ANALYSIS: How Nigeria’s defence fared in three years of Mansur Dan Ali’s leadership

Nigerian troopsused to illustrate the story. [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian Nigeria]
Nigerian troops used to illustrate the story. [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian Nigeria]

As Nigeria’s defence minister since 2015, Mansur Dan Ali has taken on a number of major policy initiatives aimed at fostering a sustainable reduction in security crises and a determination to shore-up defence capabilities in a country beset by perennial unrest on many fronts.

Mr Ali, a retired brigadier-general, remains largely the same person today as the young soldier who took the oath to make heavy sacrifices for his nation when he joined the military in 1984.

He assumed office with a resolve to reposition and revamp the armed forces capacity to successfully defend and deter external aggression and threats from non-state actors, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency.

He also planned to address capital crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping, as well as the economic agitation that has kept the Niger-Delta restive for nearly two decades.

Mr Ali, who represents Zamfara State in the federal cabinet, appears to have pursued a fairly conventional, at times controversial, national defence policy.

He has had some notable successes, such as the procurement of new equipment for the armed forces, establishment of new military colleges and fresh alliance with world military powers in defence and aerospace technology.

But he has also faced heavy criticism for his handling of the armed herdsmen crisis which claimed six times more Nigerian lives than Boko Haram in the first six months of 2018, according to the International Crisis Group.

In January, Mr Ali drew nationwide ire after attacking states like Benue, Taraba and Ekiti that have put in place legal framework to tackle herdsmen in their specific borders. He declared the anti-open grazing laws confrontational and said they were responsible for the armed herdsmen aggression against unarmed women and children villagers.

The states in their response dismissed the minister’s remarks as insensitive and provocative, saying the herdsmen were equally as destructive in states without anti-open grazing laws in place, including Plateau and Nasarawa.

As a political appointee, the minister’s key exploits are intrinsic to those of President Muhammadu Buhari in defence, and he once declared that he had the “commitment and support” of the president.

Defence Ministry Since 2015

Nigeria’s defence ministry has coordinated defence and other national security efforts since it was established in 1958.

Successive ministers have encountered unique problems that often greeted the ministry, including during the civil war and the political strife of the 1990s.

Mr Ali, too, said he came at a time of intense security circumstances for Nigeria but said the challenges are far from being insurmountable. He has made efforts to provide political leadership aimed at ensuring a modern, compact, strong, professional and mission-ready armed forces for the defence of our national territory, maritime interest, airspace as stipulated in the Constitution.

Since 2015, Mr Ali, as the Buhari administration’s top man in Defence, has contributed greatly or mildly in the following areas:

1. Coordination of the presidential directive relocating the Military Command and Control Centre to the North-east. The government said this has incrementally boosted the fighting spirit and general morale of the troops across the theatre of operations.

2. Launching of some operations and exercises which are periodically reviewed from time to time to handle emerging challenges, including Harbin Kunama, Gama Aiki I and II, Iron Force, Sharan Daji, Ayem Akpatuma, Delta Safe, Safe Haven, Safe Conduct Mesa, Last Hold, Crocodile Smile and Python Dance.

Recently also, the Nigerian Army kicked off ‘Operation Whirl Stroke’ to tackle security challenges in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara and Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State.

But despite these measures, the security situation in the country has witnessed little improvement. The Boko Haram sect has killed hundreds of Nigerian troops in a string of attacks on Nigerian military bases.

In Zamfara, Mr Ali’s home state, armed bandits have continued to overrun villages, often killing residents in dozens before plundering their livestock and farm produce.

On November 19, an attack on a police team left dozens of officers dead and many missing. The police said 100 bandits were killed during a raid on their hideout, indicating that the threats remain potent despite an active deployment of officers.

3. Drafting sectoral reform aimed at re-organising and expanding the military strength to revamp personnel welfare programme that enables the Armed Forces to adequately tackle multiple threats to national security, stability and unity.

There is little indication, however, that this has started yielding desired fruits.

4. Introducing a harmonised terms and conditions of service for all military personnel to improve their living standards after retirement. Mr Ali also said he helped implement a prompt payment of troops’ operations allowances and personnel monthly emolument, as well as ensuring that troops who have stayed for a reasonable time in the theatre of operations are rotated and new ones inducted.

It is still difficult to measure this as a success because troops are still reporting being held in the North-east for over four years in a single deployment, and the military often claims there are not enough personnel to implement prompt rotations.

5. Initiating a fundamental review of the nation’s defence policy to meet up with global security challenges, the ministry procured a group life assurance scheme for military personnel and has touched the entire gamut of the military pensions to the benefit of service retirees.

