How policy, funding issues clog Nigeria’s UN peace-keeping operations

Ban-Ki-moonLAST Wednesday, Nigeria joined the world in celebrating the International Day of United Nations Peace-keepers, a day designated in 2002 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to pay tributes to all men and women serving in UN peacekeeping operations for their high-level professionalism, dedication and courage.

It was also meant to honour the memory of those who lost their lives. UNGA designated May 29 for the tributes, as the first UN peace-keeping mission – the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) – began in Palestine on that date in 1948. This year’s commemorative ceremonies came at a time the services of the UN peace-keepers have continued to be in high demand.

Today, there are about 80,000 military personnel, 12,500 police officers, 17,000 international civilians and national staff serving in 15 peace-keeping operations on four continents. Altogether, 3,100 peace-keepers have lost their lives in the UN’s 65-year peace-keeping history. Last year, a total of 111 international peace-keepers, died. They included 103 military, police and civilian personnel.

Nigeria, the fifth largest Troop Contributing Country (TCC), lost 17 of the 111. The figure made Nigeria the UN member-state with the most human sacrifice for world peace last year. Of the 17, five, including Staff Sgt. Emmanuel Abel, Corporal Julius Emmanuel, Lance Corporal Bashir Garba, Corporal Thomas Idu and Staff Sgt. Absalom Umar, lost their lives while serving with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

The other 12 – Lance Corporal Sunday Afolayan, Sgt. Omega Agbalo, Lt. Martins Anthony, Corporal Suleiman Bako, Corporal Fali Buluma, Lance Corporal Oko Idiku, Lance Corporal Sanusi Jibrin, Lance Corporal Inalegwu John, Sgt. Birabi Nkpara, Sgt. Joseph Ojelade, Lance Corporal Sarki Samaila, and Lance Corporal Abdullahi Shawai – lost their lives while serving with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

According to UN records, Nigeria has participated in 25 out of the 51 established UN missions. In addition, the country has led regional peace-keeping operations under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity – now African Union (AU), as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It also participated in a bilateral peace mission in Tangayika (New Tarzana) in 1964.

Nigerian peace-keepers are currently deployed in 10 UN and one ECOWAS missions. They include the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), UN Mission in Congo (MONUC), UN Mission in Burindi (ONUB), UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI), UN Mission in Eritrea/Ethiopia (UNMEE), UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), UN Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSL), UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), UN/AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA).

Under UNAMID, Nigeria has three battalions, a recce company, a Force/Sector Reserve company and a Level Two hospital. At UNMIL, Nigeria has two battalions and a Signal Group. As of now, about 2,000 Nigerian peace-keepers are waiting to be deployed to UNIMIL, UNAMID or AFIS. The personnel awaiting rotation were all trained at the Nigerian Army Peace-keeping Centre, Jaji. In addition, there are over 900 Nigeria Police officers currently participating in UN, AU and ECOWAS peace missions.

As the largest country and preponderant military power in ECOWAS, Nigeria provided much of the “muscle” deployed by ECOMOG, the military arm of ECOWAS, to restore democratic governments in Liberia and Sierra Leone. And for being the bulwark to regional stability and peace-keeping in West Africa, Nigeria spent an estimated $10 billion to fund this effort. The United States (U.S) contributed a paltry $100 million to these ECOMOG efforts.

For a long time now, Nigeria’s exploits in international peace-keeping had largely been the bedrock of the nation’s foreign policy goals. And because the Nigerian military has performed so creditably at this, it is now the pride of the nation. Yet, it has not escaped the national malaise of neglect. But the most appalling issue about the country’s peace-keeping credentials is that despite committing over $10 billion to ECOMOG peace-keeping and peace-enforcement alone, 250,000 men and women to UN peace support operations since 1960, and losing 2000 in both international and sub-regional operations, the nation has no functional national policy on peace support operations. This would have defined the strategy for its participation.

For now, Nigeria supplies troops and equipment for peace-keeping without defining its goals and national interest in doing so. This explains why, despite all its sacrifice in countries like Liberia, the nation got no leverage there. Much more disturbing is that despite its long history of participation in UN peace-keeping, the country has not taken advantage of it to equip its military. The ill-equipment of troops on peace-keeping missions has brought embarrassment to the nation.

In August 2012, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who was then the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), was confounded that under him, a Nigerian battalion serving in UNAMID was returned home for performing below par.

