Last week’s column on our nation’s peacekeeping failures ruffled more than a few feathers both within the defence establishment and corridors of executive power. That was expected, because when those wasting our resources in the name of our defence become exposed in the way our peacekeeping capacity has rapidly deteriorated, all kinds of motives will be imputed to divert attention from the wanton looting of the defence and security budgets going on between the presidency and the agencies concerned.
Far more humbling and sobering for me were the number of military officers, both serving and retired that called, wrote, tweeted and sent emails to confirm the essence of what we wrote last week, and offered further stories, anecdotes and facts about the general decline of our once-proud military and peacekeeping capabilities. It seems according to one commentator, that the Nigerian military now has acquired all the sad constituents of decay that have bedeviled the country. We will share some of these today, looking a little closer at the quantity and quality of the equipment of the Nigeria Army, facts about the declining levels of our peacekeeping capacity and the disorganization and mismanagement of our defence infrastructure in the last few years.
The backbone of any Army is the Infantry, Armoured and Artillery Corps. They are the ones that fight the wars. All other corps largely provide support services. Let us look at information published in Failed States – 2030 authored by some colonels of the US Air University in 2010. So consider first, some of the equipment holdings of the Armoured Corps of the Nigerian Army, of the 129 T-55 main battle tanks owned, 29 are out of service. Similarly, only 36 of 150 Vickers Mk 3 battle tanks are functional. Out of 120 AML Reconnaissance vehicles, only 40 were functional in 2010, and only four Saxon Armoured Personnel Carriers were operational out of 75. No wonder, we can only send a few broken-down APCs to Darfur.
Take the Artillery Corps. They initially owned 48 155mm FH-77B Howitzers but only 25 are working. Out of 200 122mm D-74/D-30 Field Guns, only 84 worked in 2010, while all the eight 122mm BM-21 rocket launchers we had had broken down. The anti-tank weapons cache is slightly better, though pathetic by the standards of modern warfare. We have 3,000 RPGs for the entire Infantry Corps, explaining why our soldiers in Darfur cannot have any to repel rebel attacks. We had 240 of 3.5″ RL M20 anti-tank guns but when you have a country where equipment continually depreciates with no effort or resources put into maintenance or replacement, barely 10% (24) of those guns are functional. It does not get any better; only 12 of the 50 40mm Bofors L/60 air defense weapons are still doing what they were purchased to do. The list goes on and on with barely any of the categories having all their equipment ready for the defence job for which they are meant. And yet, we budget .. nearly 1.2 percent of our GDP on defence!
It is also sad to note that one brand of the Armoured Personnel Carrier, Cobra which is in the holding of the Nigerian troops in Darfur is a topic of jest amongst other country contingents. It is reputed to be Chinese manufacture, but the engines were sourced from another country. The Cobra APCs are not up to 7 years old, yet they have all broken down. In saner climes, whoever purchased such refurbished contraption should be court-martialled or put on trial, but in Nigeria, he probably got a promotion and national honour!
Apart from our major military equipment which to a large extent are broken-down, there are quality issues with the personal equipment such as boots, blankets and bullet proof vests, which to say the least is pathetic. Some of the troops deployed to UNMIL in August to September 2010 lacked beds and mattresses; some had only mattresses, while others slept on the bare floor, and the conditions have not changed for the better.
As is usual in the case of Nigeria, the decline in quantity and quality of defense equipment is ironically not as a result of funds allocated to the sector; instead it is quite the contrary. As the government allocates more resources to the sector, there is a corresponding decline in the quality of our peacekeeping capacity. It is also evident that the defence ministry specializes in purchasing sub-standard equipment that are not durable. There appears to be no procedure or consideration made to replace already broken-down equipment until the troops are left with nothing thereby giving room for a huge allocation to be made for the purchase of such equipment which eventually never happens.
Besides the sorry state of defence equipment, the quantity and quality of the peace-keepers are on the decline. Quality, as shown in last week’s article, is a function of training, both in hard military fighting skills which we demonstrated in Congo in 1960 and ECOMOG in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, but are unfortunately losing as shown by the ease with which our troops are being routinely disarmed and killed in Sudan sometimes without fighting back. Training in “soft skills” required in modern peacekeeping operations to address human rights and sexual exploitation, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR),etc. are absolutely necessary to enhance our peacekeeping capabilities. These soft skills training has never been our forte and it is disheartening to observe that no efforts have been put towards changing the status quo.
