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Professional Military Education

A Cross-Cultural Survey


Edited By Duraid Jalili and Hubert Annen

This book brings together non-Western viewpoints on military pedagogy and professional military education (PME). In doing so, it seeks to provide a counterbalance to the predominantly European and North American bias found within the research field, as well as generating new insights on Latin American, African and Asian pedagogical commentaries and critiques. The collection contains essays from PME researchers and practitioners across fourteen countries, on subjects including large-scale educational reform, civil-military and academic influences on military pedagogy, internationalisation, cross-cultural collaboration, and interoperability within military education.

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Professional Military Education for the Modern Officer: The Nigerian Experience1

Major General (Ret.) Muhammad Inuwa Idris

Professional Military Education for the Modern Officer: The Nigerian Experience1

Abstract: This chapter examines the need for and potential areas of reform within the Nigerian professional military educational system. It highlights how aspects such as the over-politicization and careerism of military officers, absence of joint doctrine, broad replication of external curricula, and negligent staff recruitment and retention policies have hindered the Nigerian military educational system and, in turn, its capacity to deal with the increased terrorist threat from organisations such as Boko Haram. It then highlights the reforms that were implemented at the National Defence Academy (Kaduna) from 2013–2015, in order to overcome the deficiencies within the academy. It argues that the creation of collaborative links and strategic partnerships between colleges (both nationally and internationally), the need to balance long-term projects with immediate gains, and to safeguard long-term reforms are vital to mitigating the deficiencies of the current system.

Keywords: PME, military education, Nigerian Armed Forces, National Defence Academy, Boko Haram, intercollegiate collaboration, educational reform


The primary objective of any armed forces is to defend the nation and secure its people. In order to successfully discharge this mission, military officers must be capable of adapting to the evolving character of conflict at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. Furthermore, to maintain its relevance as a fighting force, the military must strive to predict, pre-empt and remain ahead of the challenges it will face.

Yet, the contemporary threat environment facing today’s military is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Training, experience and ←35 | 36→self-improvement can enhance an officer’s adaptability to this environment. In order to produce the most professionally competent leadership for the officer corps, however, it is critical to implement effective professional military education programmes for officers at all levels of the military hierarchy. The goal of such education is to develop and foster breadth of perspective, critical analysis skills, abstract reasoning, innovative thinking and comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, particularly with respect to complex and non-linear problems.

To use an analogy, military capability may be compared to a four-legged animal. Each leg represents a critical dimension for the continued effectiveness and success of the military: force structure, combat readiness, sustainability and modernisation. If an animal has a missing leg or even just a damaged leg it will find it difficult to function optimally. Above all, it is the leg of modernisation (whether applied to combat, procurement, policy formulation or any other area) that is driven, sustained and enhanced by education. Without relevant, adequate and functional professional education, the military will continue to struggle and continue to fail in its vision.

This chapter is designed to review the state of professional military education in Nigeria. In order to achieve this, it will consider the security context currently facing the Nigerian nation; the deficiencies within its current professional military education systems; the strategies implemented to overcome these deficiencies; and the actions that must be taken to ensure that these changes are effective in the long term. It is based upon personal experience at all levels of the Nigerian professional military education system.

The Nigerian Context

The contemporary challenges confronting nations today have radically reduced the effectiveness of traditional military strategies. In the case of Nigeria, state security forces have been overwhelmed by the pace and the dynamism with which national security threats have evolved and spread. This is especially the case with the phenomena of terrorism and violent extremism. Although organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) are designed to assist individual nations in counteracting these threats, in reality they “are less well placed to provide or deliver regional security as envisaged ←36 | 37→in extant policy documents” and “are limited to legitimizing, coordinating and partnering in regional security interventions” (Ismail, 2015, p.202).

In Nigeria, for example, the Islamist group Boko Haram has waged an ongoing campaign of terror, involving attacks on schools, destruction of villages and mass abductions of Nigerian citizens. This has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of over 2.4 million Nigerians (UNHCR, n.d.; Campbell and Harwood, 2018). Their continuing campaign has led to recurrent questions and criticisms from the Nigerian public and government regarding the ability of national security forces to deal with such threats, with a particular focus on the failings of the Nigerian Army.

There exist, of course, wider socio-economic and geopolitical factors that have helped Boko Haram consolidate its influence both within local communities and on the global stage. Yet, this does not negate the criticisms that have been directed at the army’s attempts to achieve a military solution. Whilst deficits in equipment and the motivation of troops necessarily play a factor in operational success, it is important to question whether the army has provided its officers with the education required to successfully anticipate and swiftly adapt to the continually evolving security threats faced within Nigeria.

