Nigeria has been hindered in its quest to rescue the more than 200 girls captured by Boko Haram by its total lack of functioning unmanned drones. The U.S. government is currently flying surveillance drones over Nigeria in order to assist in the search for the aforementioned girls, but Nigeria has been unable to join the airborne search despite the fact that the Nigerian government purchased a number of drones from Israel in 2006. The exact details of the transaction are unclear, owing to the discrete nature of the Israeli-Nigerian military relationship, but aerospace experts have estimated that each of the drones purchased by the Nigerian government would have been worth between 15 and 17 million dollars.
In 2006 Nigeria was faced with the problem of militant attacks on pipelines carrying crude oil in the Niger Delta, prompting the government to purchase a number of expensive drones from the Israeli government. However, due to a number of factors, such as the amnesty granted to the militants in 2009, the drones never flew and have since lapsed into a state of total disrepair. Tsur Dvir, a marketing officer with the Israeli-based Aeronautics Defence Systems that sold Nigeria the Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicles, has said that the drones are non-operational to the best of his knowledge. Nigerian military officials have not yet released a statement regarding the situation of these drones, and any disclosures may result in profound embarrassment for President Goodluck Jonathon’s government, especially if it comes to light that a lack of functioning drones is hindering the search for Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicles purchased by the Nigerian government have an extensive operational range, as well as the ability to detect body heat signatures at night with the use of thermal cameras, both of which are features well-suited to discovering the location of hostages. Unfortunately, these drones are no longer flight worthy due to a reported combination of corruption and lack of maintenance. Tsur Dvir has said that, although his company received an initial inquiry regarding spare parts for the Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicles, no deal was ever reached which would have provided the Nigerian government with the parts needed to adequately maintain its new drones. The failure to maintain equipment has been hailed by analysts as one of the reasons why Nigeria has been unable to quell its militant problem, although Nigerian officials maintain that the primary reason for the failure is the lack of experience Nigeria has in dealing with counter-insurgency situations.
Nigeria has attempted to resolve the issue of obsolete or inoperable equipment through the development of its own equipment, a primary example being in the field of drone technology. In December of 2013 Nigeria unveiled a new drone at an air base in Kaduna that had been entirely constructed in Nigeria, unfortunately this drone has yet to be put into use. The shortage of drones has been somewhat alleviated by the American drone presence, but the Americans have had to carefully monitor the information they pass to Nigerian government officials due to concerns that sensitive information could fall into the hands of militants or other enemies of the United States. It seems, therefore, that the lack of any functioning drone presence in Nigeria has seriously hindered efforts to recover the hundreds of girls captured by Boko Haram in April.
By Nicholas Grabe