Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and the ECOMOG experience

                     Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and the ECOMOG experience

The saying goes that “physical force has solved more conflicts than any other single factor in human history’’. This is often the case whereby diplomacy has seized to be an option in achieving the required result. The ongoing crisis in Cote d’Ivoire is a growing cause of concern not just because of the decision of the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo to hold on to power against the wishes of the electorate, but because of the resolution of ECOWAS Heads of State ‘to use legitimate force’ to get Gbagbo to step down for challenger and former Prime Minister Alssane Quattara the declared winner of the second round of the November 28 Presidential election (having secured 54.1 percent of the vote). Should ECOWAS leaders follow through with the threat then it would no doubt lead to the dispatch of a contingent of her troops under the auspices of the ECOWAS authorized intervention force known as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG).But this is exactly where the problem lies. Nigeria has once again found herself in a very uncomfortable spot, not only because President Goodluck Jonathan is the ECOWAS Chairman, but also because ECOMOG has always been accepted by many as more of a Nigerian initiative. But worrisome however is the cost previous operations have had on the county’s resources both financial and material (most of which could have been avoided if adequate preparations were made).Though the circumstances in Cote d’Ivoire are much different, it is still yet to be seen if Nigeria has truly learnt from the mistakes of the past ECOMOG operations in Liberia (Operation Liberty) in 1990 and Sierra Leone (Operation Sandstorm) in 1997. A look at these two operations should raise some questions  

To recall, Nigeria paid a bitter price for her involvement in both the Liberian and Sierra Leone crises. The image of Nigeria loomed large in terms of military and civilian personnel, materials and funding for the operations. Opposition to the military adventure domestically grew more intense after news of mounting casualties on the part of Nigeria started coming in. They asked for a recall of Nigerian troops, many had already perished by their hundreds in unspecified instances. Nigeria lost more troops in Liberia and Sierra Leone than in any other peace-keeping operation she had engaged in. In Liberia, it is estimated that Nigeria lost 500 peacekeeping troops most under unspecified circumstances, considering the fact that the number of deaths, the causes of deaths and the figures were often hidden from even the victim’s families. Other sources have however put the figure a bit higher. The Nigerian Armed Forces also lost hundreds of its troops during the Sierra Leone operation. During the 6 January, 1999 rebel invasion of Freetown Sierra Leone It is estimated that about 100 Nigerian soldiers died while another 100 were missing in action, and 170 killed in road accidents and other non combat-related incidents (e.g. illness mysterious deaths etc ). Another 200 were also reported injured due to land mines. Unexploded shells were also responsible for a lot of injuries and even deaths suffered by Nigerian troops. The then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said in the aftermath of the 1999 rebel invasion that 700 Nigerian soldiers had been killed trying to maintain the legitimate government in Sierra Leone. All this becomes painful when one considers the fact that a large number of troops died because they lacked sufficient body armour while fighting. Also, some of the troops were exposed to health hazards without being adequately catered for by the government. Some were killed rendering their poor families hopeless and without adequate compensation, while some were maimed and incapacitated for life without adequate compensation or any form of insurance for them and their families.

 Nigeria continued to bear over 70% of the financial cost for sustaining ECOMOG in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A BBC news source had put the cost of Nigeria’s involvement in Liberia and Sierra Leone at almost 12 billion dollars (approximately 8 billion for Liberia and 4 billion for Sierra Leone). Nigeria had spent a lot on welfare, allowances, food, medical and other essential needs alongside the equipment, logistics and weapons.

Presently the United States and other Western Powers have supported the resolve of ECOWAS to use force to remove Gbagbo if necessary but it is hoped that Nigerian leaders will push for significant financial commitments from the West if the use of military force becomes inevitable. At least the West can no longer hide under the excuse that she had refused to support Nigerian led ECOMOG operations in the past because it would have given Nigeria’s military regimes at the time some credibility especially following the placement of international sanctions and arms embargo on Nigeria between 1993-1999. But we shouldn’t forget that even following the restoration of democracy to Nigeria, the United States Government pegged assistance to Liberian peace-keeping operations was put at only 10 million dollars in 2003, even though 110 million dollars was needed just to cover troop transport cost to Liberia. Nigeria contributed a lot of money to make sure the troops were kept there and found herself in a situation where she literally had to shoulder the additional burden of maintaining the contingents of cash strapped contributing countries. This she did by paying the salaries and allowances of their troops (e.g. Niger Republic and Sierra Leone).

