examining the establishment and development of the Nigerian Army School of Engineering (NASME) Makurdi, 1978-2016

examining the establishment and development of the Nigerian Army School of Engineering (NASME) Makurdi, 1978-2016

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Background to the Study

Military engineering is set up primarily for the design and construction of offensive, defensive and logistic structures for the purpose of warfare. It also involves the destruction of enemy or friendly structures to further tactical, operational or strategic interests. In most armies, the military engineer is known as a Sapper or a Pioneer. In the Nigerian Army, military engineers are known as Sappers while infantry men trained to carry out limited combat engineering tasks are called Assault Pioneers. The name sapper was earned in the medieval period when the engineers helped armies to breach castles by a process known as sapping, which is the digging of tunnels underneath the walls of castles and using explosives to weaken their structure. After a while, these walls subsequently collapse, thereby allowing the attackers to gain access into the castle. Pioneer stems from the fact that military engineers are normally the first to be on the battlefield and the last to leave[1]

The military engineers have always been an indispensable component of armies since ancient times. In fact, many great military victories of the past might not have been possible without the contributions of the military engineers. Examples of such feats include the Alexander the Great’s capture of the island city of Tyre in 332 BC and Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in 218 BC to invade Italy. However, the first civilization recorded to have a dedicated corps of military engineers was Ancient Rome. Its armies had a dedicated corps of military engineers known as architecti. The engineering feats achieved by the Roman Military Engineers are still subjects of study today, including siege engines, fortifications, roads and bridges. The design and construction of many of these structures were so ingenious that some of the roads and bridges constructed by the Romans are still in use today.[ii]

The military engineering arm of the Nigerian Army is the Nigerian Army Engineers (NAE). It is one of the 4 combat support arms of the Nigerian Army. The    Nigerian Army Engineers has always been an integral part of Nigerian Army operations either in its primary or the infantry roles. The Corps has provided effective support since its precursor was formed to support the West African Frontier Force. The Nigerian Army Engineers provided support to the Nigerian Army during the Nigerian Civil War, ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as numerous peace support operations. In addition, the Nigerian Army Engineers has contributed to national development in various ways. Therefore, the Nigerian Army Engineers is a very important combat support arm that is essential for the success of Nigerian Army operations. The present security challenges in Nigeria have also brought to the fore the importance of the Nigerian Army Engineers because of the methods the insurgents employ. This has necessitated the heavy reliance on the Nigerian Army Engineers, especially in combating improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mine warfare and engaging in route clearance.

The NAE is organized and equipped in line with the Nigerian Army Order of Battle (ORBAT) 2010 to be able to carry out specific roles. For instance, the role of the NAE is to help the Nigerian Army to live, move and fight. This role is achieved by providing engineer and other technical support during peace and war. The sappers provide engineer support by carrying out combat engineering tasks and other general engineering support as the need arises. Combat engineering tasks are generally grouped into mobility, counter mobility and survivability support. Combat Engineering activities are focused on the tactical level of war, though they contribute directly to the achievement of strategic and operational objectives by ensuring the success of tactical missions. Therefore, sustaining combat engineering depends on the ability of the fighting force to integrate their engineering activities either partly or holistically to form a combined arms team of ground forces.

Combat engineering mobility capabilities and activities guarantee the ability of land forces to maneuver.  As a result, sappers provide mobility support so that friendly forces can maintain the momentum of offensive operations and retain the initiative in defensive operations. Meanwhile, combat engineering counter mobility capabilities and           activities are those primarily aimed at reinforcing terrains in order to impose delay, disrupt, and destroy the enemy while impeding his mobility. Their primary purpose is to    slow or divert the enemy, to increase time for target acquisition and engagement so as to increase weapon effectiveness. In order to impede the enemy’s mobility, the engineers formulate an obstacle plan which makes full use of natural obstacles so as to maximize    use of scarce resources. These natural obstacles would be linked together using artificial obstacles such as wire obstacles, minefields and craters to strengthen them.