Mr Ali said these incentives have helped improve the welfare of relatives of military personnel, although there are still complaints that families of fallen heroes are not being notified on time and their next-of-kin not paid outstanding benefits.

6. The minister claimed credits for helping the Nigerian Army commission 72 medical doctors into its officer cadre in 2017, eight of whom were consultants in various medical fields. There were also twenty-six lawyers, twenty-one public relations specialists and eighteen specialists in army aviation and engineering.

Also, 19 protestant chaplaincies, 21 Catholic and 23 officers for Islamic affairs were recruited.

7. At the Nigerian Air Force, 7,000 personnel were trained in Nigeria and abroad to enhance service delivery and professionalism. More than 80 young pilots from the rank of wing commanders to pilot officers were trained against the previous practice whereby only very senior officers formed the bulk of the fighter pilots.

8. Mr Ali said he helped ensure delivery of the first batch of 10 brand new Super Mushshak aircraft procured from Pakistan, all fitted with digital glass cockpit in line with current practice in the global aviation industry.

The configuration of the aircraft would enhance the transition to higher performance and lay a good foundation for the fighter pilots whose training were completed less than a year after the aircraft were inducted, meaning that returns on government’s investment had started yielding dividend.

He described this as ‘unprecedented’ in the history of the Nigerian military, and one that could serve as a major boost to its operational strength. Again, how effective this procurement has been in the war against Boko Haram, bandits and herdsmen remains complicated.

Since Boko Haram renewed its fresh assault on military bases in July 2018, there have been claims that the air force did not respond to emergency calls to provide air support, because the operation often takes several hours.

The air force also faced accusations of late intervention whenever bandits strike in Zamfara, despite having a base in nearby Katsina State.

9. The minister said he contributed immensely to the establishment of Army, Navy and Air War Colleges across the country. This, he said, was to “bridge the educational and research gap” in the military.

The Nigerian Army and Navy have established the Nigerian Army University in Biu, Borno State (NAUB), and the Admiralty University in Ibusa, Delta State. The Admiralty University was granted its licence in December 2017, while the NAUB got its operating licence in April 2018. Aeronautics University of the Nigerian Air Force is anticipated to take off soon in Kaduna.

10. The minister also reviewed the military order of battle (ORBAT). Under the new order, Nigerian Army 6 Division in Port Harcourt and 8 Division in Sokoto were established by the Nigerian Army with a plan to have a Brigade in all the 36 states of the Federation.

The new army divisions were planned to enhance security along the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Niger and Republic of Chad as well as in the riverine areas of the Niger Delta. New units were similarly established in line with the requirements of the new order of battle.

Under the arrangement, some specialised units such as the motorcycle battalions were established to enhance quick mobility especially in areas unsuitable for vehicular movements. A K-9 sniper dogs’ battalion has been deployed in the North-east.

Additionally, the Nigerian Army established many forward operating bases across the country to provide the necessary support to tactical operations and to cover possible security gap especially around the border regions.

One of the latest is the Fort Muhammadu Buhari commissioned by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, a lieutenant-general, in Mr Buhari’s home-town of Daura, Katsina State.

The Nigerian Navy has similarly expanded in line with the demand of the new order of battle. A naval outpost has been created and stationed in Lake Chad Basin and has since been operational.

The air force has established a special operations command with quick response units located in Gusau, Owerri, Ipetu-Ijesha, Bauchi, Jos, Katsina, Yola, and some parts of Kaduna State to enhance base protection and quick response to national emergencies.

11. Shortly after assuming office, the minister directed a renovation of barracks across the country. He said this move had been “adequately complemented” with the provision for the soldiers’ comprehensive kitting tailored along modern warfare requirements.

This is why the ministry says it is committed to procuring modern equipment for the Armed Forces of Nigeria in its effort to improve the combat effectiveness and raise the morale of the troops.

Newly initiated projects include the Gusau Barracks in Zamfara State, where for example, troops were stationed immediately after the civil war but lived in rented properties in over five locations in densely civilian-populated areas which no doubt endangered civil-military relations.

It is a different story in the last three years as the phases one and two of the Gusau Barracks are already completed with the third phase ongoing. The renovation of quarters for military personnel across the country, the renovation and upgrade of most of the army, navy and air force schools to promote better learning environment is ongoing.

This is in addition to new command schools and health facilities established across the six geo-political zones in the country to improve a better working condition for military personnel.

Twenty blocks of 320 flats barracks accommodation by the Ministry of Defence have been initiated to ease the problem of personnel accommodation in Abuja.

The 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Kaduna, the Nigerian Air Force Reference Hospital in Bauchi, the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital in Calabar and 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, are undergoing rehabilitation. [

12. To guide against defence procurement fraud, the minister said there is a new government-to-government policy that guides arms procurement which essentially prevents abuse and under-hand dealings in line with the anti-corruption stance of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

This new arrangement requires the Ministry of Defence to buy equipment and platforms directly from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), thereby eliminating vendors and middle-men from the procurement process.

