Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rethinking Nigeria's role in peacekeeping missions

By Eno-Abasi Sunday

United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, has ranked Nigeria as the fourth largest contributor of troops to the UN's Peacekeeping Operations (PKO's). It was, however, stocktaking time for senior army officials when  they recently declared that Nigeria has not positioned herself well enough to benefit maximally from the exercise.

Rethinking Nigeria's role in peacekeeping missions


SELDOM do they open up on their activities in the manner they did at the 82 Division Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned officers Study Period. And the reason why these fine gentlemen remain taciturn in most cases is simple- because of the sensitive nature of their calling, their rules of engagement bars them from letting out so much to the society, especially, when one is not saddled with the task to so do.

But at the recent session, which was hosted at the Eburutu Barracks, Ikot Ansa, by the 13 Brigade, Nigerian Army, they felt it was time the uniformed men told themselves the truth about what the country has gained and lost in its 50 years of participating in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. And that they did in good measure.

It is on record that between 1960 and 2004, Nigeria took part in 24 of the 51 peacekeeping missions mounted by the United Nations, three by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU) and three by bilateral agreements.

Also since 1960, the country has produced a total of 25 Peace Support Operations (PSO) Force Commanders and Military Observers, including Major General JT Aguiyi-Ironsi (ONUC 1960-64), General Martin Luther Agwai (Hybrid Mission in Sudan) and Lt. Gen C. Obiakor (UNMIL 2006-2008). On the other hand, and as confirmed by reliable military statistics, billions of dollars has been spent while brilliant and highly trained men and women have been lost in these military assignments.

However, with the commitment of over 7, 000 troops excluding police and civilians, to more than 40 UN, AU and Economic Community of West African States,  (ECOWAS) missions, it has become apparent that the fourth largest contributor of troops to peacekeeping operations globally has not benefitted commensurately from its immense contributions to world peace in terms of economic, material or political gains.

For instance, only recently at a Ministry of Defence-organized training programme, for some media men at the Nigeria Defence Academy, Brig. Gen Peter Boroh, Commandant of the Nigeria Army Peacekeeping Centre, Jaji, Kaduna State, revealed that while he was commanding troops in Liberia, he signed permits, for at least 400 United Nations officials, who had to take sometimes off the weekend for the purpose of recreation in Ghana, which was a United Nation designated safe haven. Of course, so much hard currency poured into the neighbouring West African country from this exercise.

Having lost out on attracting foreign earnings from the holidaying UN workers, Nigeria, Boroh said, also lost out in another area she would have made mouth-watering gains, the area of provision of equipment when on dry or wet lease. Nigeria's lack of capacity to do strategic lifts, he added, was another frontier, which she failed to earn reasonable money for her involvement in PSO's.

According to Boroh, Russia, which has M18 helicopters serving UN PSO's is pocketing $6m annually. Cote d' Ivoire, makes as much as $5m annually from its helicopters in the service of the UN.  Ghana and South Africa, he said, are also making good income from this quarter, from the three helicopters they own.

This grim scenario, is not helped, when also viewed against the background that Nigeria, currently the sixth highest Police Contributing Country (PCC) and the first to contribute to the Formed Police Unit (FPU) as well as being the first female troop contributor, does not also have a warship on paid services at the disposal of the UN, whereas there is a Bangladeshi war ship generating money for the country in Sudan.

However, in a researched paper titled, "Nigeria in Peace Support Operations: An Appraisal", presented by Col. Adewale Adeniyi Taiwo, Commanding Officer, 245 Battalion at the 'Study Period' a thorough espousal of Nigeria's participation in peace support operations was advanced. Even though it was with a view to making recommendations, it also succeeded in opening a fresh round of rhetorical questions on when Nigeria would position herself well enough to benefit maximally from the exercise.

According to Taiwo,  "Nigeria has been actively involved in several PSOs across the globe.  Her maiden participation was in the ONUC in 1960.  In 1964, she participated in her first bilateral PK mission in Tanganyika (now Tanzania).  Since the end of the Nigeria Civil war in 1970, she has increasingly deployed her Armed Forces (especially NA) in PSOs in the pursuit of the country's foreign policy" adding that "The Nigeria Armed Forces have been deployed on several occasions to ungovernable and failed states for the purpose of preventing or resolving intractable conflicts.

To a reasonable extent, Taiwo's paper, corroborated aspects of the claims made by Boroh, even though the latter was not really in agreement that Nigeria was getting commensurate economic, military, political and social gains from her participation on PSO's. But both were united in positing that national interest should be the determining factor in arriving at which PSO's to embark on.

In setting sail with the litany of problems that Nigeria has encountered in her participation in PSO's, Taiwo grouped them in three broad sub-headings thus: mobilisation, funding and problems of troop rotation.

Taiwo said: "The funding of Nigerian battalions for PSOs has proved to be inadequate.  Sometimes, troops concentrated for PSO were not fed due to lack of funds.  For example, the troops that beefed up 223 for UNMIL in May 2008 were not fed during the induction training.  In other cases, vital items like uniforms, boots and drugs are not provided due to lack or late release of funds.

The Commanding Officer stressed that, "The sinking of huge financial resources to restore peace in these countries while social infrastructure in the country collapses significantly attracted much criticism.  The billions of dollars spent are quite enormous for a growing economy like Nigeria and could have been utilized internally to alleviate the poverty in the country", adding that "the option open to Nigeria in circumstances of similar nature could be to champion the regional PSO with full UN logistics backing.  Alternatively, Nigeria could enter into agreement with the concerned country on the modalities to pay back expenses incurred at the end of the conflict.  This would entail the involvement of Nigerian contractors in post war reconstruction."

