How Nigeria’s Military Strength Depleted from 250,000 in 1970 to 100,000 in 2014
An investigation by Thisday has revealed how the strength of the Nigerian military as well as it’s arsenal has depleted over a period of 44 years, thus making it difficult to meet security challenges like that of Boko Haram and other insurgency in the country.
The report likened the story of Nigeria’s military as a microcosm of the country: One that started on an enviable slate but has ended up a shadow of its former self.
Starting from 1970, immediately after the civil war, Nigeria with a population of 56.132 million boasted a military strength of 250,000 troops, which was by far the largest in West Africa.
Retired military officers, who spoke to THISDAY with a history of the country’s military might, added that in the early 1970s, the armed forces also had the arsenal to boot.
Today, however, a retired army general said that with a population of 170.2 million, a little over 100,000 armed forces personnel that are ill-equipped, poorly trained and poorly motivated troops are expected to defend the territorial integrity of the country from internal and external aggression.
With Nigeria currently at war with the terrorist group, Boko Haram, he wondered how the federal government expects to win the war against a deranged group that has killed over 12,000 innocent citizens of the country in a space of five years and is lusting for more blood.
Going down memory lane, the general said the decimation of Nigeria’s military started in the 1980s after the overthrow of President Shehu Shagari.
“Shagari was the last president that made a conscious effort to equip the military adequately. Before he was overthrown, his administration ordered 50 Chinook helicopters for carrying equipment and armed forces personnel. He also ordered several armoured vehicles and ensured that the armouries in all the divisions were well equipped.
“But when a succession of military rulers took over, starting from Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to General Ibrahim Babangida and the late General Sani Abacha, they went out of their way to demobilise the army for their own selfish reasons,” he revealed.
He added that even when former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general who should have reversed the rot, assumed office in 1999, he continued on the same path as his successors in order to weaken and depoliticise the armed forces and prevent over-ambitious officers from overthrowing his government.
To buttress the general’s point, globalsecurity.org, a website dedicated to defense, military and weapons systems news and information on armed forces worldwide, described the Nigerian military as “a large, complex organisation: The Nigerian military contains a number of contradictions, incongruities, and internal disjunctions.
“It is the largest, most capable military in West Africa with major foreign deployments under ECOWAS and the AU, as well as extensive UN peacekeeping commitments.
“At the same time, chronic under-resourcing has led to low operational readiness, lack of training, and relatively poor conditions of service.
“These problems, along with endemic corruption, have made the Nigerian military somewhat of a hollow giant resting on its reputation — more capable than any other force in the sub-region, but considerably less capable than it should be with tens of thousands of troops and a large stock of major weapons systems and other equipment.
“A high percentage of the heart of the force — the 60,000-soldier strong army’s 25 infantry battalions — are capable of little more than basic defensive operations.”
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