As with any military, there are a range of economic and political factors influencing the breadth and quality of educational provision. However, there are four key factors that are of particular relevance to the Nigerian context. The first is the historical and contemporary involvement of military officers within political governance, which has “led to the creation of a politicised force” (Eke, 2015, p.291). As noted by Ouédraogo (2014, p.20), any such politicisation of the armed forces often results in:

“a military that is more partisan and less professional in the eyes of society, thereby diminishing respect for the institution – something that is necessary in order to recruit committed, disciplined, and talented soldiers”.

In addition to issues of corruption and sectarianism, one impact of this politicisation is the increased internal emphasis placed upon career progression and political acumen. Although political manoeuvring does not absolve the average Nigerian Army officer of their PME commitments, the shift from the “Institutional” to the “Occupational” military model ←37 | 38→(Moskos, 1981, p.2) has resulted in an ambiguity surrounding students’ motivation to participate and excel in PME courses; specifically, the duality of the course’s career value versus a genuine passion for intellectual self-improvement.

The second factor is the status of joint training doctrine across the Nigerian Armed Forces. In contrast to other nations, the Nigerian military has been a joint tri-service institution from the moment of its creation in 1960. This conceptual jointness, however, was equivalent to many of Nigeria’s other post-independence constitutional policies, which “had little reality beyond their physical existence as a set of written symbols deposited in a government archive” (Zolberg, 1968, p.72; see also Luckham, 1975, p.1). Furthermore, as noted by Omeni (2018, p.94):

“military doctrine in Nigeria for the most part fails to draw on practical experiences within the operating environment. Rather the doctrine draws, extensively so in some places, from Western military doctrine and from a broad range of military practices – except those from within, ab intra, Nigeria’s own military environment”.

Although there is an increasing curricular emphasis on jointness at the staff and war college level, and greater successes in joint exercises since early clumsy attempts such as Operation Sea Dog, there still exist significant failures in collaboration from the inter-service down to the inter-departmental levels. A relevant example of this is the absence of coordination between the training provided at the Nigerian Defence Academy (Kaduna), the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (Jaji) and the National Defence College (Abuja). This lack of coordination has resulted in a system whereby the Commandant or senior directors of an individual college are able to implement significant changes without first consulting or notifying other ‘partner’ colleges. This environment has led to a counterproductive culture of institutional protectionism between colleges in areas such as curricular reform and knowledge sharing.

The third factor is the lack of evolution in the intellectual content being utilised by officers within the armed forces. A key aspect of this is the tendency in the Nigerian military to mirror the practices of other armed forces, without adapting them to Nigeria’s unique socio-political, economic and cultural contexts. As revealed by Omeni (2018, p.14), this “institutional isomorphism” includes a particularly prominent “institutional transfer ←38 | 39→between the British colonialist military and the Nigerian military that emerged post independence”. This scenario has led to significant redundancies within the intellectual content available at Nigerian military colleges, as well as a lack of serious curricular development at the institutional level. A key example of this can be found in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), which is accredited by the Nigerian Government to award civilian degrees to its students, up to the level of PhD. As a result of its status, the NDA has attempted to compete with civilian institutions in its provision of postgraduate education, by developing a broad range of courses with no direct relevance to the military profession.

In addition to their lack of relevance, by 2013 the expansion of subject matters within the NDA had become counterproductive and even overwhelming for the college’s finances and staff workload. This led to a scenario in which the academy was forced to nearly close its postgraduate school altogether. As a result of this, in 2013 when I was placed in the role of Commandant of the NDA, I was forced to wholly eliminate 30 out of the college’s 68 postgraduate courses, due to their complete lack of relevance for the military profession.

Although it can be argued that a learning organisation such as the military should be diverse in its research areas, this does not necessitate placing limited resources and budget into developing these courses internally within military educational institutions. Indeed, in such cases where the military requires expertise in a non-military specialisation, it is often simpler and more cost-effective to send officers to civilian academic institutions. Military academies themselves should focus both their human and financial resources into subjects that are of direct relevance to the military function and are unlikely to be taught in civilian universities.

The final factor relates to the allocation and recruitment of personnel within military educational institutions. By 2013 the National Defence Academy contained a higher ratio of teaching staff with ‘professor’ or ‘assistant professor’ status than many civilian universities in Nigeria, often as a result of political favouritism. This scenario led to a culture of complacency and a lack of competition across college staff. Although such officials possessed masters and doctoral qualifications, they often lacked basic pedagogical training. Moreover, there existed an active opposition to pedagogical or educational reforms.

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This lack of proficiency within the civilian college staff was further exacerbated by challenges surrounding the retention of military staff. In the 2014–2015 academic year, for example, the National Defence Academy had a turnover of three registrars; a role of critical importance to the functioning of a college and one that requires a minimum 5-year employment contract in civilian universities within Nigeria. In addition to this, there existed a significant number of short-term military instructors, who were mandated to teach at the college if they had achieved an ‘A’ grade within one of their professional development courses. Although certain college roles (such as that of Directing Staff) are considered prestigious and therefore worthwhile for an officer, these shorter tenures are often undesirable for officers who are seeking to use their learning and specialisation within more prestigious combat roles.

