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Early Development

The Nigerian army traces its historical origins to three nineteenth-century military formations. The first dates from the establishment in 1862 by Captain John Glover of a small Hausa militia (dubbed Glover's Hausas) to defend the British colony of Lagos. Its mission was expanded to include imperial defense when dispatched to the Gold Coast during the Asante expedition of 1873-74. Enlarged and officially entitled the Hausa Constabulary in 1879, this unit performed both police and military duties until 1895, when an independent Hausa Force was carved out of the constabulary and given exclusively military functions. This demographic recruitment base perpetuated the use of Hausa as the lingua franca of command in Ghana and Nigeria, where it persisted into the 1950s. It also marked the historical origin of the ethnic imbalance that has characterized the Nigerian armed forces to this day (see Regional Groupings , ch. 2).

In addition to the Hausa Constabulary, the Royal Niger Company Constabulary was raised in 1888 to protect British interests in Northern Nigeria. It later provided the nucleus of the Northern Nigeria Regiment of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF). A third formation, the Oil Rivers Irregulars, was created during 1891-92, later redesignated the Niger Coast Constabulary, and formed the basis of the WAFF's Southern Nigeria Regiment.

In 1897 WAFF was founded under the command of Colonel Frederick (later Lord) Lugard to counter French encroachments from the north. By 1901 WAFF was an interterritorial force composed of the Nigeria and Gold Coast regiments, the Sierra Leone Battalion, and the Gambia Company, and commanded by a small number of British army officers and noncommissioned officers seconded to the force. WAFF was under the Colonial Office in London, but each regiment was commanded by an officer responsible directly to the local colonial governor. The two regiments were consolidated into the Nigeria Regiment of the WAFF when the Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates were amalgamated on January 1, 1914 (see Unification of Nigeria , ch. 1). These colonial units fought in World War I, in the German colonies of Cameroon and Togo, and in German East Africa. In 1928 the WAFF became the Royal West African Frontier Forces, and in 1939 control of RWAFF shifted from the Colonial Office to the War Office.

In 1930 the Nigeria Regiment had about 3,500 men. During the 1930s, as part of a RWAFF reorganization, its four battalions were reorganized into six, and the colony was divided into northern and southern commands; major units were at Sokoto, Kano, Zaria, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Yola, Enugu, and Calabar. Although Hausa and their language predominated in the infantry and general support units, specialists were recruited mainly from the south. For example, the signals company required fluency in English, so Yoruba were recruited for that unit.

In World War II, Nigerians saw action in Kenya and the Italian East Africa and Burma campaigns, and Nigeria was the assembly and training site for the two West African divisions dispatched to Burma. In 1941 auxiliary groups, consisting of 630 porters organized into three companies for each infantry brigade, were also formed. After the war, the auxiliaries were disbanded, but some locally recruited carriers continued to be employed. In the 1950s, expansion to a two-brigade army was undertaken, and specialized combat and service units such as light artillery, communications, signals, medical, engineers, and motor transport were formed.

In the postwar years, RWAFF resumed its primary mission of internal security. Nigerian units undertook police actions and punitive expeditions to break strikes, to control local disturbances, to enforce tax collection, and to support police anticrime operations. They also mounted a major internal security operation in the Southern Cameroons Trust Territory to counter secessionists rebelling against French colonial authority.

In 1956 the Nigeria Regiment was renamed the Nigerian Military Forces, RWAFF, and in April 1958 the colonial government of Nigeria took over from the War Office control of the Nigerian Military Forces. Africanization of the officer corps began slowly but accelerated through the 1950s. The first Nigerian officer was appointed in 1948; by independence in 1960, there were eighty-two Nigerian officers, mostly Igbo from the southeast. This ethnic imbalance within the officer corps contrasted with that in the rank and file, where northerners predominated.

Data as of June 1991

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Nigeria Table of Contents