Boko Haram: Maximising Nigeria’s Military Power


Kingsley Nwezeh looks at the role of the Nigerian military in a democracy, its arsenal, especially in the face of the seeming intractable Book Haram insurgency, intervening factors hindering the war and better approaches to be adopted

The importance of the military in a democracy cannot be overemphasised. In a sense, beyond its constitutional role, the military is seen as a national asset and a tool for national cohesion. Indeed, the military is the soul of a nation.
Going by its records in peace-keeping missions and other pro-democracy engagements across the world, the Nigerian military could be comfortably referred to as a formidable force.

The Constitution

The Nigerian Constitution captures the role of the military in
Section 217 (1) which states that “There shall be armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an army, a navy, an air force and such other branches of the armed forces of the federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.

“(2) The Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of (a) defending Nigeria from external aggression;
b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea, or air; (c) suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly; and
(d) performance of such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”

Global Campaigns

Historically, the military has fought battles across the globe to keep the peace of the world. From the contingent that fought in Burma in the second world war to the Congo crisis in the 60s, the first and second Liberian wars, the Sierra-Leone War, the various peace-keeping operations, and most recently the warship that was deployed to force out Gambian dictator, former President Yahya Jammeh.

Most of the campaigns, even when they were not sanctioned by the Nigerian populace, were all geared towards the restoration of democratic rule in the affected countries.

Global Military Ranking

The 2018 and 2019 Global Military Strength Ranking puts Nigerian military at No. 43 ahead of such European nations as Belgium, Portugal and the Carribbean nation of Cuba. A global military ranking institution, Global Fire Power (GFP), citing United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Fact Book credits Nigeria with 181,000 total military personnel (other sources say 250,000), 172, 400,000 available manpower from a population of 190 million. That is to say that at any time, the country could draw from available manpower especially in war times.

Those fit for service stands at 40, 710,000 while citizens reaching military age stands at 3, 456,000. Out of the total military personnel, 124, 000 are active(other sources say 162,000) while 57,000 are reserved.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s total aircraft strength is 124, with nine fighter aircraft, 21 attack aircraft, 52 transport aircraft, 47 trainer aircraft with a helicopter strength of 43 and 11 attack helicopters.

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar said recently that 30 aircraft were purchased in the last three years in addition to the controversial 12 Tukano fighter planes acquired recently from the United States when they are delivered.

The Nigerian Air Force deployed fighter planes that flew over 30,000 hours in the north-east in the last one year, while the Nigerian Navy has since established a base in Baga, around Lake Chad in a joint effort to neutralise terrorist group, Boko Haram and the Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP).

Also, the GFP ranking also credits Nigerian Army with 148 combat tanks, 1,420 armoured fighting vehicles, 25 self-propelled artillery, 339 towed artillery and 30 rocket projectors.
Nigeria’s total naval assets stands at 75 with four frigates and 93 patrol craft. The Navy recently acquired 300 patrol boats to boost its arsenal.

In contrast, the ranking which is based on population of the country, manpower/personnel strength, financial strength, military arsenal and continental or sub-continental area of influence for a particular country (Nigeria: West Africa) ranks United States from where Nigeria adopted the presidential system of government, as the country with the greatest military firepower.

The United States has a total military personnel strength of 2,83,100 with available manpower of 145,215 million from a total population of 326, 625,791. The country is also credited with 13, 362,000 total aircraft strength comprising attack, fighter, transport and trainer aircraft, a total helicopter strength of 5, 758 and 20 aircraft carriers, 38, 888 armoured fighting vehicles in addition to 5,888 combat tanks, 1,197 rocket projectors among others.


Under the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, the initial complaints bordered on inadequate funding which resulted in use of inferior equipment compared to the ones being used by the insurgents, a situation that led to low morale and actual defection of troops to neighbouring countries.