        Combat engineering survivability capabilities and activities enhance forces protection in defence. They typically include tasks associated with the construction of fighting and protective positions, recovery after offensive operation, tactical camouflage, concealment, and deception. Although infantry units are responsible for the citing and preparation of their own defences, sappers also assist in their preparation by using mechanical digging equipment to prepare weapon emplacement and dug-outs for AFVs. In addition, the NAE provides general engineer support in both peace and wartime. Sappers also have a second role to act as infantry, and once they are so committed, they can no longer perform engineer tasks.  It is therefore, not advisable to use sappers in infantry role except as a last resort and the decision to use them should be taken with caution at the highest operational level. The need for sappers to act as infantry will usually arise when the tactical situation becomes delicate and every capable man must be used to repel an enemy attack.  Sappers are also used in infantry role to conduct rear area operations and rear security tasks.

         Looking at the roles of the Sappers and the tasks they have to perform, a sapper must have a well-rounded training. He must be proficient in combat engineering tasks and be an artisan. In addition, he must be an infantryman. That is why sappers are often referred to as ‘3-in-1’. These 3 distinct and important qualities make the Sappers to be required everywhere on the battlefield and in peacetime. This is why sappers are referred to as ‘Ubiquitous’, meaning ‘Existing Everywhere’. This quality of being everywhere on the battlefield has also earned the sappers the title of the ‘Angels of War’. This brings the study to the history of Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME) which is closely related to that of the Nigerian Army Engineers itself whose evolution dates back to 1931, when some Jos miners were drafted to form an Engineer Squadron to provide engineer support to elements of the West African Frontier    Force which was located in Kaduna. 

           At the beginning of the Nigerian civil war, a troop     from this squadron was deployed to support a training exercise at Abeokuta.  This troop      of engineers was later redeployed to the front at the Ore-Benin axis. Due to the enormity of the tasks, there arose the need for expansion and further training to ensure the provision of formidable engineer support. Consequently, a training camp was established at Ikpoba Hill in Benin City. However, in 1969, a formal training wing was carved out of the 1st Engineer Regiment then located in Enugu.  Subsequently, the 2 were separated; while the regiment was moved to Ede, the school was designated Nigerian Army                  Engineers Training School (NAETS) and relocated to Kainji with Lt Dilli as its first Commandant. From the outset, the school was structured into 3 divisions for effective training.  About 10 years later, (in 1978) and as a result of expansion and general restructuring in the Nigerian Army, the school was again moved from Kainji to its present location in Makurdi under Maj Atom Kpera.  In 1979, it was re-designated Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME). The curriculum was expanded and the 3 divisions were upgraded and re-named Wings. As stated earlier, the role of the Nigerian Army Engineers is to help the army to live, move, and fight while doing      everything possible to impede the movement of the adversary. Premised on this, Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering has an encompassing role to transform ordinary officers and soldiers posted to the Corps into sappers and thereafter provide continuous training to facilitate execution of its role in the      Nigerian Army with a high level of efficiency. NASME is thus, the main effort for providing the knowledge and expertise required to achieve their vision which is: To develop a professionally competent Nigerian Army Engineer that is positioned to support the Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.1

          Since establishment, NASME has continued to witness several developments and has     continued to grow, impacting and providing the required knowledge and expertise as dictated by their mandate.  However, not much has been researched and documented on this all important sector of the Nigerian military. It is against this background that this research proposes to carry an intensive research of the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering which will straddle across areas like:  the background to the establishment of  Military installations  in Makurdi such as the origins of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Military establishments like the Air Force, 72 Special Forces Battalion and Navy in Makurdi. However, the main focus of the research will be on the establishment and development of NASME with special attention on the emergence of the Nigerian Army Engineers, establishment of  NASME, the role of NASME and the military equipment of the NAE/NASME such as Bridging equipment, Tracing equipment, Mine warfare equipment, Demolition equipment, Miscellaneous equipment, and Water supply equipment. A very significant aspect of the research will be on the impact and contribution of NASME, educational training as well as their response to internal security challenges in Benue State. the contribution of NASME to the urbanization of North Bank area of Makurdi will be examined also.

