On the evidence of its recorded engagements, it would be correct to state that the Nigerian military have comparatively been very active since the time of their transformation from a colonial military outfit to national armed forces.
Whereas most of these operations have centred on the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Civil War, the 15-year long expedition in the Bakassi Peninsula, ongoing counterinsurgency operations in the Niger Delta and in North-eastern Nigeria and the ECOMOG interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone have been coordinated tri-service operations, involving the Nigerian Army(NA), Nigerian Navy(NN) and Nigerian Air Force(NAF). The Nigerian Air Force similarly participated in Military Operations Other Than War(MOOTW) against Maitatsine elements in Kano and Maiduguri, against the Taliban in the Mandara Mountains and in Panshekara and are active with the Special Task Force – Operation Safe Haven on the Jos Plateau while the Nigerian Navy were deeply involved in the management of the Ijaw – Itsekiri crises in the Warri metropolitan area. Both services, where they maintain a presence, have over the course of several decades actively cooperated with the Nigerian Army in Internal Security Operations (ISOs) geared towards restoring peace to various parts of the volatile federation.
Broadly speaking, the levels of action and/or intervention undertaken by the Nigerian military since 1959-60 when Nigeria became self-governing and thereafter independent, can be broadly categorised as follows:
i. Civil War (internal)/Amphibious/Urban Counterinsurgency Operations – such as the unfortunate orgy of violence that was the Nigerian Civil War, the Niger Delta insurgency and the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast.
ii Civil War (external)/Amphibious/Urban Counterinsurgency Operations – such as the ECOMOG interventions in the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Somali Civil Wars in the 1990s which involved fighting in the Fully Built-Up areas that are Monrovia, Freetown and Mogadishu, fighting in towns and villages in the hinterland and amphibious landings and operations in the marshes around Monrovia and Lungi.
iii. Military Operations Other Than War: These ordinarily ought to be classed as internal security operations but for the fact of their severity or long drawn-out nature.
Examples of MOOTW can be found in the sporadic Maitatsine uprisings of
1980-85, the most serious of which was the Kano episode thereof which lasted between 18 December 1980 and 3 January 1981 and led to the deaths of 4,177 persons. That uprising was put down by the 146 Battalion under the command of a certain Major (later Brigadier General) Haliru Akilu, himself a Kano native. The said 146 Battalion was itself a unit of Colonel (later Major General) Yohanna Yerima Kure’s 3 Mechanised Brigade. In the management of the Kano episode of the 1980s-era Maitatsine uprisings, the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force cooperated to bring the crisis in the inland city where the Navy maintain no presence, to a bloody conclusion.
In September 2004, the self-styled Taliban staged attacks against police personnel and installations in Northeastern Nigeria and attempted to establish a highland stronghold in the Mandara Mountains straddling the Nigeria-Cameroon frontier in the Far Northeast. It took military action, with NAF helicopter gunships in tow and the use of armour to neutralise the determined zealots after they had gained a foothold in the highlands.
Later in April 2007, elements of the 3 Motorised Brigade of the 1 Mechanised Infantry Division battled entrenched insurgents in the town of Panshekara near Kano where they had mounted a challenge against the authority of the State and instituted a brief reign of terror.
Another example of MOOTW – Nigerian style, can be found in the Boko Haram uprising across a 500-mile belt of Nigeria’s Far North in July 2009 which left an estimated 800 persons dead, spanned a period of one week and saw the airlift of crack troops from Jos and Calabar who formed the core assault group which flattened the Boko Haram stronghold and captured the leader of the group and handed him over to the Nigeria Police. Strange and unfortunate things happened to the enigmatic fellow thereafter, which really ought not to have happened.
Other examples of MOOTW include the Ijaw-Itsekiri conflict in Warri (1996-97 and 2002-3), Tiv-Jukun conflict in the eastern flank of Central Nigeria in the early 2000s and the ongoing Jos conflict which has seen rival ethnic militia using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and hand grenades and mounting hit-and-run/ride-by attacks against one another. All of these spanned or have dragged on for a minimum of two years.
iv. Internal Security Operations (ISOs): Within the context of our peculiar categorisation and weighed against the backdrop of Nigeria’s long history of insurgencies, ethnoreligious violence and inter-communal conflicts, these are more routine operations undertaken in aid to civil authorities but which have been typically very violent and have variously resulted in hundreds, sometimes thousands of deaths on account of mindless acts of violence and a total breakdown of law and order.
These include, but are not limited to, the Tiv and Western Nigeria crises of 1962-1965, the post-election violence of 1983 in Western Nigeria, Ife-Modakeke conflict of the late 1990s, the 2000 Sharia crisis in Kaduna which claimed thousands of lives. The Nigerian Army also had to intervene in Yelwa-Shendam, Jos and Kano in 2004 to restore peace after well over a thousand persons had been killed in ethnoreligious violence between Hausa muslims and indigenous Christian peoples in the central highlands and reprisal killings which followed in Hausa muslim-dominated Kano thereafter. So serious was the violence that a rare state of emergency was declared in Plateau State.