Describing the repatriation as a sad development, Gambari said that part of the challenge faced by UNAMID was making sure that “all the top contributor-countries do three things – ensure that the quality and quantity of contingents’ equipment are up to par, that the pre-deployment training they give to them is adequate, thorough and rigorous, and that those they actually send are also of topmost quality and operate much more cohesively.”

Generally, over the years, Nigeria has been unable to purchase and deploy significant quantities of equipment in order to attract sufficient benefit from the reimbursement for equipment. Smaller countries like Ghana and Bangladesh have benefitted immensely from the UN reimbursement for equipment and personnel. Due to the benefits, they upgraded Contingency Owned Equipment (COE) and acquired other equipment more appropriate for peace-keeping.

For each fully equipped soldier and functional equipment deployed to any peace-keeping mission, the UN pays the TCC a certain amount of money every month. Those who deploy equipment are reimbursed under either the Wet Lease or Dry Lease systems. The Wet Lease System is especially beneficial to developing countries with low equipment quotient. This is because same amount is paid for each equipment, whether it is new or old, as long as it functions properly.

The reimbursement scheme is governed by UN General Assembly Resolution 50/222 of April 11, 1996, which authorized the implementation of a new reimbursement system designed to encourage TCC to provide equipment to their troops in peace-keeping missions. Under this new arrangement, the Wet and Dry Lease reimbursement systems were introduced.

The Wet Lease is where the TCC provides and assumes responsibility for the maintenance and support for deployed major equipment. Dry Lease means the TCC provides the major equipment and the UN assumes responsibility for the maintenance of the equipment. Self-sustainment is a logistic support concept for contingents in the UN peace-keeping mission, whereby the TCC provides some specific or all logistics support to the contingent on a reimbursable basis. Self-sustainment covers areas such as medical, tentage, laundry and cleaning, communication, catering, accommodation and electrical, among others.

For example, under the Wet Lease System, the UN pays a TCC a total of $5,542 per month for an Armoured Personnel Carrier. Same equipment, under the Dry Lease System, attracts a total of $2,310. So, all a TCC member needs to benefit from the payment is a functional equipment. And nations benefit more from this system if it is able to purchase and use such equipment in its missions. What is instructive is that the equipment reverts back to the TCC at the end of the mission.

With effect from January 1, 2002, the rates for reimbursement for contingents per month included $1,028 for each personnel; personnel clothing, gear and equipment allowance – $63, personnel weaponry and training ammunition – $5, and allowance for specialist – $303. In addition, the contingent personnel also receive directly from the peace-keeping mission a daily allowance of $1.28 plus a recreational leave allowance of $73.50 for six months duty tour.

The UN, therefore, reimburses for the ordinary contingent member a total of $1,096 per month. For the specialist, the amount is $1,399 per month. Now, with provision made for catering and some of the other provisions under self-sustainment (not readily quantifiable), the country makes significant profits on each ordinary contingent member and specialist that it deploys on a UN mission.

For Ghana, it has become a veritable source for funding its military and police. Its involvement in peace-keeping has also brought direct benefits to the country as funds from the mission account are used to execute national projects. For example, money from this account was used to purchase a presidential Gulf Stream Jet in 2006, which was subsequently sold in order to purchase four helicopters for the Ghana Armed Forces.

The problem of ill-equipment of Nigerian contingents on UN operations was such that in 2008, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping threatened to deactivate two battalions of the Nigerian Army serving under UNIMIL, expressing “disappointment” at Nigeria’s poor logistics holding. It said the nation “failed to meet UN-Nigeria Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on equipping its troops with the right calibre of military and other peace-keeping equipment.”

By then, under UNMIL, Nigeria was the laughing stock among nations, as Contingent-Owned Equipment and vehicles routinely broke down. It had over 80 of its vehicles due for downloading back to Nigeria or to be disposed there in Liberia. Over 110 of its vehicles were awaiting the procurement of spare parts to reactivate them.

According to UN documents on the MOU signed between it and Nigeria, the expected monthly reimbursement for logistics support (less troops reimbursement) for Major Equipment (ME) under UNMIL ought to be $416,709.12. Self-Sustenance (SS) reimbursement for the same month amounted to $557,218, but due to the numerous logistics shortcomings and avoidable deficiencies, Nigeria qualified for barely 18.5 per cent of the total monthly reimbursement for ME and SS. This amounted to just about $183,876 of the total of $993,927.12.

