Nigeria has the largest all volunteer standing army in Africa. It’s important to ask the question of why? why do we need an Army? The answer is simple. It is fundamentally to protect our people, protect our interest and to defend Nigeria.
As a nation Nigeria has never shied away from acting, even if that has meant standing alone, as we did in the darkest hour of the Nigerian civil war. Even after the civil war ended, when there was no overwhelming obvious threat to our security, we recognized the growing economic imperialism of the colonialsts refusing to let go off their newly independent colonies, that as the biggest black nation on earth and with Africa being the centrepeace of its foreign policy Nigeria had a role and responsibility to stand up for our value across the continent.
Defending our afrocentric foreign policy saw Nigeria creating a regional economic bloc ECOWAS inspite of French opposition, and inviting francophone countries into the economic bloc and subsidizing the economic of these countries for decades with cheap oil, cheap gas and unfettered access to Africa’s biggest consumer market, and it made a difference to millions of West Africans.
Defending our afrocentric policy took us to Liberia, Sierra-Leone and Guinea Bissau, and it made a difference to millions of peoples lives. For once an African army is bringing peace and freedom to sister countries and paving the way for democratic governance and economic freedom for all Anglophone West African States, a political economic freedom that persists till this day.
But after the return to democratic governance in 29, May 1999, the importance for defence increased as a deadly new threat arose. A threat that could bring a nation to its knees and affect global oil prices by targeting the life blood of the Nigerian Federation with assymetric warfare on oil pipelines.
Unfortunately Nigeria’s past and present leaders do not seem to understand that the behemoth Nigeria is an anomaly to the powers that be.
A black nation powerful and independent enough to independently create, first an economic union independent of the West, and then a regional military alliance, sucessfuly and independently intervening in the affairs of member nation states and brining about political stability while still providing economic aid to member states?is not normal. It is without precedence. This has historically been the preserve of the West.
By having more people than Britain and France combined, the tenth largest proven oil reserve on earth, a large military and a foreign policy that centers around Africa, Nigeria is basically doomed to be in a state of perpetual conflict with the powers that be and there is no escaping it, No amount of appeasement will save Nigeria.
The realistion that in a majority Francophone region, Nigeria provides a far better economic option than France is exemplified with the fact that the most economically prosperous and politically stable countries in the region are all Anglophone states under Nigeria’s economic umbrella,
While francophone states languish behind and remain the least ecomically developed and run by dictators propped up by France who have been in power for decades and refuse to relinquish power
It is indeed naive for Nigeria’s leaders to assume that the country will be allowed to flourish into its full potential. Nigeria has a soft underbelly, and thats the ethno-religious diversity and mistrust that exists among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.
What a nation like France does is to exploit the internal divisions of adversaries, to weaken them and curt their own gains, and it will be foolish to think the behemoth Nigeria will be an exception.
Nigeria is presently in the throes of one of the longest running continuous war in the world against an enemy that never seem to die. But while Nigeria tackle this extremism, state on state competition has been reviving.
Today for the first time ever Nigeria’s strategic enemy France now stands at our doorstep and once again seeking to bring its former colonies back into its orbit with its military capability and its commercial power.
Today we see an Africa of spheres of Influence and competing great powers. Not only are we confronting autocratic regimes sympathetic to France, an ideological enemy without a state like Boko Haram, but the very character of warfare itself is changing.
The boundaries between state and non state actors are becoming blurred. Operating in the grey zone, operating below the threshold of conventional conflict, our adversaries are increasingly using propaganda, subversion activities and covert support for home grown insurgency to challenge Nigeria’s primacy and the regional economic order it created.
Since the nations seen and unseen enemies are beginning to play at cowboys, Nigeria should by all means not be playing at Indians. We needs to bring together our strategic capabilities in soft and hard power, and need to integrate them more effectively and to greater agility to meet the demands of this increagingly contested and congested environment.
We must deter and be ready to defend ourselves. Ready to show the high price of aggressive behaviour, ready to strengthen our resilience and ready when necessary to use hard power to support our interest.
As we look at our position in the region we should remind ourselves that we are a nation with pride. A nation that makes a difference. A nation that stands tall. Inevitably Nigeria has lost the respect of countries in the region.
However Nigeria has its greatest opportunity to redefine its role. We must build new alliances, rebuild the old ones and most importantly make it clear that we are the country that will act when required. We should be the nation that people turn to when the region needs leadership, and defence will be pivotal in reinforcing Nigeria’s role as an outward looking nation.
Nigeria must be willing and able to lead the alliance it created 37 years ago. To bring stability in the region. This in itself is a national security imperative.
We must stand firm against those external players providing clandestine support for insurgent groups in the country, if necessary be ready to deal with the threat that the flow of weapons and materials across the border into Nigeria may pose.
Nigeria must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that the enemy is throwing. Such actions must come at a cost, nor can we forget those francophone countries who face deep economic struggles, are forced to continuing paying colonial taxes and saving their reserves in French treasuries with nearly no hope of becoming real democracies like Nigeria and Ghana.
These countries achieved independence from France half a century ago. They have the right to choose their own economic destiny and be free from French interference.
But we must not see this as our limit, we have to be willing to go further. History has taught us that crises comes when we least expect it. As uncertainty grows we must be willing to act.
Readiness has to be our new watch word. In an era of great power competition we can’t be satisfied simply protecting our own territory. Nigeria is a regional power with truly regional interest. A nation with Africa’s biggest economy. A nation with the largest ground army and biggest defence budget, and since the new great power game will be played on the West African playing field, we must be prepared to compete for our interest beyond our border.
This is why Nigeria needs to be much more than a paper tiger. It has to be about action and our armed forces should represent the best of Nigeria’s hard power in action. We must take actions to strengthen the hands of fragile nations who face economic bkackmail.
Actions to shore up and support and push for democratic governance in our next door neighbors upon which Nigeria’s security and prosperity depends. So long as we have dictators backed by France at our doorsteps Nigeria will never know peace. They will always look for target of opportunity to exploit our weakness.
Now there are pundits that question the cost of this magnitide in defence capability. They question the need for this level of expenditure when Nigeria is not at war. But it is often forgotten the cost of non intervention, and a fact that this cost has been unacceptably high. The cost for Nigeria’s inability to intervene in Mali for instance left a security vacuum that France was all too willing to fill. Today foreign military bases are right at our doorstep.
Granted it will not always be the role of Nigeria, with all its domestic problems to act as the regional policeman, but nor can Nigeria walk on by when others are in need, to talk but fail to act risk Nigeria being seen as nothing more than a paper tiger.
Now make no mistake, I do not underestinate the challenges that this approach brings, but we do start from from position of strenght. Our service men and women are already acting in the Gambia to restore democracy protect our interest visavis those proping up dictators and building military bases in almost every country in the region.
Our regional presence must be persistent, not fitful. Patient, not fickle. We need to build on our relationship with Russia and China and with other parthers in Africa, from South Africa in the South, to Kenya in the east.
Africa was powerless and too divided and weak to stop the French from inspiring an illegal NATO bombing campaign in Libya and the overthrow of the Gadaffi regime.
The horrendous consequences persists till this day and perhaps will be for decades to come. The once peaceful Africa has become the new mecca for terrorism, far outstripping the Middle east. Who would have thought ten years ago that the world’s deadliest terrorist group will come from Africa?