The final personnel-related challenge for Nigerian military education, as well as for the armed forces in general, was the semi-regular ‘compulsory retirement exercises’ undertaken by the Nigerian Government, during which large numbers of senior officers are forcibly retired, as they have either reached the age of 60, served for 35 years in the military, or for other politically expedient reasons. These exercises typically result in the retirement of around 50–70 senior officers per year (see, for example, Special Correspondent, 2014 and Usman, 2016). This retirement age is not an unusual one in comparison to other militaries and creates opportunities for younger, educated and innovative officers to rise through the ranks. However, the practical implementation of this system generates two specific challenges for the Nigerian Armed Forces. Firstly, retirement often occurs at the point at which officers are most capable of making wide-ranging reforms for reasons other than personal career progression or political infighting. Secondly, the process of retiring officers in large annual or bi-annual batches, rather than via a gradual phased method over the course of the year, reduces the military’s ability to create a smooth transition between incoming and outgoing leaders.

Practical Strategies for Military Education Reform

Although the range of challenges facing Nigerian military education both was and still remains significant, the possibility of reform exists. As a means of exploring this potential, I will now outline the four key changes ←40 | 41→that I sought to make in my role as Commandant of the National Defence Academy (Kaduna) from 2013–2015. The first change was to initiate the development of a joint training and education doctrine. Fortunately, my tenure as Commandant of the academy occurred at a time when two of my former NDA coursemates were appointed as commandants of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (Jaji) and the National Defence College (Abuja) respectively. Although at first, we attempted to develop this doctrine in partnership, the process was inhibited by the conventional protectionist mentality that surrounds inter-departmental and inter-organisational collaboration. In order to overcome this, the NDA composed and submitted its own proposal for a joint doctrine to the other colleges for their review and amendments. It remains to be seen however how far this joint doctrine will develop, now that the commandants of all three colleges have been superseded.

The second improvement we sought to achieve was to further contextualise the training and education provided at the NDA through simulation exercises. Such exercises are neither cheap nor easy to implement. To ensure cost-effectiveness and superior quality within a limited time period, we coordinated with the U.S. National Defense University to send our faculty members to attend the annual simulation exercises that follow their capstone course. This resulted in three annual trips with over ten faculty members per year attending exercises of direct relevance to counter-terrorism operations against Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This participation also enhanced the channels of communication and collaboration between U.S. and Nigerian military educators.

The third reform we implemented was a review of our curriculum, in order to better align and connect the processes of ‘education’ and ‘training’ within the academy. Previous to this, there existed a disconnect between these two interdependent aspects. A key example of this realignment is the changes that were made regarding the level of education given to students on the consequences of firing a weapon. Although soldiers were well trained in marksmanship, we had to reorient our programmes so that this technical skill was complemented with increased learning on the tactical, strategic and ethical questions that a soldier must account for prior to discharging their weapon.

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The fourth and by far the most extensive set of reforms, however, involved restructuring the departments and courses within the NDA to increase their direct relevance to the challenges facing the contemporary military soldier. This process was designed to radically increase the number of military-specific subjects available within the academy. In 2013, for example, the National Defence Academy featured courses in subjects such as business and management studies, but none on leadership, homeland security or intelligence. Indeed, despite the fact that it possessed a history department, this department was focussed on general historical studies rather than military history specifically.

Prior to our reforms, the academy contained three faculties: The Faculty of Science, Faculty of Engineering, and Faculty of Social Sciences. In order to counteract the deficit of military studies, we gained approval from the government to make three significant changes and one symbolic change. Firstly, we reorganised the engineering faculty into the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, in order to generate a heightened focus on providing technological solutions to evolving threats. Secondly, we gained permission to create an entirely new faculty, named the Faculty of Military Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies. This new faculty was designed to bring together research and researchers with a specific military focus or an interdisciplinary focus of relevance to the military. Thirdly, in partnership with the Office of the President, we sought to expand our psychology department into a new Institute of Psychology, in order to radically enhance the services and research available for soldiers and families affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), due to the ongoing trauma of insurgency within Nigeria. Finally, in line with the importance of symbolic narratives in relation to the cultural adoption of any such reform process, we renamed the postgraduate school as the School of Graduate and Advanced Military Studies.