In the area of mobilisation, the 245 Battalion boss said "there has always been the need to mobilize troops from different NA units whenever a battalion is earmarked for PSO to meet the mission requirement.  The problem of manpower in the NA did not arise during United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC 1960-1964) operations because the Nigerian battalions were involved mainly in training.  In later operations, the problem of manpower became noticeable in international PSOs because there is no battalion that has the UN standard strength of 776 all ranks.  Consequently, officers and soldiers are usually posted in from different battalions to beef up any stand-by unit.

"This cross-posting", he explained, "makes command and control difficult as officers hardly know their men.  The situation becomes more difficult when the posted in officers and soldiers report late to the unit for induction training.  Some of them even marry up with the unit at the airport.  It is essential that beefing up officers and soldiers report to the unit for training at least three months before induction into the mission area."

On the issue of troops rotation, Nigeria is also guilty of not playing by the book, a situation that exposes her citizens to dire health problems. For example, The Nigerian Army units that participated in ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia amongst others, were left without rotation for periods ranging from one to three years. This is directly at variance with what Roxanne Bazergan (of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations PKO) observed that, "the longer units are deployed in a mission, the more prone they are to HIV/AIDS and other infections."

"The impact that high HIV prevalence would have on the strategic capabilities of the Nigerian military could be complex, if not checked", Taiwo warned, adding that "trained soldiers are difficult and expensive to replace, and their absence interrupts the training of younger recruits. Afterall, Nigeria adopted the six monthly rotations of troops, in line with several other contingents in UN PSO.  This is a welcome development and needs to be maintained."

Touching on the area of logistics, the Army chief admitted that there was virtually no country in the world that could provide her Army with all the required logistics.  However, he said, it becomes worrisome when the troops lack the basic needs in the field to execute their assigned task and protect their lives.

Giving an example of how inadequate logistics poses great challenge to Nigerian troops deployed in PSO's, he said, "During the NA participation in UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from 1978-1983, General Tunji Olurin lamented the lack of necessary logistics.  According to him, "Mobilisation could not be completed without considering all the essentials that would have made the lives of the troops easier to face their operational commitments.  Most of the necessities within the unit were lacking.  The staff check as taught in the Staff College was not adhered to by the Nigeria Army Headquarters staff that mobilized the troops.

Taiwo, however, noted that, "Despite the myriad of problems faced by Nigeria in PSOs, her participation has brought some political, military and economic benefits to the country."

He said: "Nigeria's participation in PSOs has enhanced her political and diplomatic status within the international system.  Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, in his book titled, 'A Place in the World' said that, "Nigeria remains one of UN important and long standing contributors to PSO".  His statement is an affirmation of Nigeria's growing influence internationally, based on her contribution to world peace.  Nigeria's increasing role in PSOs undoubtedly gave weight to her recent inclusion as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Interestingly, he added that "It is essential that Nigeria's growing influence as a result of her contribution to world peace be sustained through the increased involvement of her Armed Forces in PSOs because the exercises have created avenues for the country to realistically train its troops in a limited war setting.  The experiences gained from participating in such operations are enormous.  The participating units are opportuned to practice on Internal Security (IS) duties, convoy drills and crowd dispersal among others. The experience gained by Nigerian troops in PSOs would greatly enhance its capability in handling IS duties within the country.

Another benefit of Nigeria's participation in PSO's Taiwo said, is that the country "has received much military assistance from advanced countries, particularly United States of America.  In the year 2000, USA approved the sum of $66m as military aid to Nigeria.  Also, Nigeria was among the beneficiaries of US sponsored African Contingency Operation Training and Assistance (ACOTA).  The aim of ACOTA is to give training support to African countries that actively participates in international and regional PSOs.  The military aids received by Nigeria do not only boost the morale of her troops, but also increased their combat efficiency

In the area of PSO's economic benefit to the country, he said, economic benefits derived from Nigeria's participation in PSOs are quite enormous.  Every Troops Contributing Country (TCC) stands to benefit tremendously in terms of financial reimbursement by the UN.  The UN in an agreement with governments of the TCCs leases individual solider for a PSOs task for a certain period of time.

He continued, "The reimbursement does not constitute an individual entitlement or salary.  It is a reimbursement to the government for raising, training and sustaining each peacekeeper.  Any allowance that the country pays to their peacekeeper is based on sovereign decision on national condition of service.  This explains why the operational allowance paid to troops of different nationals in the same UN operation differs.   For instance, Nigeria paid the sum of $600 monthly each to her personnel that participated in UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and Liberia (UNMIL).  Ghana in the same operation paid $800 to her personnel.

Currently, the NA personnel in UNMIL and UN Hybrid Operation in Dafur (UNAMID) as contingents are being paid $1028 monthly. This is quite a substantial amount for an individual officer or soldier.  Consequently, the living standard of NA personnel that participated in such operations and their family are thus enhanced.

In conclusion, Taiwo recommended that since "the UN pays $262519.5 monthly to a Troop Contributing Country (TCC) for any of her battalion in PSO having full complement of major equipment.  The full scale of the self-sustaining items will also generate US $202,744.00 monthly for the country.  Nigeria therefore needs to equip her military units being inducted into PSO in accordance with UN for full reimbursement benefits.