Some years later, serious ethnoreligious violence broke out and reprisal killings followed thereafter and across broad swathes of Northern and Eastern Nigeria in that order, occasioned by perceived indiscretion on the part of a Danish cartoonist in 2006. In 2011, post-election violence again broke out in some disaffected segments of Northern Nigeria leading to the deaths of over 800 deaths. It took the intervention of the Nigerian Army to restore normalcy to the restive parts of the federation.
These aforementioned MOOTW and ISOs have for good reason been differentiated from the Civil War and amphibious and urban counterinsurgency operations as represented by the Niger Delta and Boko Haram insurgencies.
As a prelude to the spotlight on foreign engagements, it might be necessary to state at this juncture that the Nigerian Army have since the country’s attainment of self-governing status in 1959 (prior to full independence in 1960) been very active in peacekeeping operations outside the country and more consequentially, in PEACE ENFORCEMENT which has typically implied fighting to win the peace.
Beginning in 1959, the NA (then known as the Queen’s Own Nigerian Regiment – QONR) intervened to create a buffer zone and to secure the UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons which was at the time administered in association with and as part of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria by the British.
According to “The Bakassi Story II” published bydawodu.com, “in October that year(1959), the Enugu based 1st Queens Own Nigeria Regiment (1QONR) was temporarily deployed to Southern Cameroons for “Training”. However, ‘Union des Populations Camerounaises'(UPC)sympathizers in Bamenda viewed this as a counter-insurgency deployment in support of the hated French colonial administration.
In early 1960, responding to more violence in the area, the 1QONR again returned to Bamenda area in full force, followed shortly thereafter by the 4QONR from Ibadan who were deployed further south to Kumba near the coast. The 5QONR and 3QONR later replaced both battalions respectively – followed later by the 2QONR. This show of military force did not endear Nigeria to certain opinion leaders in the local population.
Therefore, the Southern Cameroons (inclusive of the Bakassi Peninsula), which was now under separate direct British rule as a
trusteeship territory, asked Nigerian troops to leave. A British Battalion replaced them.
However, 1QONR, supported by the new recce unit of the newly-independent Nigerian Army were then deployed in an internal security precaution along the frontier to prevent spill-over of violence. The old Anglo-German border of 1913 was resurveyed at this time by Nigerian military foot patrols to confirm the location of old beacons and new Police Posts were constructed along it for clarity.
Writing in a 30th August, 2003 commentary in the British newspaper, “The Telegraph”, J.F Bailey, a former overseas civil servant who served with the Colonial Office in British Southern Cameroons wrote“when Cameroons suffered terrorism in the 1950s and 1960s, the Nigerian Army, the King’s Own Borderers and the Grenadier Guards sorted out the terrorists and maintained safety for the native people.”
Again commenting in a riposte titled “Cameroon Concerns” and published in the “Telegraph” edition of 31st August, 2003, Eric Cowell of Wicken, Cambs. wrote “The Cameroons were technically a UN trusteeship, administered by Britain through Nigeria. There were terrorists in the French Cameroon, and it certainly was the Nigerian Army that first arrived to deter terrorists from crossing into Southern Cameroon. The tented Nigerian Army camp was located on what was then the Bamenda Agricultural Showground and Race Track. The Nigerian soldiers were replaced by the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, who were later replaced by the Grenadier Guards, who lost at least one man in a terrorist ambush.”
By a twist of fate, the Nigerian Army was to return to the same precincts several decades later, albeit as part of an independent La Republic du Cameroun, with the December 1993 invasion of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula. The NA remained on the Peninsula with its peak deployment reportedly put at 3,000 troops, until the 2008 withdrawal under the tenets of the Green Tea Agreement which awarded the territory to Cameroon.
Since the attainment of Nigerian independence in 1960, the QONR (as it remained until the attainment of republican status in 1963) in November 1960 deployed to Congo-Leopoldville as part of the UN mission and the nature of that intervention was largely that of peace enforcement as is the case with today’s MONUC in the DR Congo.
Indeed, in his book titled “Nzeogwu”, General Olusegun Obasanjo who served in Bukavu in Kivu Province and in the Katanga Province of the Congo, offers a narrative of military altercations which his unit had with Katangese gendarmes allied to the secessionist cause in Katanga. They had to fight to keep the peace. The NA remained in the Congo until 1964.
Some other famous Nigerian military officers who served in the Congo include but are not limited to Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (who led the first-ever Nigerian military coup d’etat in January 1966), Generals Murtala Muhammed and Sani Abacha (both former Nigerian military dictators) and General T.Y Danjuma, a former Nigerian Army chief and one-time Defence Minister.