Quality is also measured by logistic capability of the contingent which includes the capacity and ability to transport a contingent to and from theatre using a nation’s own air force, how it maintains those troops in the theatre in terms of feeding, medicals, accommodation, water, sanitation, minor engineering, transport needs and recreation. This is the area where countries make the money UN pays them for logistics but Nigeria scores abysmally low here and our soldiers are among the worst in almost all operations we participate. Apart from loss of money, there is the attendant loss of prestige in fielding a rag tag army that cannot cater for itself while other national contingents from even poorer African countries are doing far better with Ghana, Rwanda, and Ethiopia just to mention a few.
The MOU signed in January 2008, between Nigeria and the UN for troops deployment to UNAMID in Sudan, provides that Nigeria will be paid a sum of $83,422,020 each quarter, all things being equal, for deploying 4 infantry battalions. However, out of this amount, for a particular quarter, the country was only able to claim, a paltry $15,902,122.07 thus losing a whopping $67,519,897.93. If one takes into account that the MOU was signed in January 2008 at the beginning of UNAMID, an operation which is still ongoing, and also the fact that the logistical situation of the Nigerian units in the operations has not improved since then, and may have even deteriorated further, the losses as at present (2012) would be colossal as Nigeria would have lost a total of at least $804 million since the operation started, a potential revenue loss of N128 billion, or nearly a third of the defence budget in 2012.
Sadly, in UNMIL, the Nigerian units were rated lowest among all national contingents deployed to the operation meeting barely 60% of COE obligations thus forfeiting another $325,196,93 for the corresponding period. In typical fire brigade manner, the Nigerian government made the necessary minimal purchases for the contingents to ensure that the Nigerian units were not deactivated following the threat by the UN to do so.
Nigeria was until recently, the biggest African contributor in terms of quantity to global peacekeeping. Quantity is assessed in terms of the number of military and police peacekeepers that each member state contributes to the UN peacekeeping. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, towards the end of 1999 began to display and keep monthly records of peacekeeping contributions by each country. The countries are then ranked in order of the total number of peacekeepers they contribute monthly to the UN.
It is interesting to note that for more than 3 years unbroken, Nigeria was placed fourth largest contributor to UN peace operations behind only India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and also the largest contributor among African countries. Unfortunately, once again, rather than improve, Nigeria has slipped back a place from December 2011 to number 5 and Nigeria’s fourth position is occupied by Ethiopia, another less-endowed African country. Another record which Nigeria held up till the end of 2011 was being the highest contributor of female peacekeepers. Once again, the position has been taken by South Africa.
Until recently, Nigeria held top mission leadership positions in the UN such as Special Representative of the Secretary General, Force Commander, Deputy Force Commander, Sector Commanders and Police Commissioner. This no longer obtains due to the deterioration in the quality and quantity of our peacekeeping contributions. For instance, Nigeria lost UNAMID command to Rwanda when General Agwai was not given an extension. Nigeria also lost some positions in UNMIL Liberia. Currently, only Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari of UNAMID and General Moses Obi, Force Commander UNMISS occupy such posts. A contributory factor to Nigeria losing such positions is the dysfunctional selection process into the peacekeeping force that allows for people to be sent for missions not based on their abilities but on who they know. Eventually they compete with the best from other countries and as expected, cannot beat the competition and meet the rigorous standards of the UN.
Finally, corruption within the Nigerian Army is a major mitigating factor to any meaningful progress in the defence sector. Rather than use the UN peacekeeping reimbursements (which are not claimed in full due to our poor performance) gained from participation in peacekeeping to better equip and train the armed forces, these monies are diverted for political interests such as funding political campaigns. In 2010, there was a case where the national,assembly raised queries regarding funds earmarked to buy equipment for peacekeeping which was never spent. The issue died a natural death as soon as the relevant committee was “carried along” in Nigerian political parlance!
In conclusion, the hard earned reputation of Nigeria in international peacekeeping gained through the efforts of late General Aguiyi-Ironsi, Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo and T Y Danjuma, as far back as 1960 is about to be lost as our contingents are now rated among the worst in terms of training, logistics and professionalism. Even the fighting reputation we used to have no longer exists as all it takes to disarm our ill equipped troops are rag tag bandits. Something needs to be done. Is the commander-in-chief listening, or do all Nigerians need to take up arms against the state, become militants, insurgents or terrorists to attract his attention?
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