too expensive to take on independently. 


No matter how it is cut, the regional scenario highlights the importance of team building.  Just like the national soccer team, Nigerian and West African units have sometimes, perhaps unfairly, but nevertheless definitely had a reputation in the past for being outstanding on an individual basis but disorganized as a group. Operational, administrative and logistic harmony has sometimes, allegedly, been lacking in such situations.  In a complex multilateral operational environment this cannot be tolerated, particularly when time is of the essence.  In addition to purely internal efforts at individual and unit training, therefore, I propose the concept of “unit embedding.”  By this I mean conducting reciprocal small unit training, temporarily seconded to the militaries of other African nations with which there might reasonably be expected to be future collaborative operations.  Naturally, the issue of interoperability will be brought to the fore in defence procurement decisions.


Lastly, it must be recognized that Nigeria does not lack the capacity to write beautiful policy documents. In fact we may be one of the best at it in the world.  The problem is to implement what we conceptualize.   If Nigeria intends to play a regional role it must provide what it takes to do so and do what must be done.  Such a policy is like a language.  There is no point designing it and then putting it on a shelf.  It must be spoken or else it will not survive.






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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.