Concerned security experts in the country have advised President Goodluck Jonathan to be ready to shop for new helicopters in order to enhance the fire power of the Military in its campaign against the Boko Haram insurgents should the $1 billion (N168 billion) external loan the president is currently seeking the approval of the National Assembly to take be granted.
The president had in a letter sent on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 and addressed to the Senate President, David Mark, said the need for external borrowing was to enable the upgrade of security equipment in order to fight the Boko Haram insurgency. He also said the money would be used to train the military and other security officers.
Opinions have been divergent since the president’s letter was read on the floor of the upper legislative chamber: with many saying the move was a step in the right direction if the country intends to make a head way in the fight against the insurgents responsible for the cruel deaths of thousands of innocent Nigerians and have sacked several villages in the northeast; while others disagreed, noting that, the huge amount invested so far in the military was yet to be reciprocated.
The Minority Leader of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila had said the Federal Government should explore trade by barter option (exchanging oil for military hardware) like other needy countries have done in the past if truly Nigeria has weak military equipment considering the country’s previous budgets for Defense and train military personnel instead of piling up debts for the country.
He said the request for $1 billion loan by the president after N3trillion allocated to Defense in three years with nothing to show for it, showed that the president and his advisers regarded Nigerians as imbeciles.
Former Military Head of State and All Progressives Congress (APC’s) national leader, Muhamadu Buhari who recently survived bomb attack targeted at his convey in Kaduna, had also queried what the military were doing with trillions of naira ($5.8 billion) allocated to it in the 2014 budget if they can’t equip the military, saying “you can’t have a developing country of this size with an incompetent military”.
But, a former Director, Directorate of Nigerian Military Intelligence, Chris Otulana, a retired Colonel, said Nigerians should know that their Military is completely involved in operation in a very large front and its budget cannot be as usual if the country must overcome Boko Haram that has access to weapons from Libya, Syria and Iran.
He said there were lots of weapons that need replacement; lots of weapon systems that need to be repaired and new acquisition.
“I don’t know when last Nigeria had new acquisition for its military. I read and get reports of countries buying weapons and all of that; but I have not seen Nigeria buy weapons in the last ten years”, he lamented.
Otulana, who explained that there are many variant helicopters, said it would be a welcome idea for the military to have new sets of helicopters in its arsenal. “There is the attack helicopter; the medical evacuation helicopter and other peculiar helicopters. Even with the planes, there are transport airplanes; there are fighters and there are bombers. The president should be ready to get quality helicopters for the military as it would enable them to carry out strategic airstrikes against the insurgents when the need arises. It will really boost the military might in the fight against the insurgency”, he said.
The retired intelligence director, who blamed the current sabotage on corrupt politicians and officials without adequate military operational knowledge, said it was unfortunate corruption was at its peak in the country.
He said: “I don’t want to put the blame on the office of the Minister of Defense; but the truth of the matter is that; army does not spend the money. The Chief of Army does not spend the money. He doesn’t even have the right to buy a single rifle. He is to send his list to the Ministry of Defense, stating what he wants. Nigerians should know it is not the military that spends the money. Whenever the country wants to procure military equipment, political leaders are the ones who normally handle the financial aspect of it. The only thing the military does is to research what kind of equipment it would need. That is the difference between us and developed countries. In America for example, anything military, financially and otherwise, is handled by the military. Every aspect of defense should be left in the hands of those with appreciable knowledge of defense. They may not necessarily be military men, but men with strong military appetite who are ready to burn the library candle in order to acquaint themselves with the latest global military strategies”, he said.
“I am not sure whether or not in recent times there have been new equipment; but I happened to know that military utensils in Nigeria are not what it used to be. A soldier used to have a box of uniform. But today, soldiers are buying their uniform, police are buying their uniform. Things have gone so bad in Nigeria; not only in the military!
“I went to military school in 1956. I looked at the type of accoutrements we used. Accoutrement is more than just hardware. It comprises the soldiers’ personal uniform, the boots, tooth paste and tooth brush and every other things. The soldier ought to be equipped with everything he needs to survive in the battle front. They even give soldiers in those days what we called “The House Wife” (a pack that has thread, water treatment tablet and other things civilians are not aware of). The water treatment tablet for example, helps the soldiers to be able to drink any water. If soldiers are going on the field and there is no water, they can always take water from any stream and drop a tablet in it, later drop another tablet and drink freely without harm. There are things soldiers can rub on their body against mosquitoes and other insects”, he said.
