John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigerian Army Guilt–Another Perspective

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
November 1, 2012

Prison officials wait outside the Lagos high court where Hamza Al-Mustapha is standing trial 04/08/2011. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


In response to my post of Nigerian Army Guilt, an expert on the Nigerian military has written me a thoughtful note which he has allowed me to share. 

Despite what Nigerian law and regulation may say, the reality since the end of the civil war is that the main mission of the Nigerian Army is to maintain domestic order. General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Division Major-General Garba Wahab confirmed this when he recently stated that, “the army has the mandate to do whatever within the ambit of the law to provide security where necessary and ensure that the country remains united.”

The current structure of the army’s divisional headquarters evolved out of the civil war. This is noteworthy because the main divisional HQs–Kaduna, Ibadan, Jos, Enugu, and Lagos–are dispersed among all major regions, and subordinate battalions associated with each division are spread out to cover territory in these broad regions.

Perceptions of external threat, typically a military’s concern, do not appear to have influenced this deployment pattern so much as the civil war experience, which fostered recognition of the need for military presence throughout the country; in case Biafra-style problems arose again.

If there is one constant thread in Nigerian history since 1970, it is that the military is the guarantor of national cohesion; its mission is to ensure the continued existence of the country. Outsiders focus on the police because they extrapolate from the experience of the countries they live in, where police are responsible for, and usually can ensure, domestic order. Nigeria is different in this respect. Police play only a limited role. Maintaining national security, meaning domestic order, remains the responsibility of the army. Consequently, for years observers worried about possible splits in the military. Not because it would leave Nigeria vulnerable to external attack, but because it would undermine domestic order.

From 2005, the beginning of escalating disorder in the Delta, and extending to Boko Haram’s destabilization of the North, those long-term anxieties about the cohesion of the military have sharpened; with good reason. Reported involvement of high-ranking military officers with Delta militants evidenced a deterioration of the army’s cohesion, while presently one has to wonder if some army personnel are sympathetic to Boko Haram.

This is the form that divisions within the military have taken in recent years. These types of splits were not envisioned years ago because observers were strongly influenced by events in the past and seem to have anticipated something similar to that in the future. It is important to recognize that this form of military splits appears to emulate the broader global trend in which conflict gravitates toward the domestic gap between rich and poor. That is alarming because it cuts across the old ethnic, religious, regional fault-lines we were all taught to look at, giving domestic battles more power and scope.

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  • Posted by Chavuka

    I’m not sure this analysis is complete.

    1. The Nigerian Army started off as a colonial army. The main job of the colonial army was to keep “Pax Britannica” and conduct “punitive expeditions” against “unruly natives” and “local rebellions”.

    Lugard would have recognised the modus operandi of the modern Nigerian army were he alive today.

    (Under colonial rule, Nigeria did not have a national police, so the guarantor of the stability of the colony was the West African Frontier Force).

    2. The Nigerian Army has a long history of division – that’s why there have been so many coups. In 1966, 300 officers of Igbo extraction were murdered in cold blood over a few days. The Nigerian Army continued, but as a “Northern dominated” army.

    3. The “dispersion” of military HQs has more to do with history and ethnic rivalries than the “civil war”. We’ve always had military formations at Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna and the divisional HQ at Lagos was created by Obasanjo to “balance” the distribution of military formations.

    I think the “expert” need to do a more thorough analysis of the Nigerian Army. 9 out of 10 African armies would behave exactly the same way due to their colonial past.

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