A recent statement issued by the Defence Headquarters boasted robust funding for the armed forces. “At the heat of Boko Haram insurgency in 2012 to 2013, the Nigerian Armed Forces with limited weapon chased Boko Haram out of Abuja and other cities into Sambisa Forest. How much more now that the military is well equipped with determined troops to take on any terrorist group, be it Boko Haram or Islamic State in West Africa”, former Defence Spokesman, Brigadier General John Agim, had said.

In the 2018 budget, the military proposed N38 billion for the purchase of ammunition, jet fighters, amoured tanks, landing ships, patrol vehicles and boats among others. Going by the record of appropriations since 2008, a total of N6 trillion was expended on defence by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

A significant part of this budget was concentrated on the war against insurgency. The huge defence allocation represents 10.51 per cent of the N58.001 trillion appropriated in the past 11 years. The sum of N2.945 trillion or 40 per cent nearly half of the budget was spent between 2012 and 2014.

Additionally, President Muhammadu Buhari would have spent N1.864 trillion (30.57 per cent) or more of the 11 years defence budget since coming to power in 2015.

Intractable Insurgency?

As the fourth most powerful military in Africa after Egypt, Algeria and South Africa in addition to the experience of the nation’s military in combat missions across the globe, with Nigeria’s military arsenal and intelligence capabilities, it is curious that the country is yet to declare total victory over the terrorists.

While government has made several declarations to the effect that the battle is won, the battle still rages and casualty figures have not abated.

A school of thought believes that the Nigerian military have effectively quelled civil disorder and other forms of armed conflicts in the country. In fact, the armed forces, it holds, are no longer the nation’s last line of defence owing to many threats to the security, stability, peace and unity of the country. It is convenient to say that the armed forces have become the first line of defence in the country.

Other observers believe that the military had never been so engaged in sundry internal security operations as it is now in the history of the nation.

Military personnel are presently saddled with the responsibility of engaging serious armed conflicts of different scope ranging from insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling, farmers-herdsmen clashes, pipeline vandalism, electricity cable vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, ritual killing, electoral violence, cultism which are all threats to national stability.

They maintain that where severe internal crisis in any part of the country overwhelmed the civil police, the military had always been deployed by the President and Commander-in Chief in line with the military’s constitutional obligation to provide assistance in aid of civil authority in the restoration of law and order, peace and security.

They further argue that the resort to the military had always ensured that emerging internal security threats do not degenerate or escalate to the point of consuming the entire country or any of its federating units.

Allegations against the Military

The military has roundly being accused of perpetrating human rights abuses in the course of its operations to which they have issued vehement denials. The accusations are internal and external. Amnesty International has repeatedly presented video and documentary evidence especially in the case of killing of 150 Biafra youths engaged in peaceful demonstration in addition to those killed during Operation “Python Dance” in the South-eastern part of the country in a bid to effect the arrest of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu.

Accussations have also poured in from foreign agencies over extra-judicial measures adopted in the fight against insurgency in the North-east.

A former Defence Minister and Chief of Army Staff, Theophilus Danjuma, said recently the military was taking sides in the crisis involving herdsmen and farmers in his home state, Taraba.
Though the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Yusuf Buratai, had set up a committee which cleared the army of complicity, the accusation still lingers.

The recent clash between the army and the shiite muslim sect is another case in point. While 16 shiite members were killed, some soldiers were wounded. The sect members were protesting the long incarceration of their leader, El-Zakzaky in spite of subsisting court orders. He was later released last year. The Brigade of Guards had issued a statement to the effect that the sect members pelted military vehicles conveying missiles to an undisclosed destination.

Casualty Figures

Since the commencement of hostilities in the North-east 10 years ago, the casualty figures have expectedly been high.
Some have put the figures at 20,000 including civilians, aid workers and military personnel who died in action.
But the former Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettimah, has a totally different statistics on the deaths recorded so far.

“The Boko Haram insurgency has led to deaths of almost 100,000 persons going by the estimates of our community leaders over the years. Two million, one hundred and fourteen thousand (2,114,000) persons have become internally displaced as at December of 2016, with 537,815 in separate camps; 158,201 are at official camps that consists of six centres with two transit camps at Muna and Customs House, both in Maiduguri.