Realistically, these changes at the faculty level were designed to enhance educational provision in the mid- to long-term. This is due both to the fact that staff will require time to become culturally habituated to the reforms, and that it will be three to five years until the first students of these new faculties will graduate. In order to balance these mid- to long-term effects with more immediate gains, we introduced five specialist research and teaching centres. These centres enabled us to introduce a range of new short ←42 | 43→courses, in partnership with military and academic partners from countries including the United Kingdom, the United States and India. The first institution was the Centre for Critical Thinking, Teaching and Learning, designed to help develop the lateral thinking skills required for contemporary officers to be capable of adapting to the evolving threat environment. In order to generate internal support for the centre prior to its creation, we sent thirteen senior officers (including the Deputy Commandant and the heads of all faculties) to the International Conference on Critical Thinking. We also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the U.S. Foundation for Critical Thinking, to assist in the development of courses.

Secondly, we created the Centre for Leadership and Complex Operations Studies, which we planned to develop further into an Institute for Leadership, designed to enhance the military’s education on governance, leadership management and command skills. Thirdly, we constructed the Centre for Applied Technology and Innovation, to reorient the focus of our military engineers towards the creation of practical solutions for military challenges. Instead of funding broad academic studies with no immediate military relevance, the centre was designed to focus investment on specific military challenges such as protecting urban environments and critical national infrastructures from bomb threats, or tracking the military vehicles, ammunition and armaments that are currently being seized by terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram. The fourth centre was the Centre for Documentation and Applied Lessons, which was intended to act as the central organisation for the simulation and documentation of lessons learned.

The final institution was the Centre for Languages, designed to increase the NDA’s provision of foreign language training from two voluntary elective courses in French and Arabic. Specifically, the centre will make it mandatory for every cadet and undergraduate student to take an elective module in at least one of three languages: French, Arabic or Chinese. This emphasis is vital given Nigeria’s geographical connection to French- and Arabic-speaking nations, and the increasing role played by China in African economic investment (Mawere and Tandi, 2016, p.394) and global politico-military affairs, including regional peacekeeping operations (Fung, 2016, p.1).

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It should be noted that, integral to the development and mid-term maintenance of these reforms was a prominent focus on strategic partnerships, MoUs and service contracts. Over the course of two years, we were able to create two dedicated e-libraries with U.S. partners and to secure agreements to create a specific military-focussed e-library for both the postgraduate and undergraduate schools at the National Defence Academy. In order to initiate postgraduate courses in military-specific subjects such as intelligence and democracy without delay, we created partnerships with institutions including the U.S. National Defense University and the U.S. Army War College. Finally, in order to avoid the talent drain caused by compulsory retirement exercises, we set aside funds to enable retired officers with relevant strategic and operational experience to participate in the NDA’s teaching and curricular development as honorary ‘fellows’. It should be acknowledged that cultural change within the military is not a rapid process, and the success of long-term reforms requires an ongoing cultural shift within the senior officer corps.

The Way Forward for Nigerian Military Education

It remains to be seen how far these reforms will take hold in the mid- to long-term. What is certain, however, is that the Nigerian Armed Forces face a dire need to create advanced military education programmes that are directly relevant to their current and future strategic, operational and tactical challenges. Moreover, they must achieve this in the era of the ‘strategic Corporal’, in which even junior officers are required to understand the reasons and purpose behind their actions. How can the military accomplish this in a period of constrained budgets, with an institutional culture that perceives education as detrimental to career prospects?

Firstly, it must substantially increase the professional incentives and career prospects of officers who are appointed to teach within its military education institutions. Secondly, it must create a joint education and training doctrine, and a process of continuous curricular review. Thirdly, it must expand its current emphasis on moral and political education, interdisciplinary sciences and critical thinking skills. Finally, it must embrace technology, especially the use of ICT to enhance blended and distributed learning opportunities. The combination of these factors above all will allow the military to provide strategically relevant and cost-effective ←44 | 45→education throughout its hierarchy, from the lowest ranked soldier to the most senior officer.

The primary goal of education, whether military or civilian, should be to change our methods and our mindsets for the better. It should enable us to improve our ways and solve contemporary problems within our own field of expertise. It should make us smarter and wiser. Otherwise, education will simply be a burden of information that we carry around with us. It is due to this high ideal that we as officers must constantly question our existing methods and priorities for professional military education. In practical terms, this means that we must continue to interrogate and reform the structures, programmes and policies of our military colleges and academies because, as noted in a speech made by Winston Churchill at the Pentagon in 1946:

“Professional attainment, based on prolonged study, and collective study at colleges, rank by rank, and age by age — those are the title reeds of the commanders of the future armies, and the secret of future victories.” (United States Congress, 1989, p.12)


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1 This chapter is adapted from a keynote presentation delivered by the author, at a “Professional Military Education Working Group” hosted by the Centre for Military Education Outreach (King’s College London), held on the 10–11th December 2015 at the Joint Services Command and Staff College (Shrivenham, U.K.).