Statement of the Research Problem

       There are no sufficient literature on NASME and other military formation. This lack of sufficient work has created gap to a complete and detail knowledge on military establishments and corps. This work therefore is a modest attempt to fill part of the existing gaps on NASME which is one of the corps in the Army. This study will also attempt to give a detail research on NASME for better understanding of the Army in particular and the Nigerian military in general.

Aim and Objectives of the Study

This research will examine the establishment and development of the Nigerian Army School of Engineering (NASME) Makurdi, 1978-2016. This aim will be achieved through the following objectives:

- to examine and provide background knowledge to the establishment of  Military             installations like NASME, Air Force, 72 Special Forces Battalion and the Navy in Makurdi.

- to analyse the establishment and development of NASME with special attention and emphasis on the emergence of the corps of the Nigerian Army Engineers, the role of NASME and the military equipment of the NAE/NASME such as Bridging equipment, Tracing equipment, Mine warfare equipment, Demolition equipment, Miscellaneous equipment, and Water supply equipment.

- to evaluate the impact and contributions of  NASME, their educational training as well as their response to internal security challenges in Benue State.

- to examine NASME's role and contribution to the urbanization of North Bank area of Makurdi.

Justification of the Study

         A research of this nature no doubt will impact positively on the national security of Nigeria. This is because Nigeria is confronted by many security challenges that are currently threatening the corporate existence of the country. These ranges from the insurgency in the North East region of the country to militancy in the Niger Delta region. There are also pockets of deadly attacks from alleged Fulani herdsmen against farmers, rural banditry occasioned by cattle rustling. Over time, the military, due to the incapacitation of the police in internal security, have been called upon to quell these security challenges. At the center of these all is the strategic role of the Nigerian Army Engineer whose strategic importance has already been stressed above. 

         This research therefore, will be of great significance to stakeholders in the Nigerian Army and security and defence architecture in particular and the country in general in the fight against insurgency, militancy and other security threats. The research will also be useful to the authorities at the Defence Headquatres, NASME and NAEs as well as policy makers, security experts, scholars and students of not just military history, defence and security but of arts and social science background and humanities. In addition, it will also be spring board for other researchers who may wish to take this topic beyond the boundaries of the present research.

Scope and Limitations of the Study

          The Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME), Makurdi, takes on the period from 1978-2016. This research covers a period of 38 years; starting from 1978 to 2016. This period is carefully chosen because NASME was established in 1978. The choice of 2016 termination date is occasioned by the many achievements and development by the corps in that year in the areas of bridge construction, water supply, schools renovations and more importantly, upgrade of its sister institution NAITES to degree awarding institution. 

        The research is limited in a number of ways; there is the paucity of materials in terms of reliable data on the subject matter. This limitation is in twofold: first, there are areas where data do not exist or rather, difficult to collect and second, even where data exist; it is difficult to obtain due to suspicion of some staff and officials who are in charge, especially considering the practice of the military to term almost all documents as "Restricted". The topic of this research requires the researcher to travel to all communities within Benue State where Nigerian Army Engineers have carried out operations, Defence Headquatres, relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government at both state and federal levels. To overcome this limitation, the researcher visited these areas and also made use of internet sources and compared those sources with primary and other secondary sources. Lastly, the limitation of the paucity of materials was overcome by the research methodology adopted which comprises primary and secondary sources.

Research Methodology

       The researcher made use of primary and secondary sources. For primary sources, oral interviews was conducted in the research area with stakeholders and the proceedings recorded in electronic device and long hand in long note work. Other primary sources include archival materials such as colonial records, government gazettes, government reports, newspaper articles and report in magazines. In the case of secondary sources, this writer consulted books, journals, seminar papers, conference papers, thesis dissertations and other published materials relevant to the subject matter. The works have been carefully examined and selected in their order of importance. The findings of this study are presented using a combination of chronology, narrative, thematic, descriptive and analytical approaches to document an objective history.