It is interesting to note that during the Nigerian Civil War, the comparatively higher-level of professionalism in the operations of 1 Infantry Division was believed to have largely stemmed from the fact that the division had the thickest assemblage of veterans who saw action in World War II, Congo and in the British Cameroons. This reality set them apart from the mostly hastily-trained raw recruits in other army divisions who only gained combat experience as the Nigerian Civil War progressed grimly.
Peace enforcement/intervention missions as earlier on stated which, in effect, saw the NA being involved in full-blown combat operations include the ECOMOG interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990-2000 epoch and the UNOSOM II intervention which was led by the Americans in the 1992-94 era.
v. FOREIGN OPERATIONS:
Since the 1960s and after the expeditions to the British Cameroons and the ONUC intervention in the Congo in the 1960s which were variously of a counterinsurgency and peace enforcement nature and the 3-year long Nigerian Civil War which saw Nigeria’s emergence as the first African country to win a Civil War (a war which has been described as Africa’s first modern war), the Nigerian Army have deployed to numerous foreign theatres of operation for peacekeeping, observer missions and bilateral security operations as follows:
*BILATERAL SPECIAL TRAINING AND SECURITY MISSION IN TANZANIA – 1964
*BILATERAL SPECIAL PROTECTION FORCE IN SIERRA LEONE. 1991-97
*NIGERIAN NEUTRAL FORCE, CHAD (BILATERAL) 1979
*OAU PEACEKEEPING FORCE, CHAD 1981-82
* UNSF, NEW GUINEA – 1962-63
* UNIPOM, INDO-PAKISTAN 1965-66
* UNIFIL, LEBANON 1978-82
* UNIMOG, IRAN-IRAQ 1988-91
*UNTAG, NAMIBIA 1991
*UNAVEM 1, ANGOLA, 1991
*UNTAC, CAMBODIA 1992-93
*UNOSOM II, SOMALIA 1992
*UNPROFOR, YUGOSLAVIA 1992
*UNOMOZ, MOZAMBIQUE 1992
*UNAVEM II & III, ANGOLA 1991-95
*UNASOG, AOUZOU STRIP (CHAD) 1994
*UNAMIR, RWANDA – 1993
*ECOMOG TASK FORCE IN SIERRA LEONE, 1997-99
*UNAMSIL – 1999-2004
*ECOMIL – LIBERIA 2003
*MONUC, DR CONGO, 2003-2005
*UNMIL – LIBERIA 2003 – DATE
*AFRICAN MISSION IN DARFUR – 2004-2008
*UN-AU MISSION IN DARFUR – 2008 TILL DATE
*UNMIS, SUDAN – 2005 – July 2011
*MINURCAT, CHAD-CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC. 2007 – DATE
*UNMISS, SOUTH SUDAN wef 2011
vi. STATE-ON-STATE MILITARY ACTION
In April 1983, elements of the Nigerian Army’s 21 Armoured Brigade of the 3 Armoured Division and the Nigerian Air Force’s Tactical Air Command stationed in the far northeastern city of Maiduguri launched combined military operations to dislodge units of the Chadian military who had invaded and occupied 19 Nigerian islands on the Lake Chad which straddles their common border. The Nigerians counterattacked and reclaimed all 19 islands and went further to occupy 32 islands on the Chadian side. Those Chadian islands were eventually given up by the Nigerians.
In May 1987, Cameroonian security forces similarly invaded and occupied sixteen Nigerian communities near their shared frontier. They were were ultimately beaten back by elements of the Nigerian Army’s 3 Armoured Division stationed in remote Borno and the affected territories repossessed.
In December 1993, elements of the 13 Amphibious Brigade of the Nigerian Army’s 82 Division, invaded the Bakassi Peninsula straddling their common frontier with Cameroon. Thus began a 15-year long militarily opposed occupation of what is now Cameroonian territory which ultimately ended in 2008.
At about the same time as Nigerian troops invaded the Bakassi Peninsula, thirty three(33) communities on the Cameroonian side of the Lake Chad to the Far North were occupied by as many as 70,000 Nigerian citizens who had emigrated from the Nigerian side of the frontier where the Lake Chad waters had receded and established 33 settlements on the Cameroonian side of the shared frontier. All attempts by Cameroonian forces, which peaked in 1994-5,which were aimed at reclaiming the said 33 communities were repulsed by elements of the 3 Armoured Division’s 21 Brigade. These communities only reverted to Cameroonian sovereignty under the terms of the Green Tea Agreement which settled the myriad of contentious issues between Nigeria and Cameroon.
If Nigerian Army have won such victories, what has Jonathan administration done to weaken the Army as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Something is fishy!