According to him, should the National Assembly grant the president’s request, the money should not be used to service only the soldiers but that it should be disbursed among all the country’s security apparatuses.
“The Air Force and Navy also need to be upgraded. The police and other paramilitary agencies like the Customs and Immigration also need to be part of the whole arrangement”, he said.
He further said that the current inability of the military to decisively deal with the insurgents was not as a result of incompetency of the soldiers but rather, inadequacy of weapons. He however, noted that, the issue of weapon malfunctioning while engaging the enemy was not peculiar to Nigeria.
He said several reports insinuating that Nigerian soldiers either fled from the insurgents or were forced to surrender and got killed in battle front due to weapon malfunction was not patriotic.
“That is not peculiar to Nigeria. The American soldiers have also suffered similar fate. The British and French soldiers are not exempted from this kind of eventuality. If you read the story of Iraqi war, there were times when there was stoppages (when weapons refused to function). We do not manufacture these weapons and spare parts. We don’t have factories where these spare parts are manufactured here in Nigeria. If it was in America they can run to the factories and get the spare parts”, he said.
Cautioning Nigerians to remember that, Nigerian soldiers have demonstrated professionalism outside the country in calming troubled nations like Liberia, he said the reason other African countries seem not to be doing anything to assist Nigeria, was because they believe Nigeria has what it takes to deal with its current security challenges.
“All African nations are saying ‘we cannot help you because you are the one we look up to’. It’s on record that, Nigerian Army is the best on the continent. But it’s different when the people fighting you are the people who know you; people who are being funded by very powerful individuals. A lot of weapons are available from Libya for this people and the military don’t have that weapon system. The best thing for us to do now is to properly equip our military. The ideal is a good idea. The truth of the matter is that Nigerian military lack adequate weapon and ammunition,” he said rather passionately.
According to an insert in the Nigerian Air Force 2014 Plan, set forth in a document published by the Budget Office of the Federation, the NAF had placed an order for six ultramodern Mi-35M attack helicopters manufactured by Rostvertol, a
subsidiary of Russian Helicopters. A Mi-35 helicopter at the moment according to available information costs a whopping $350,000 (N56.7million).
Solomon Olarenwaju, security consultant, said there’s the need for the military to be decorated with new helicopters. He said countries of the world faced with similar situation and want to have different helicopters in their military arsenal.
He said with such funds made available to the Military, they should be able to acquire at least six Mi helicopter family known to be ruthless in airstrike offences and four evacuation helicopters for wounded soldiers in the case of an emergency.
“How can you be planning to win a war like this and lag behind in modern attack helicopters? It just shows that we are not ready yet. I hope the president will give account on how the money was spent. I hope it is not money to be shared among politicians! They should also embark on aggressive recruitment exercise in order for the military to be able to provide the combatants ratio needed to protect citizens in the trouble areas and invest heavily on intelligence gathering”.
He said lack of sincere collaboration between the military, the police, the SSS and other paramilitary agencies, coupled with political and religious colouration in the fight against the insurgents was partly responsible for the current set back.
He said: “Nigeria is at war and when a country is involved in a war and wants to win, it will spend money to acquire weaponry better than that of its enemy. Like the Governor of Borno once said, the insurgents are indeed better armed and better motivated. Result has proven that. We need helicopters to cover a wide, remote area under the control of the enemy. Like you said, we also need to heavily invest in communication equipment. The question of how quickly can the military respond to distress calls, must be answered sincerely and solution proffered accordingly”, he said.
At the moment, the Nigerian Military may not be able to meet up with the United Nations security acceptable ratio of a soldier per fifty civilians going by the massacre the troops have suffered in the hands of the insurgents, coupled with the hundreds of security men provided to guard politicians across the country.
Although President Jonathan had said 20,000 troops were operating in areas where Boko Haram is active; and up to four army battalions, 1,000 special operation fighters and ten army search teams have been dispatched to the northeast part of the country where the girls were kidnapped to support the Army’s 7th Division, findings have, however, shown that only 16 soldiers and eight policemen were on duty in Chibok the night the school girls were abducted.