Conceptual Clarification

        To ensure a good understanding of the thrust of this study, a number of concepts used in it is clarified. They include Army and Military Engineering. We begin with Army.

Army: The word, Army is from Latin arma "arms, weapons". It is also called ground force or fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-based military branch, service branch or armed service of a nation or state. It may also include other branches of the military such as the air force via means of aviation corps. Within a national military force, the word army may also mean a field army. They differ from army reserves who are activated only during such times as war or natural disasters.2 Also, the Army is a large, highly organized military force, concerned mainly with ground (rather than air or naval) operations. The Army is an organization that has professionals in all fields. This ranges from the Sciences, Arts and the Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, Engineering3, etc. It is as a result of the above that several corps exists in the Army which the Corps of Engineers emanates with its headquarters in Lagos State at Bonny Camp, with NASME under it.

Military Engineering: This is loosely defined as the art and practice of designing and building military works and maintaining lines of military transport and communications. Military engineers are also responsible for logistics behind military tactics. Modern military engineering differs from civil engineering. In the 20th and 21st centuries, military engineering also includes other engineering disciplines such as mechanical and electrical engineering techniques.4 According to NATO, military engineering is that engineer activity undertaken, regardless of component or service, to shape the physical operating environment. Military engineering incorporates support to maneuver and to the force as a whole, including military engineering functions such as engineer support to force protection, counter-improvised explosive devices, environmental protection, engineer intelligence and military search. Military engineering does not encompass the activities undertaken by those 'engineers' who maintain, repair and operate vehicles, vessels, aircraft, weapon systems and equipment.5

       This is primarily the design and construction of offensive, defensive and logistic structures for the purpose of warfare. It also involves the destruction of enemy or friendly structures to further tactical, operational or strategic interests. Military engineers are also called Sappers or Pioneers. The name sapper was earned in the medieval period when the engineers helped armies to breach castles by a     process known as sapping, which is the digging of tunnels underneath the walls of castles and using explosives to weaken their structure. These walls subsequently collapse, thereby allowing the attackers to gain access into the castle. Pioneer stems from the fact that military engineers are normally the first to be on the battlefield and the last to leave. Commenting on the       strategic importance of the Sappers, Field Marshall Lord Montgomery stated that: The Sappers really need no tribute from me; their reward lies in the glory of their achievement. The more science intervenes in warfare, the more will be the need for engineers in field armies; in the late war there were never enough Sappers at any time. Their special tasks involved the upkeep and repair of communications; roads, bridges, railways, canals, mine sweeping. The Sappers rose to great heights in World War II and their contribution to victory were beyond all calculations.6


Extrapolating from the above analysis the research examines the establishment and development the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering from 1978 to 2916. The research, as shown above, attempts to examine and analyse the contributions of NASME and Nigerian Army Engineers to military operations within and outside the country. The research also appraises the strategic importance of NASME over the years as well as impact on the nation's security architecture and the host community which is Benue State.


[1]"Organization and roles of the Nigerian Army Engineers", an official document of NASME,   



3J. Langins, Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution, Cambridge: MIT Press. 2004.

4Langins, Conserving the Enlightenment...

5NATO Publication, MC 0560 "Military Committee Policy for Military Engineering". Retrieved 12-14-2017.

6Field Marshall Lord Montgomery, 1945.




This chapter attempts to review related literature on the subject matter. The focus here is to examine the relevance of these scholarly works to our subject matter and to see to what extent they contribute to our knowledge of the subject matter. Several Scholars (empirical and descriptive) have shown that the establishment and development of the Nigerian Army particularly, the Nigerian Army Corps of Engineers and the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering, NASME, Makurdi since its establishment have grown to a reasonable level and contributed greatly to the development of the Army and civil society.