Unfortunately, over the years, Nigerian governments have not paid attention to the funding of the nation’s UN peacekeeping operations. Unlike other developing nations which have used the UN Missions to equip their military, Nigeria has ignored this avenue, preferring to receive assistance towards this. For example, the White House Press Secretary, during the trip of former President Bill Clinton to  Abuja, Nigeria in August 26, 2000 issued the fact sheet on U.S.-Nigerian Cooperation on Peacekeeping and Military Reform.

Under the Train and Equip programme, Nigeria provided at least five battalions for service in the now rested United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) while other nations trained and equipped them. The U.S. Department of Defence trained and equipped these troops on priority basis, providing Nigeria with training and equipment worth $42 million. It also provided, among others, personal gear, medical equipment, communications, non-combat vehicles, rifles, mortars, machine guns, ammunition and human rights training.

In 2007, the late Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Luka Yusuf, canvassed the adoption of Ghana’s model of funding operations. Under this, government signed an MOU with the organized private sector – specifically the banks and defence contractors. The banks then would set aside certain amount periodically for funding of logistics for peacekeeping. The effect is that such nation does not have to wait for UN reimbursements or national budgets before executing their programmes.

The adoption of the MOU for private sector funding, Yussuf noted, would eliminate completely bureaucratic bottlenecks. With the option, proceeds from the UN reimbursements would be used for the rehabilitation of barracks of all army units participating in peace-keeping. He noted, “the system is such that whatever is spent in the procurement of any material would adequately be recouped within a year.”

Back home, he followed up the funding option, holding a meeting between the Nigerian Army and a consortium of nine banks and contractors/vendors on how to reverse the dismal funding aspects of Nigeria’s UN peace-keeping equipment holdings. Under the envisaged partnership, the banks would pull resources and make funds available to the Ministry of Defence, which would in turn contract out the supply of the equipment and items needed by the units before they embark on any UN mission.

Thereafter, the contractors/vendors are paid while the UN pays the banks through the Ministry of Finance. That way, the army gets the equipment it needs while the contractors are saved the hassles of pursuing their profits and other payments. The banks involved in the partnership included Access Bank, Diamond Bank, EcoBank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, Oceanic, Sterling Bank and United Bank for Africa. However, the proposal was buried on the heap of bureaucratic bottlenecks at the Ministry of Defence.

UN peace-keeping-contributing nations, including Ghana, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, have used this concept to transform and re-equip their military. But for Nigeria, even its management of payment of personnel reimbursement was fraught with irregularities. In 2008, a military court martial in Akure, Ondo State, sentenced 27 soldiers, who served in UNMIL, to life imprisonment for organising a public protest over non-payment of their entitlements.

This issue of non-payment of entitlements was a source of unease in the military until 2010 when former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike, directed the implementation of new payment option under which each Nigerian peacekeeper’s entitlements are directly credited to his/her domiciliary account. Effectively, therefore, the inability of Defence and Foreign Affairs ministries to work out durable policy and funding pattern has caused the dwindling of Nigeria’s influence in UN Peacekeeping Department.

At the height of Nigeria’s glory, the country held sway in various roles in UN global peace-keeping. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, was the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Nigeria-born Lt.-Gen. Chukwukadibia Isaac Obiakor, a former Force Commander of UNMIL, was the UN Military Adviser on Peacekeeping Operations.

Also, former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, a former Deputy Military Adviser at UN Headquarters, was at the same time with Gambari the commander of the combined UNAMID, the biggest peacekeeping operation in the world with approximately 20,000 troops and 6,000 police under his command.

Also, Maj.-Gen. Moses Obi was first appointed the Force Commander of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in June 2010 before transmuting to Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) when South Sudan gained independence in July 2011. Today, apart from the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), with Maj.-Gen. Shehu Abdulkadir as Force Commander, no Nigerian commands any of the UN or AU peacekeeping operations.

Efforts have been made for the nation to live up to the specifics of MOUs signed with UN on peacekeeping. But a source told The Guardian that “they have largely been uncoordinated and unsustainable. For example, during the embarrassment over the threat of deactivation of Nigerian troops from UNMIL, the Nigerian contingent got a boost of equipment holding when it received about 30 vehicles and other equipment.

Yet, the best option for the nation is to work out a policy of funding and equipping its troops with reimbursements from the UN. That way, a new door for equipping the military will open. So, before the nation jumps to supply troops to the next peace-keeping effort, policy and funding options should be dealt with. The era that Nigeria had difficulty meeting the UN requirements at monthly inspection of contingents’ equipment and reimbursements must be history. Nigeria should no longer be the laughing stock among other UN troop-contributing contingents.

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