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Local and Bilateral Issues

Oil was the most important single factor in Nigerian economic life throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Consequently, the exploitation and protection of oil deposits and of distribution infrastructure (including about 5,500 kilometers of pipelines), concentrated offshore in the southeast, were inextricably linked to national security. Nigeria's recognition of this vulnerability was magnified by its conflict with Cameroon over contested offshore oil rights. On the other hand, Nigeria could and did use its "oil weapon" against Ghana, Chad, and European companies by cutting off oil supplies to induce compliance with its demands.

Nigeria's 853-kilometer irregular coastline boasted several major port complexes. Such seaward assets served to justify the notable expansion of Nigeria's naval capabilities (see fig. 13; Navy, this ch.).


Figure 13. Principal Military Installations, 1990

Border security with each of its neighbors was a constant problem for Nigeria. The Nigeria-Benin Joint Border Commission was reactivated in 1981 to deal with minor incursions by Beninese troops and with increased smuggling into Nigeria. In 1986, in response to increasing clashes between communities along the Benin border, Nigeria decided to establish about 100 additional border posts staffed by customs and immigration officials. A major conference on Nigeria-Benin border cooperation in Lagos in 1988 agreed that proper border demarcation would help control smuggling, illegal aliens, and harassment of people. In September 1988, the presidents of the two nations agreed to relax formalities so that their respective local authorities could establish direct contacts on illegal immigration and on traffic matters. In April 1989, Lagos began a yearlong effort to survey the 773-kilometer border with Benin.

Illegal immigrants and smuggling from Niger, with which Nigeria shared a 1,497-kilometer border, posed perennial problems. In April 1984, Nigeria recalled all its existing currency notes in exchange for new notes. This step was designed to preempt the return of the old currency, much of which had been smuggled out of the country by politicians, and to establish a new baseline for Nigeria's financial system that could more readily be monitored. To prevent the reentry of the smuggled currency, Nigeria closed all its borders. Although gasoline and meat, on which landlocked Niger depended, were excepted, Niamey lost nearly one-fourth of its 1984 customs revenue. Nigeria also resorted to mass deportations of illegal aliens in 1983 and 1985, the latter including an estimated 100,000 Nigerois. A clash occurred near the Borno State border in May 1989, when Nigerian soldiers and immigration officials investigated reported crop damage by a cattle herd from Niger. Many regional issues and problems were handled by tripartite meetings of the heads of Katsina State and the Maradi and Zinder regions of Niger.

The approximately eighty-five-kilometer border with Chad through Lake Chad witnessed more serious hostilities. Clashes between Nigerian and Chadian soldiers in April 1983 resulted in more than 100 casualties; the tensions were resolved temporarily by an agreement to revive joint border patrols (which had lapsed) and to have the four-nation Lake Chad Basin Commission take up border security issues and demarcate their common borders. After further clashes, however, Nigerian president Shehu Shagari and Chadian president Hissein Habré agreed to military disengagement, to an exchange of prisoners, to reopening the frontier, to reactivation of joint frontier patrols, and to a special joint commission on border demarcation among the states touching on Lake Chad. Nigeria postponed reopening the Chad border until November 1986, eight months after other borders closed in April 1984 were reopened, to prevent the feared mass influx of refugees from that war-torn country.

Nigeria's longest frontier, the 1,690-kilometer border with Cameroon, witnessed several clashes. (Neither Cameroon nor Chad was a signatory of the ECOWAS protocols on the free movement of community citizens and hence greater border tensions existed between these countries and Nigeria.) In 1981 five Nigerian soldiers were killed and three wounded when a Cameroonian patrol boat fired on a Nigerian vessel off the contested Rio del Rey area, which was thought to be rich in oil, gas, and uranium deposits. Coming in the wake of an incursion by Beninese troops, this incident provoked public demands for compensation, for punitive measures, and even for war. The crisis was settled peaceably, tensions along the frontier continued, however, and in May 1987, Cameroonian gendarmes allegedly occupied sixteen border villages in Borno State until repulsed by Nigerian army units. Lagos issued orders to state governors "to take military reprisals against any belligerent neighboring country," and tension remained high until Babangida's December visit to Yaounde, capital of Cameroon, yielded mutual pledges of steps to prevent a recurrence of border clashes, including joint border patrols. In October 1989, Cameroonian gendarmes allegedly abducted four Nigerian customs officials on routine border patrol duties. In mid-1990 boundary demarcation was still in process, and minor clashes between border residents and transients continued. Deeper divisions were apparent when Yaounde media charged Nigerian agitators with instigating illegal demonstrations in Bamenda and at Yaounde University in May 1990 and with seeking to incite a popular revolt; the Nigerian media made countercharges that Nigerians were being systematically harassed, detained, tortured, or murdered by Cameroonian security forces.

Nigeria took several measures during the 1980s to improve and to strengthen overall border management. After the 1981 clash with Cameroon, Nigeria decided to fence its entire international boundary, to enclose each border beacon, and to augment its immigration staff by 1,000. In the mid-1980s, Nigeria's 2,100 immigration officers were given a four-week weapons training course, new border posts were established, and modern border- patrol and surveillance equipment was procured. The 1984 border closure was designed to control widespread currency trafficking and smuggling. The borders reopened only after Nigeria set up trade corridors and joint border patrols with its neighbors and began a program to strengthen and expand customs and patrol posts. In late 1986, after signing phase two of the ECOWAS protocols on free movement of community citizens, Nigeria said it would deploy immigration officers to each local government to regulate movement in and out of the country and proposed to open 100 new control posts--there had been 45. In addition, Lagos planned to purchase aircraft, helicopters, boats, vehicles, and communication and surveillance equipment; the initial US$13 million phase included 25 speedboats, more than 1,400 Land Rovers and patrol cars, and 200 motorcycles. After the mid-1987 clash with Cameroon, the Nigerian army intensified its border patrols and considered permanently stationing units on the frontiers.