Review of related literature

A closely related work to this subject matter is a work by J.H. Pongri. “The role of the Nigerian Army Engineers in the Nigerian Civil War”, in A. M. Adejo (ed.) The Nigerian Civil War: Forty Years After: What Lessons?1.  His work focuses on the role of the Nigerian Military Engineers, especially as it relates to the Nigerian civil war. According to the work, the Nigerian Army Engineers in the Nigerian civil war contributed greatly to the successes of the Federal troops. Pongri's work also traces the history of the Nigerian Army Engineers from 1938 when it was created from a water section carved out of Geological Survey Department of Nigeria with the purpose of locating and supplying potable water to the Royal West Africa Frontier Force (RWAFF).2

As reported in the work, in 1948, the first Nigeria sergeant, Sgt. Oto, an electrician was sent to the Royal School of Military Engineering, Chattam, United Kingdom, on training and so laid the foundation for the true Africanization of the Colonial Engineer Squadron in Nigeria. With Ghana gaining her Independence in 1957, there was the need to dissolve the West African Engineers (WAE). This was affected and the Field Squadron, West Africa based in Kaduna was accordingly re- designated 36 Independence Field Squadron. At the time of Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, it was finally re-designated 1 Field Nigerian Army Engineers (1FD Sqn NAE).

J.H. Pongri in the work attempts to enumerate the role of the Nigerian Army Engineers in the civil war and argues that the NAE executed the civil war under very difficult conditions. According to Major General Abdullahi Shelleng, as quoted by Pongri: The NAE was the most ill - equipped for the war, a handicap exacerbated by the habit of Biafrans demolishing bridges or creating obstacles when they retreated to impede advance of the Federal troops. Consequently, a lot of time was lost before Bailey bridge was constructed or an obstacle removed. A clear example was the advance of the Federal troops to capture Ishiagu enroute to Obilagu airstrip. Three bridges were blown off which could have delayed the advance for a least two days if not for the introduction of a mini-mag vehicle which could be carried shoulder high by the troops across the river for logistics backing.3

Pongri’s work is apt in explaining the role of military engineering to war, with special attention on the Nigerian Civil War. It explains the role the Nigeria Army Engineering played in assisting the Federal troops in executing the war, and also the difficulties the NAE encountered in course of the war. However, the work is limited in many ways as regards our study. It does not indicate any technological innovation of military weapons nor show detailed account of repairs carried out. Most importantly, Pongri’s work does not have as its focus the issues involved in this work on NASME.

            According to Ogunkale4 titled “The role of The Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME) to the development of the Nigerian Army” being a paper presented on 26th of March, P.16, 2015 at NASME Headquaters, Makurdi, narrated that the Engineering Corps and NASME since its establishment have constructed bridges, the construction of class 16 APB which can be used as a floating bridge, etc. He added that NASME possesses engineering equipments such as the Trackway equipment, Mine Warfare equipment, Demolition equipment, miscellaneous equipment, water supply and construction equipment, etc. All these are used in their various ways as needed. The paper also talked about the establishment and organization of NASME and its role which is to help the Army to live, move and fight while doing everything possible to impede the movement of the adversary.

            This paper is relevant to this research work because it ventilates the importance of NASME to the Nigerian Army. It also, contains the establishment and a historical development of NASME and as well stating some of the equipments processed by NASME. The weakness of the paper to this study is that it has not been able to capture the construction works done by NASME, thereby making it the gap to be narrowed in the course of reconstruction of this thesis.

            Again JH Pongri in Armstrong Matiu Adejo’s “The Nigerian Civil War: Forty years after” Opine that the Nigerian Army Engineers played a significant role during the Nigerian Civil War. He stated thus:

It is a pride to belong to the engineers, river, gap, mine and obstacles cannot be overcome. There is only man. The ubiquitous tough and humble rifle in one hand tools in the other shovel, plant and explosives, panel boat and paddle helping the troops to live, move and fight  5

            He further stated that the corps of Engineers differs from the other arms of the Army in that most of their works require stores and equipments which are not permanent with units. The successful and timely completion of any engineer work very much depends on the engineer troops, stores and equipment being moved to the right place at the right time.