“There are 379,614 IDP’S at 15 satellite camps comprising Ngala, Monguno, Bama, Banki, Pulka, Gwoza, Sabon Gari and other locations in the state. 73,404 persons were forced to become refugees in neighbouring countries with Niger having 11,402 and Cameroon having 62,002.”

The present governor of the state, Professor Babagana Zullum, also visited Chad and sought the repatriation of 120,000 Nigerians refugees there.

The former governor had said at a recent lecture: “we have an official record of 52,311 orphans who are separated and unaccompanied. We have 54,911 widows who have lost their husbands to the insurgency and about 9,012 have returned back to various communities of Ngala, Monguno, Damboa, Gwoza and Dikwa”.

Who is Prolonging the War?

There have been publications, comments and theories adducing reasons why the war against the terrorists in the North-east is unending. Some have alluded to international conspiracy while others allege that top government functionaries, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)/Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs), food /weapons suppliers and indeed the top military brass are in the mix.

Huge interests in crude oil deposits in the Lake Chad Basin, the refusal of some weapons manufacturers to sell arms to Nigeria and other entrenched schemes of some foreign nations have also been put forward as factors prolonging the war against terrorist group, Boko Haram, and ISWAP in the North-east.

A top military source told THISDAY that huge oil deposits in the Lake Chad Basin have provoked foreign interests thus fuelling the insurgency.

Some NGOs also are believed to have made upfront payment of hotel accommodation for 10 to 15 years, indicating that backers of such organisations know the war would not end in 15 years.

France is also believed to have interest in the area to the effect that it has started oil exploration from the Chad side of Lake Chad.

The source said: “If Nigeria starts her own exploration, it would be against French interest. The topography of the area where you have the crude oil deposits is tilted towards Nigerian side and when Nigeria starts exploration, they (France) will loose out. Some lecturers were taken to that area to conduct a survey and on their way back, Boko Haram ambushed them and killed all of them.”

On difficulties ecountered in accessing weapons to prosecute the war in the North-east, he lamented the inability of government to access weapons.

“Western nations have practically refused to sell us weapons.
Amnesty International has been filling monthly reports urging weapons manufacturers not to sell arms to us based on our poor human rights records. Have you wondered why United States had to sell us the 12 Tucano aircraft and decided to deliver it in 2020? Nobody has raised that issue not National Assembly, not journalists.

“We are used to the offers of training and promise to provide intelligence but we are familiar with that. We need weapons to fight this war. Now look at this scenario. Go to Maiduguri, foreign NGOs have booked all the hotels there but here is the most interesting part. They paid to stay in hotels in Maiduguri for 10-15 years. How do you explain that? So they and their backers are working to ensure that the war never ends”, he said.

Review of Strategy

The entire approach to the war on the part of government needs to be reviewed in order to end the carnage. The military strategy needs to be tinkered with. The internal and external interest groups require needed evaluation. If weapons manufacturers are not selling weapons, there is the need for reinvention and creativity.

Going by Nigeria’s military ranking and reputation, it would seem that Nigeria is not unleashing its full arsenal on the terrorists.

The Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) was established to produce small arms. How far has it helped in the war against insurgents? If the military is pelted with accusations of human rights abuses, should it not look inwards?

On the diplomatic sphere, a more expanded international conference on Boko Haram should be convened with all the stakeholders and issues on the table. The previous conferences held outside the country did not adequately address the issues.
It took greater commitment of US President, Donald Trump and other Western allies to tackle the once dreaded ISIS.

The late Head of State, General Sanni Abacha, was once quoted as saying that “if an insurgency lasts more than 48 hours, then somebody in government knows about it”.
In criticising the Jonathan Presidency, President Mohammadu Buhari rechoed this statement as opposition candidate.
Shall we now say the same of this government? Time will tell and the time to maximise Nigeria’s military power is now.