U.S., Nigeria Discuss Defense Cooperation
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABUJA, Nigeria, April 3, 2000 Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will discuss a proposed security assistance program for a country many consider the “anchor” of West Africa.
Cohen said during an in-flight news conference that the program will help Nigeria change its military to encourage the fledgling democratic government in the country. Cost for the first year of the program is pegged at $7 million, with the United States and Nigeria splitting the bill evenly.
Nigeria is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. “We regard Nigeria and South Africa as two key states in Africa,” Cohen said. “Not only is Nigeria important for West Africa, but for the entire region.”
Cohen said an action plan developed in 1999 came up with 62 recommendations for U.S.-Nigerian cooperation. The proposal will update the military and modernize it to an extent, Cohen said. It will “also institute the kind of reforms that will be needed to place the military under civilian control,” he said.
Nigeria has had only 10 years of democratically elected leaders in its 40 years of independence from Great Britain.
The U.S. military assistance plan comes in three main parts, a senior defense official said. The first component is to create something like a U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense. This would be a civilian oversight structure with teeth, he said.
“[This includes] a transparent budget process, control over personnel and promotion systems, military pay, all the things we take for granted in our own system that are not taken for granted in Nigeria.”
The program also calls for at least 10 Americans and that number of Nigerian counterparts to work together about a year, looking at the proper configuration of the Nigerian military. The Nigerians must come up with their own concept of roles and missions for the military and then design force structure necessary to accomplish those roles and missions, the senior official said.
Nigeria has a very heavy force structure now, officials said. “They have a lot of tanks, they have a lot of fighters," one said. "Actually, they have a lot of stationary tanks and a lot of stationary fighters.” Currently, the annual Nigerian military budget is about $300 million.
The second component in the restructuring plan centers on Nigeria’s fleet of eight C-130 cargo aircraft. The United States will provide new, updated tech manuals and maintenance specialist training.
“We need to help organize that C-130 unit so they can be an effective important part of [Nigeria’s] power projection role,” the official said. “That’s how they get their peacekeepers where they need to go. That’s how they sustain them.”
The final security component deals with training aids and equipment. The Nigerians need a basic computer simulation center with a large peacekeeping simulation component. “But it’s not just that. The Nigerian military needs basic equipment to go down as far as white boards and blackboards in the classrooms,” the official said.
“President Obasanjo has been taking a leadership role in trying to eliminate corruption and in trying to bring a civilian control over the military itself,” Cohen said. [Obasanjo is] one of the real visionary forces in Nigeria. He is out front on these issues, and we want to support him.”
Cohen said it is impossible to have an effective democracy unless the military is subordinate to civilian rule, and part of that subordination involves training the military to understand what its role is in a democratic society. "Reprofessionalization" will be key, he said -- can’t have one without the other.
More contact will occur between Nigerian and American service members as the program matures. There is a fairly large International Military Education and Training program with Nigeria of $600,000 per year. U.S. training teams will visit Nigeria occasionally while Nigerians will attend C- 130 maintenance courses at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.
“What we want is a normal defense-to-defense relationship, but we can only do that if they are successful in what they are trying to do,” the senior defense official said.
In short, Nigeria is a society that needs structures, said a senior State Department official accompanying the secretary. “The military has been used to beat up society for a long time,” he said. "Civilian leaders in Nigeria need to be thinking how to be responsive to the people.”
While the military needs work, it has been effective in peacekeeping operations. “In peacekeeping not only has there been the military ability to perform these operations, there has also been the political will to do them,” the State Department official said. "Nigeria has certainly spent hundreds of millions on peacekeeping -- done the things to maintain stability in their backyard.”
Since independence in 1960, the Nigerians have participated in 26 U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping missions. Nigerian soldiers have supported operations in the Congo, Kashmir, Cambodia, Mozambique, Somalia, Bosnia, Angola and Croatia.