Budget 2012 (5) -  On Defence Spending


For a nation that is not at war, Nigerias defence spending raises several critical concerns. The paradox of course is that the more government spends on defence, the more insecure Nigerians feel. Travelling within the country has become so perilous that it is now advisable to get a security report of all towns and villages on our way before setting out. Today, all major defence related structures in Abuja, supposedly the safest place in the country are so barricaded that images of Baghdad and Kabul come to mind. If the state of our armed forces and defence apparatus are the way that they are in peace times, what would happen if (God forbid), Nigeria is faced with a major external threat? Or is it that the amorphous term, defence is being used to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians, while some few anointed people smile all the way to bank?

We continue our review of the 2012 Budget proposals today by looking at the details of N396.5bn (about US $2.56bn) proposed for spending by our armed forces - the Ministry of Defence Headquarters, the Army, Navy, and Air Force, their recurrent and capital costs, training, welfare and internal operations. Our objective is first to see how we compare with other nations in terms of defence spending, whether the spending priorities make sense, and then ask the standard quantity surveying question - is Nigeria getting value for the money being spent?

It is vital to ask these questions because each member of our armed forces which according to US Air University's "Failed State 2030 - Nigeria as a case study" is estimated at about 76,000 in number will cost us about N4.3 million, slightly above the N3.2 million we spend per militant - and this excludes pensions, internal operations, death benefits and insurance. When these are added, each member of the armed forces cost the Nigerian citizen N4.86 million to maintain this year alone. But first, a bit of history and an overview of our defence policy and strategy would be useful in the evolving discourse.

The Nigerian armed forces began life as a colonial army under Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) that became indigenized just before independence in 1960. In 1967, the armed forces numbered just about 15,000. This grew to about 250,000 at the end of the war in 1970. Today, the total number is about 76,000. The Army which is basically our land-based fighting force is the oldest of the armed services and the largest with about 60,000 officers and men and women. The Navy which is mostly sea-based, is the smallest in size but highly specialized and technology-intensive. It has about 7,000 personnel. The Air Force, the youngest of the three services is also equipment-intensive and has about 9,000 officers and men (and women!).

The role of Nigerias armed forces is entrenched in s.217 of Constitution and detailed in s.18 (3) of the Armed Forces Act Chapter A20 of the Laws of the Federation 2004. Generically, the defence of our territorial integrity and defending our nation from external aggression constitute the principal functions of the armed forces. The suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order is also one of their related functions. Deriving from the Constitution and legislation, Nigeria ought to have a defence policy for the 21st century.

The first and only national defence policy was published by General Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 1979. The armed forces were tasked then with four primary functions (1) preserving Nigeria's territorial integrity (2) contributing to national emergencies and security (3) promoting collective security in Africa while advancing our foreign policy, and (4) contributing to global security. This policy has never been revised or updated, and remains the guiding framework more than thirty years after its adoption. For armed forces that are rated as highly trained and educated, it is remarkable that they have not devoted their intellectual firepower to updating our obviously antiquated defence and security policies and strategies, but that is a matter for another day.

The Armed Forces, with the Army in the lead role have done the nation proud in their peace-keeping roles in Congo and Tanzania in the 1960s, the prosecution of the civil war between 1967 and 1970, and more recently in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia.  Indeed, the Nigerian military deserves the credit of stabilizing and democratizing Sierra Leone and Liberia in 1990s and thus ensuring the overall security of the West African sub region.

The paradox of these success stories is that the reverse has taken place in Nigeria. Many Nigerians see the involvement of the military in politics as stunting democratic development and as having militarized the polity - we have had about 10 coups and attempts between 1966 and 1996 - an average of one attempt every 3 years! And the other paradox of prolonged military rule is the deterioration in the quality of the operational equipment and training within the armed forces. These are issues crying for urgent and focused attention.

Military spending the world over averages about 2.5% of GDP, with the USA being the highest spender - about US $700bn which is about 5% of GDP.  In Africa, the leading military spender is Algeria, ranked 29th in the world, with 3.8% of GDP, followed by Egypt (41st, 2.1%), Angola (42nd, 4.2%), and South Africa (43rd, 1.3%). Nigeria is ranked 57th in the world then earmarking US $1.724bn - about 0.9% of our GDP on defence. Even a smaller country like Morocco, ranked 48th with 3.4% of GDP out-spends us! In contrast, countries at near state-of-war like Lebanon (58th, 4.1%) and Sudan (56th, 4.1%) are in our neighbourhood in terms of defence outlays. Our current budget for defence has climbed slightly to just over 1% of GDP. With these statistics in mind, should we be spending more, or less? Does Nigeria exist among hostile neighbours or expecting an invasion to justify current or escalated levels of military spending? That is something that needs not only thoughtful reflection, but to be openly debated and some national consensus arrived at.