Finally, in an effort to regularize boundary management, in July 1988 Babangida appointed a nine-member National Boundaries Commission under the chief of General Staff. The commission was empowered to coordinate the activities of all agencies involved in internal and international borders and to inquire into and to resolve any boundary problem or issue between Nigeria and its neighbors, and between states within the federation. The president also announced a five-year plan to demarcate, survey, and map all borders, and the establishment of joint boundary commissions with each of Nigeria's neighbors.

To bolster its influence and prestige, Nigeria also engaged in bilateral military cooperation programs with African states. For example, in 1977 Ghana and Nigeria set up a joint committee for military cooperation under which ten Nigerian officers attended each session of the Ghana Senior Staff College's yearlong course. Nigeria also supplied twelve combat-capable L-39 training aircraft to Ghana in 1990. Likewise, in 1979 Nigeria and Benin concluded an agreement providing for joint border patrols and for Beninese to attend Nigerian military training institutions. Military cooperation with Togo included sending Nigerian army units and jet aircraft to Lomé's national parade in January 1988. Nigeria also participated in the eight-nation Commonwealth of Nations team formed to retrain the Ugandan army in 1982, after President Milton Obote's return to power. Military training was also provided to Zimbabwe and Botswana. Since 1986 military personnel from Equatorial Guinea have attended Nigerian military academies and trained with Nigerian forces, and Nigerians have manned one of the Equatorial Guinea patrol boats.

France was Nigeria's only perceived extracontinental threat. The acuity of that perception varied over time and was based on several factors including Nigerias' own strategic vision. Paris disregarded African and world opinion by conducting atomic tests in the Sahara Desert in the early 1960s. Particularly galling to Nigeria was France's recognition of secessionist Biafra, a move joined by francophone Ivory Coast and Gabon, two of France's closest African allies. Nigeria believed that France's close cultural, political, economic, and military ties with its former colonies perpetuated metropolitan loyalties at the expense of inter-African identity and ties. Its pervasive economic ties stymied efforts toward self-reliance and regional economic integration, such as ECOWAS. Furthermore, France maintained defense pacts with several West African states; stationed troops permanently in Senegal, Chad, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Central African Republic; and intervened directly to make or break local regimes. Paris was also seen as the spearhead of Western security interests and interventions in local African conflicts, such as in Zaire and Chad, thus thwarting the emergence of African collective security arrangements. In short, France's hegemonic interests and regional penetration constrained Nigeria politically and strategically, frustrating its "natural" emergence as the preeminent regional power. The Nigerian government never explicitly articulated this threat assessment, but such concerns underlay its regional policies. However, the convergence of French and Nigerian interests in containing Libya, stabilizing Chad, and expanding economic ties reduced mutual anxieties after the mid-1980s.

Libya and South Africa were the only perceived continental threats. Both were geographically remote, and their threats emanated more from their peculiar regimes than from underlying historical or geopolitical rivalry. In the 1980s, Libya's military intervention in Chad and subversive activities in Nigeria and neighboring states, often through the agency of illegal immigrants, strained relations with Nigeria. Although relations improved after Babangida's visit to Tripoli in mid- 1988, Nigeria remained wary of the unpredictable Muammar al Qadhafi.

South Africa was a perpetual security concern until the late 1980s. Its apartheid regime deeply offended African dignity and was seen as the root cause of regional insecurity. In 1985 the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation stopped selling oil to a Swiss-owned company suspected of diverting oil to South Africa in contravention of UN sanctions. Pretoria also could pose direct threats to Lagos. In 1986 Nigerian army and air force headquarters confirmed reported South African plans to attack Nigeria from an unnamed neighboring state, widely rumored to be Equatorial Guinea. Whether or not such a plot existed, the incident demonstrated Nigeria's extreme suspicions of South Africa's intentions.

Nigeria's handling of the Equatorial Guinea crisis underscored its determination to protect its strategic interests against perceived threats from both South Africa and France. Relations with this small neighboring state had been strained periodically over alleged harassment and maltreatment of Nigerian migrant laborers. In 1976 Nigeria evacuated 10,000 of its nationals and later landed a military transport in Malabo, the capital, to demand compensation for the death of a Nigerian at the hands of Guinean security personnel. In the late 1980s, Nigeria's concerns were heightened by French economic penetration and by reports that South Africa had established an air base in Malabo, within twenty minutes' striking distance of Nigeria. Lagos reacted swiftly to remove these potential threats by using both diplomacy and threats. In January 1987, at Nigeria's request, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria agreed to conclude several accords to facilitate and to expand bilateral cooperation, reaffirmed their shared strategic interests, and signed a defense pact. In mid-1988, however, reports that South Africa had brought Nigerian oil through Malabo, was upgrading Malabo's airport, and planned secretly to build a satellite tracking station again raised Nigeria's fears. Lagos demanded and achieved the expulsion of South Africans from Equatorial Guinea, and Babangida's January 1990 state visit concluded an effective campaign using diplomatic pressure and military and economic aid to solidify ties with Malabo at the expense of South African and French interests. However, South Africa's decided shift toward regional peace and domestic reform, including progressive dismantling of apartheid, substantially reduced Nigerian security concerns from that quarter.

Data as of June 1991

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