Lessons from the Combat Experience

Various lessons from the combat experience in Liberia and Sierra Leone should be taking into consideration in the event of a ECOMOG deployment to Cote d’Ivoire. The Nigerian Armed Forces had intervened in these two crises ill-prepared much to the advantage of various rebels operations and advances. In Liberia, the first field commander, General Quainoo of Ghana had indicated at a time that of the 3,000 men who participated in the landing in Monrovia in Liberia, only about half of them were battle ready while the rest were mainly ‘drivers, cooks clerks, mechanics etc. The troops were hastily brought under commanding officers who did not have enough knowledge of the soldiers under their command and with whom they had not trained. This no doubt affected command and control in the mission areas. Various Nigerian Battalions (NIBATTS) became victims of guerrilla style attacks. This can be seen in the high number of Nigerian deaths recorded as a result of ambushes and hit and run tactics easily employed by the rebels against ECOMOG troops and these occurred more in the Sierra Leone mission. The fact is that the Nigerian Armed Forces were not skilled in this area of combat. This deficiency was even made worse by the inadequate exposure of Nigerian troops to diverse terrains during combat training exercises. Cote d’Ivoire is characterised by lagoons, dense tropical forest, an extensive savannah, and mountains capable of giving any potential rebels an ideal cover to launch attacks on the government and peacekeepers. In the event of a rebel uprising, one cannot say for sure how prepared we are. This will largely depend on how much the government has been allocating over the years to military training with emphasis on Special Forces and counter-insurgency.   

The troops should also be paid when due and all due. It is sad that when one remembers cases of Nigerian troops just back from peacekeeping missions protesting the non payment of their full allowances even when provisions for it has been made only for the troops to be court marshalled at the end. The new Army Chief, General Azubuike Iherjirka has proven himself once again a truly professional soldier in part by pardoning 27 soldiers last year who were jailed by a military court Marshall for demanding their allowance for a foreign service. All round the world unnecessary delays and shortages in remuneration are known to affect the morale of troops and tempt them into engaging in looting and shabby deals. Previous missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone exposed the inadequacies of basic battle craft expedients like maps, intelligence and communication equipments. Closely related to the problem of troop movement and deployment was the problem of troop rotation and its non implementation. The policy was that troops serving in mission areas should be rotated every six months. In Liberia and Sierra Leone this did not happen as it was common to find troops serving in the same operational area for one to four years. This was caused by lapses in administration and logistics.

Weapons Supply and Logistical Problems

The experience with arms supply during the Liberian and Sierra Leone operation was not in any way pleasant to members of the Nigerian Armed Forces. For example, in Liberia, it had become quite disturbing discovering that some of the arms and ammunition meant for use during the operations were not inspected before they were delivered to the operation areas. In Sierra Leone, most of the weapons were obsolete and were already worn out from their use in Liberia. The basic rifle was still the FN rifle that had been in the Army’s inventory since the 1960s. The rifle was no match to the AK-47s used by the rebels which not only fired more rounds per second but could operate effectively under the harshest conditions .Therefore a high level of weapon failure and breakdown (especially in the heat of battle) was recorded. This must have badly affected the performance of the troops. It also meant more casualties in both dead and wounded.

In spite of noticeable concentration of efforts on getting ships ready for ECOMOG sealift operations, considerable long periods of non-availability of ships were observed. The Nigerian Navy’s participation in Liberian operations exposed more than ever the inadequacies in its sealift capabilities. As for the Nigerian Air Force, there was an imbalance in its tactical air power structure. NAF lacked both attack and transport / evacuation helicopters. It lacked sufficient C-130 aircraft too which would have proved invaluable to NIGCON for the purpose of medical evacuation (Medevac), re-supply and insertion of troops to critical areas. The army’s armour and artillery units on the ground also lacked sufficient rocket propelled grenades as well as adequate trailers and lifts for the movement of heavy guns and armaments to operation areas.

President Jonathan being our dear Commander in Chief should ask for an extensive audit of our defence capability as was carried out during the previous Olusegun Obasanjo government which can be giving credit for setting in motion a modernization process. One of such audits took place in 2000 and the findings were staggering. The audit of Nigeria’s military conducted by the Military Professional Resources Initiative (M.P.R.I.) founded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), discovered in the year 2000 that 75 percent of the army’s equipment was not operational,       The air force’s pride, its 22 MIG-21 and 15 Jaguar fighter jets were grounded as were all but two of the eight C-130 transport planes and that the navy had 19 Admirals but only nine seaworthy ships. The Ministry of Defence, which had been one of the biggest spending ministries, had one of the highest numbers of abandoned projects. Most of the infrastructure of the armed forces was in a deplorable condition. Corruption as existed in other ministries was rampant and there were few processes to ensure accountability.

The Crisis in Cote d’Ivoire would most likely never get to the point requiring a full scale military intervention as happened in Liberia and Sierra Leone. But our policy makers should never take chances and wait until a need arises before trying to assess or upgrade our defence capabilities. Members of the Nigerian Armed Forces deserve better for being used as instruments for the implementation of our foreign policies abroad. The least we can do in trying to undo the mistakes of the past is by giving them adequate and continuous funding, training and remuneration as they remain on standby to sacrifice their lives for their fatherland. The drive towards military modernization and professionalism should be continuous even during times of peace.   

Audu Nom Bulus

Karu, Abuja, [email protected], 08051323658

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