Let us now look more closely at the budget proposals for 2012. The Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces were allocated N326.354bn, consisting of N252.7bn as personnel cost, N39bn as overhead and N34.67bn for capital spending - i.e. for equipment, buildings and weaponry of all descriptions. The bureaucracy overseeing the whole defence establishment consisting of the Ministry populated mostly by politicians and civil servants, and the Defence Headquarters, where passed-over generals, admirals and air marshalls are warehoused, along with other officers and men will consume about N25.9bn of the budget, or about N342,000 to service each soldier, airman and rating in the Armed Forces. This is excessive and can be cut down, as little value addition is gained from this spending.

The Nigerian Army's 60,000 officers and men are distributed across five divisions and an elite brigade listed here in accordance with the order of battle in case of conflict (1) Presidential Guards Brigade, Abuja (2) 82nd Division, Enugu (3) 2nd Infantry Division, Ibadan (4) 3rd Armoured Division, Jos (5) 1st Mechanized Division, Kaduna and (6) Lagos Garrison now renamed 81st Division. The major equipment of the Army include battle tanks, reconnaissance vehicles, personnel carriers, Howitzers, field guns and rocket launchers, as well as anti-tank guns and surface to air missiles. A large percentage of these are aged and out of service, and need urgent updating and replacement. The total budget of the Army is N122.4bn, nearly a third of the total defence budget but only N5.77bn is for acquisition of equipment and weaponry, while N116.7bn is for recurrent needs. The average direct cost per head of our soldiers and men is some N1.61 million compared with between N7-10 million for the Air force and Navy (see below) indicating an urgent need to right-size the Army to free up resources for operational equipment, tools and training.

The Defence Industries Corporation (DIC) in Kaduna was set up in 1960s to undertake local manufacture of equipment, arms and ammunition for the country. It did well until the mid-1980s when it became better known for furniture-making and salt manufacturing than military production. A similar facility in Brazil manufactures a broad range of military hardware for domestic needs and exports. This year, DIC is allocated N4.6bn out of which about N3.5bn will go into development of advanced armament applications. This is a positive development.

The Navy's capital budget is nearly twice that of the much larger Army, because operating largely in the creeks and on the Atlantic Ocean can be pretty expensive. The Navy's total budget is N69.2bn with about N59bn going towards personnel and overhead costs. The Navy's ships are all aged and overdue for replacement. Even the recent acquisition which the First Lady commissioned with great fanfare, is a 'tokunbo' - hand-me down from the US Navy, with the high maintenance costs that come with the gift. And with Tompolo being granted the concession to be our coast guard, the administration might think that renewing the Navy's fleet and equipping it is not a priority. That will be unfortunate. There is an urgent need to equip and revamp our Navy's strategic and tactical capacity as more and more of the nation's oil production moves to deep offshore locations. Even without any changes in direction, each naval personnel will cost the treasury about N9.89 million this year. Are we getting value for money, or is Tompolo cheaper? Think about it.

The Nigeria Air force has its tactical air command in Makurdi with Russian MiG-21 fighter jets, maritime squadrons in Benin with Dornier 128 and 228 aircraft,  military transport group in Lagos with C-130, special forces group and combat squadron in Port Harcourt with Mirage 35P, weapons school and training squadron in Kainji with Alpha jets, flying training schools and command in Kaduna with Air Beetle and Dornier aircraft, and Mirage 34 for the flying school in Enugu. Most of these aircraft were acquired in the 1970s through to the 1990s and therefore overdue for updating and replacement.

The Air Force has been earmarked the total sum of N64.3bn comprising N49.2bn for staff costs, N9.1bn for overhead and nearly N6bn for acquisition of operating equipment and weaponry. Whether the amount, less than $40 million this year will begin this needed process of updating and replacement is open to debate. Each Air Force personnel will cost the Nigerian treasury about N7.15 million this year. Is this good value for money?

When one carefully peruses the capital budgets of the DHQ and Army, most of the capital spending is going towards buildings, some ammunition and vehicle spares. This year, we are not buying any equipment for the armored, artillery and other mechanization needs of the Army - at least not anywhere in the Budget. The Navy and Air Force are slightly better. The Navy is buying two (yes only two) offshore patrol vessels and six coastal patrol boats and some spares. The Air Force intends to acquire twelve Augusta 109 helicopters, some uniforms, the reactivation of C-130, G222, Alpha Jets and maintenance, and some buildings. No new fighter jets this year!

The rest of the defence budget is for training (N14.79bn), pension, insurance and resettlement (N56bn), barracks development and defence missions (N11.1bn) and the cost of deploying soldiers currently in 34 out of 36 states and the FCT (N17.1bn). So we will end where we began. Are we getting value for money for our defence expenditure? Or are we in such a state of insecurity that we need to spend more, even as 113 million of our citizens are living below the poverty line? It is our call collectively, not just President Jonathan's to make.