A Billion Dollars Won’t Help Nigeria Beat Boko Haram
And it won’t #BringBackOurGirls
It’s been 100 days since Nigerian militant group Boko Haram raided a girl’s school in the northern town of Chibok and abducted nearly 300 pupils. Two hundred of them are still missing. There’s little indication that the Nigerian government will be able to get the girls back.
The Nigerian army has failed to suppress the insurgents. Adding insult to injury, Boko Haram attacked Chibok again just a few days ago. The army was powerless. Seven parents of abducted girls were among the 51 people who died in the attack.
The government’s apparent solution? Spend more money on military equipment.
President Goodluck Jonathan has asked parliament to approve a $1-billion loan to purchase new gear. In a letter to parliament, Jonathan wrote that he wanted “to bring to your attention the urgent need to upgrade the equipment, training and logistics of our armed forces and security services to enable them more forcefully [to] confront this serious threat.”
The letter is only a few paragraphs long and provides no details on how the government would use the funds. It also offers no explanation as to why the $6 billion in the existing 2014 military budget is inadequate. That sum is already a marked increase over the $2.4 billion the Nigerian armed forces spent in 2013—and gives Nigeria one of the three largest defense budgets in Africa.
Nigerian defense minister Musiliu Obanikoro since has justified the request. “In the last 25 years, we have not made major acquisitions in terms of platforms for the navy, ammunition and equipment generally for the military,” he claimed.
“Not true,” says Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers Program of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In an e-mail to War is Boring, he lists several large acquisitions from the last two decades.
He starts with the F-7 fighter jets Nigeria bought from China in 2005. “Just the 15 F-7s are more combat aircraft than were bought by the rest of West Africa in the last 25 years.”
Nigeria spent $251 million on that purchase alone. Just recently, the Nigerian air force took delivery of two Mi-35M Hind helicopter gunships, with four more to follow.
Still, Wezeman says, there is an argument to be made that Nigeria’s army is currently lacking much of the equipment that, for example, the U.S. has used against similar enemies. Especially armored vehicles, helicopters, surveillance drones and night-vision equipment.
But on the whole, the problem in Nigeria doesn’t seem to be a lack of money—but how the security forces and government use the resources they already have. Nigeria ranks among the most corrupt countries on Earth, with billions going missing from its profitable oil sector every year.
There are allegations that army commanders routinely steal from the defense budget and that the Nigerian defense establishment is using the rampant insecurity to systematically justify increasing defense spending in order to enrich corrupt officials.
On the ground, it seems that a lack of discipline and plain incompetence by Nigeria’s army personnel does more to strengthen Boko Haram’s position than any lack of arms ever could. The security forces’ brutal behavior toward civilians is one of the main incentives for the rebellion.
Those new Mi-35s? One of them already has crashed, killing two crew. In its propaganda videos, Boko Haram frequently shows off weapons and vehicles it has captured from the army.
Adding a billion dollars to the country’s $12.4-billion public debt likely will do little to either secure the safe return of the Chibok girls or to keep their fellow Nigerians safe.