Wednesday 4, June 2014
June 4, 2014
Author: PATRICK ATUANYA
Four years into an insurgency that has cost the lives of over 12,000 people, including hundreds of military personnel, the Nigerian military only started deploying Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles last month in the major theatre of operations in the north-east.
The Chinese-built CS/VP3 Bigfoot MRAP would be a welcome relief to soldiers who had hitherto been operating in vehicles mostly associated with militias than a national army, such as thin-skinned Toyota Hilux pickup trucks vulnerable to Boko Haram ambushes, small arms fire and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
The military failed to provide its soldiers in the frontlines with adequate firepower and protection, even as the US Joint IED Defeat Organisation in 2012 rated the Nigerian insurgency as the most IED-intensive in Africa.
Defence sources tell BusinessDay that this is a symptom of the opaque and often corrupt procurement practices prevalent in the military, which often lead to unnecessary delays, wrong or defective equipment purchase, or outright stealing of monies.
“The Nigerian military has pretty much been living on past glory, and currently fields outmoded equipment inadequate in protecting the country from current, emerging and potential future threats,” the defence source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The use of middlemen in procurements of military hardware has left the country less secure, and increasingly unable to project its power and influence in the sub-region,” the source said.
Nigerian soldiers were left to man checkpoints in Mali, after showing up with inadequate amour and vehicles that often broke down, leaving the fighting to mostly Chadian and French forces.
The country bought Israeli surveillance drones in 2006 – during the Obasanjo regime – that might have been used to hunt down Islamist rebels, but they have been grounded since then. Sources tell BusinessDay that the drones which cost $17 million (N2.7 billion) apiece were defective from day one, and were “never intended to fly”, while the deal to purchase them was done through a middleman, who pocketed millions of dollars to be shared with top military and civilian officials. Most defence procurements are done country to country without secrecy, as it is done in Nigeria, or directly with the original equipment manufacturers.
“The use of middlemen in our procurement process smacks of sharp practice. The Ministry of Defence can deal directly with equipment manufacturers such as Suncraft, ISI, Norinco, Poly Technologies Inc, BVST, TP Marine, etc without using middlemen. The only fathomable role played by a middleman in the process would be to receive kickbacks,” said respected defence blogger Beeg Eagle.
Nigeria, which has a $510 billion economy and defence budget of $6.5 billion for 2014, still does not field any fourth-generation fighter jets, even though 10 African countries, including Uganda, Angola and Chad currently do. At the same time, there is virtually no modern air defence system in any part of the country.
In West Africa, Chad with a GDP of $11 billion currently has the balance of power against Nigeria, as it fields fourth- generation fighter jets (MIG-29 and SU-25 ground attack Frog foot), which are superior to Nigeria’s F-7 jets. In Southern Africa, Angola, which rivals Nigeria as Africa’s top oil producer, fields 18 SU-30 fighter jets, which analysts say could theoretically hit any targets in southern Nigeria from Angola, including oil fields and major cities, due to its 3,500 km attack radius.
“The military seems more interested in pulling out of the pension scheme and integrated payroll systems which reduce fraud, than carrying out any major threat assessment to Nigeria’s security and acquiring the assets to deal with those threats,” said another source. “The former chief of air staff said on TV that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) was capable of defending the nation’s airspace after reactivating the 30-year- old Alpha Jets first. This is clearly a case of wishful thinking, lack of knowledge, or of defence planners not giving the president the true picture of the poor state of our military,” the source said.
Most of the airframes in the Nigerian Air Force, including the C-130 transport planes and Alpha jets, were purchased in the early 1980s by the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari. Some analysts wonder why such cannot be replicated again in view of today’s much more dangerous world.
“Our inclination towards seeing defence expenditure as an anathema has seen our NAF robbed of its pedigree,” another defence source said. “Nigeria, which shares borders with the Gulf of Guinea, the Sahel, Central Africa and West Africa, must position her air force to operate across these theatres.”