Nigerian soldiers in high spirits arrive the scene of a terror attack in a less-than-ideal soft-skinned civil utility 4WD truck.
by Sam Kiley
Foreign Affairs Editor
On arrival at the Nigerian armed forces Head Quarters in Abuja recently,a senior foreign official noted that the sentry was using a new piece of equipment.
“What is that?”
“It’s a bomb detector.”
“How does it work?”
“It detects bombs.” “I know.
But where to the batteries go?”
“It doesn’t have batteries. It’s a bomb
And so the dialogue went on, leaving the visitor with a sense of futility and fear – Nigeria had bought equipment to keep it safe that could not work. This is typical.
Last year, Nigerian troops were deployed as part of an African Union mission to Mali – they arrived without transport, armour, very little ammunition, and almost no communications equipment.
Nigerians have fought with considerable bravery in many international operations. This correspondent saw ordinary Nigerian infanteers stand their ground and fight to the last man, who was captured, when Italian paratroopers broke and ran from an ambush in Mogadishu 21 years ago.
In Sierra Leone, Nigerian squaddies held the line against the Revolutionary United Front, beating overwhelming odds and amid fainter hearts from richer countries. Nigerian officers are as well educated as any in the world.
But, today, the Nigerian armed forces struggle to match Boko Haram’s insurgency. Many of the soldiers have not been paid.How come?
Ironically Nigeria’s armed forces have been allowed to collapse in terms of its materiel over many decades of military rule. Ruling juntas plundered the state coffers for fake procurement operations and pocketed the money.
Even today under democratic rule, sources say, Nigerian military procurement focuses on buying high-end expensive equipment like “bomb detectors” because they offer an easy way to skim government money.
In the northeast, where the army has been fighting for four years, most units have no communications equipment other than mobile phones, which often don’t work. The soldiers are brave but do not have much equipment
“On paper, it (Nigeria) maintains the broadest spectrum of capabilities in the region, but in reality much of its equipment is unfit to be deployed for prolonged periods of time,” the International Institute of Strategic Studies said in its annual review The Military Balance – 2014. Most of the military’s armoured vehicles are unserviceable. Soldiers often do not get paid.
“Nigerian officers tend not to want to listen to advice. They believe that an insurgency can be won by killing the people running it,and that the West has secret technology that means they could do that if only we sold it to them. We don’t have it and would not sell it if we did,” said one seasoned Western officer with years of experience in Nigeria.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has announced he has offered aerial surveillance aircraft, probably an RAF Sentinel spy plane, plus liaison officers to interpret its signals and work with American intelligence officers also involved in the hunt for more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
He may also find that he has to put guns into the hands of soldiers and soldiers into new trucks,if any military action can be taken by Nigerian forces to free them.
WHEN ITALIAN SOLDIERS’ TREACHERY LED TO THE DEATHS OF NIGERIAN TROOPS IN MOGADISHU