The Nigerian security services have sent 1 200 personnel to Russia where they are receiving advanced counter-insurgency training from Russian special forces and will return to form the nucleus of a special counter-insurgency force which will be deployed to fight Boko Haram militants.
According to Nigerian newspaper Vanguard, the first two batches of 400 security operatives – drawn from special units of the Nigerian Army, the police and national intelligence services – are believed to have left for Russian in early August.
The last group flew out of Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport on September 25 aboard a chartered flight to join their colleagues at an undisclosed location in the Russian Federation after rigorous pre-training military fitness tests conducted by Russian and Nigerian instructors.
Each batch received Russian-style specialised counter-insurgency warfare training for four months and on return will form the core of a new special forces brigade which is being created to take the lead in the army’s faltering offensive amid massive territorial gains in the northern states of Borno and Adamawa by the Islamist Boko Haram group.
The hybrid force will include members of the elite groups of the army, the police and intelligence services. The defence ministry confirmed the training programme after the last group was photographed leaving the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport but gave no further details.
The Nigerian government is increasingly reliant on former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe to re-equip its military and security forces.
Apart from Russian training for its special forces, the Nigerian Army is looking for funds to purchase at least three advanced surveillance aircraft from the Czech Republic.
Details of the negotiations underway were revealed last week by Czech ambassador to Nigeria Pavel Mikes following a meeting with Nigerian Minister of Interior Oba Moro and the deputy commander of the Czech Air force Brigadier General Sebesta Jeromir in Abuja.
He said the two countries agreed on the details of the purchase of up to three surveillance aircraft of unspecified make but with GPS and night-vision capabilities for deployment on border control duties.
Mikes said the Czech Republic is ready to supply Nigeria with the aircraft to enable its air force to secure the borders as part of a broader strategy aimed at stopping the free-flow of Boko Haram and regionally-based jihadist fighters operating across various countries in the Sahel.
“We can help Nigeria to combat terrorism but the cooperation goes further…The main area for now is the border control and supply of aircrafts and everything that goes with the aircraft including training for the pilots. The Czech Air Force uses the same aircraft in all aspects of our border control.
“That is why the General [Sebesta Jeromir] is here to share his experience with Nigeria. These aircraft have been made for many years and it will be in existence for the next 20 years. This is important because once Nigeria buys these aircrafts, Nigeria must be sure that there will be maintenance and there will be spare parts in the future,” he said.
Early this month, President Goodluck Jonathan wrote to the Nigerian Senate requesting it to approve a special allocation of $1 billion, part of which he said would be used to acquire 12 Mil Mi-24D (export designation Mil Mi-35) helicopters from a Belarusian state-owned defence equipment manufacturer.
“Belarus has accepted to give helicopters on instalment payment over a seven year period; other weapons and equipment will be procured under the same conditions in other European countries,” President Jonathan wrote.
The arms deal was initially discussed in April this year when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visited Nigeria to inspect progress on ‘558 Aircraft Plant’, a Belarusian owned aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul factory in Abuja.
It was concluded during a follow-up visit by a Belarusian government delegation which discussed military co-operation with Nigerian government representatives in Abuja between 7 and 9 September.