Although Mr Dan Ali said “the new policy now guarantees the supply of cost-effective standard equipment as well as complete elimination of fraud and manipulation by vendors thus saving the government huge hard-earned foreign exchange,” there is little evidence to corroborate the claim. The National Security Adviser still has a significant impact on equipment procurement for defence. A director and the Central Bank of Nigeria said while testifying in the case of Raymond Dokpesi that there have been no changes in ”how the military collected money for procurement.”

Moreover, the Nigerian government appeared to have used middlemen in its recent procurement of 12 Super Tucano fighter jets for the Nigerian Air Force. This, perhaps, explains why the amount spent on procuring the equipment was well below the amount Mr Buhari paid to the U.S. Department of Defence.

13. To improve civil-military relations, which have been strained in recent years with regular human rights abuses by soldiers, especially, a hospital by the Nigerian Air Force was completed and commissioned by Mr Buhari in Bauchi. Four cancer screening centres were also established by the Nigerian Air Force its base in Maiduguri.

The minister also said NAF opened a Dialysis Centre and an emergency ramp at the recently-established NAF Reference Hospital in Port Harcourt in May 2018 to further enhance healthcare delivery for personnel, their families and members of the civil populace. The ministry also established health maintenance facilities in its zonal offices across the six political zones to cater for medical needs of the personnel and the retirees.

Under Mr Ali’s supervision, the Nigerian Air Force recently invented Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) nicknamed ‘Tsaigumi’, and it was unveiled by the president. The UAV is capable of day and night operations with an operational endurance in excess of 10 hours, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet and a mission radius of 100 kilometres, including a maximum take-off weight of 95 kilogrammes while its payload is an electric-optic/infrared camera system.

The NAF has since expressed readiness to partner with Shell Petroleum Development Company to deploy the UAVs to secure critical oil installations in the Niger Delta.

The minister also said the NAF has produced various calibres of Alpha jet bombs locally and overhauled Alpha jet break systems assembly in collaboration with indigenous Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing Company. Weather monitoring systems were also deployed at all Nigeria Air Force stations to improve air safety. How pivotal these measures are for the Nigerian defence would be revealed in the future.

14. Mr Ali lamented that the nation’s security assets have been of great concern as most of the platforms and military hardware have become obsolete. The last bulk purchase of equipment was in 1982.

However, he says tremendous efforts have been made to provide funds for the acquisition of modern equipment for the military to simultaneously confront multiple security challenges such as terrorism, farmer’s clashes with pastoralists, killer-herdsmen, pipeline vandalism, crimes, armed banditry, cattle rustling, border clashes between communities, kidnapping, ethno-religious conflicts, trans-border criminal activities, amongst others.

To address the challenges, the minister said he has “taken the bull by the horns” and committed huge resources to improve military platforms in the country. He said at least eight helicopters have been released to the air force and the NNPC for surveillance operations.

The minister also inducted four Mi-35 helicopters from Russia deployed in the ground attack in the North-east to boost the operations of the Nigerian Air Force which has also produced hydraulic accumulator diaphragms for the helicopters locally.

The government also said it procured Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), minesweepers and ammunition of different calibre for the Nigerian Army.

Recently, some military personnel were trained on explosives detection and disposal by the British Liaison and Support team at the theatre of operations in Maiduguri. In the Nigerian Navy, there were newly-activated NNS Unity and CENTENARY from China and the locally-built NNS KARADUWA and Tugboat Commander EDWIN UGWU and boats locally manufactured.

But Nigeria’s defence budget has witnessed significant decrease under Mr Ali. Compared to preceding years when defence spending averaged N900 billion under President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr Ali has overseen only about half of the annual defence spending, overseeing N429 billion in 2016, N465 billion in 2017 and N422 billion in 2018.

15. Mr Ali also said he was the one who directed all military formations across the country to establish a human rights desk to treat complaints promptly in furtherance of Nigeria’s commitment to honour its obligations under various human rights treaties. While the military had since confirmed setting up the desks, very little has changed in regards to how military personnel treat civilians. Acute abuses are still rife. Soldiers only recently opened live rounds on unarmed Shiite protesters, killing dozens of them.

15. Mr Ali negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the U.K, Russia, Turkey and France including other African countries such as Equatorial Guinea to cover maritime security. How much this would help in foreign relations in the area of national security could not be immediately measured.

Overall, based on his promises, successes, challenges, and the current realities of Nigeria’s security situation, Mr Ali can be scored an average performance in office (5/10).

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