            In another development, in describing the activities and operations of the Nigerian civil war, He expresses that by the first week of June 1967, men and materials were mobilized ready for movement to Makurdi. And on the same week, Lt John Atom Akpera took off as an advance party to Makurdi to find a location for the troops. This led to the hosting of the engineers at St Mary’s Primary School, North Bank that is today housing NASME. And on the 15th of June, 1 field engineer squadron arrived Makurdi with all the operational equipments. Among the functions of the Engineer troops was to protect the River Benue Bridge by way of constant patrols downstream up to 50km. He added that in 1969, 3 fields Engineer Regiment under Major Minima and Lt Beckly Afonja, Commanding Officer 135 Engineer park Squadron Constructed bridges in the following places:

            Asunmini – Aba Bridge, Aba-Igbira bridge, Aba-Iwerri, Oguta-Egbede bridge, Qua-Ibo bridge 100 yard long 25 feet deep, Aba-Umuahia bridge, Eleme-Ahuada bridge and Njaba bridge at Awomama. The worker concludes that the most impressive professional group in the Army are the Engineers.

            The literature is very important to this research work as it expresses the importance and role of the Nigerian Army Engineers in the execution of the Nigerian Civil War. It captures the bridges that were constructed by the Engineers Corps during and after the Civil War. The major weakness of the literature is that it has failed to appreciate the role played by other corps of the Nigerian Army.

          According to Nowamagbe6, in his book “The History of Nigerian Army” 1863-1992, Nigerian Army Education Corps Publishers, Abuja, Nigerian Army Headquarters, p.46, 1992 opine that there is a relationship that exists between the civilians and the military organization. He asserts that every military deployment in the country is for the security of the civil authority. He justifies it by making references to the operation banker which was a joint Army-Police operation in the Western Region, led by the Commanding Officer, 4th Battalion, Lt Col Maimalari. Others include; the arrest on September 22nd 1962 and subsequent imprisonment of the opposition leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo on suspicion of planning a civilian overthrow of the government, the Army stand-by during the acrimonious reactions to the National Census of 1962/1963 and 1963/1964. Also, the Army standby during the Midwest referendum of 1963, the mobilization of the Army to provide essential services during the General strike of 1964, also, the Tiv crises as far back as April 1960 and July 1961 where the Army had been placed on standby inn Tiv land, the Constitutional crises of January 1965 following the controversial Federal Election of December 1964, etc.

 The strength of this literature is that it has been able to complement the efforts of the Nigerian Military with regards to the cordial civil-Military relationship. It has also been able to establish how the military provide security to the civil society.

The weakness of the paper is that it failed to complement or address the role played by the Nigerian Army Corps of Engineers which is the focal point of this research proposal. 

An in depth study of Oyedele’s thesis7 reveals that he touches on several aspects and themes relating to the central topic. Out of the many authors who write on military history, he is one of the few who has written on the importance of the military factor in the urbanization especially of Kaduna metropolis.

In his work, he covered crucial aspects such as the importance of Kaduna as a garrison town, reasons it was chosen as the administrative capital of the colonial authorities. He also writes about the earliest barracks found in Kaduna before the construction of more permanent ones at sites chosen by the military. In summary, he examined the nature, functions and growth patterns of Kaduna from its inception as a small settlement into a bustling cosmopolitan city which has continued to gain tremendous stature.

Oyedele beautifully synergizes the different angles of approach in his work to produce an accurate synthesis of the various patterns of growth which cover a wide range of areas and some relevant to the theme of this research. None of the authors mentioned in this review significantly captured the intricacies of the emergence of Kaduna as a military stronghold like Oyedele did successfully. Nevertheless, the shortcoming of his work as it relates to this study area is that he did not give in-depth insight into these barracks as complete entities in themselves. Though his work is a very useful source of information for this research, comprehensive literature on the barracks under study is not available.

Margaret A. Shuaibu8 work focused on military recruitment in Northern Nigeria covering key issues like the establishment of the WAFF, recruitment into the Nigerian regiment during the First World War, military recruitment during the Second World War and the Nigerianization of the Officer Corps. Although her work also cover a wide range of topics, it fell short of discussing the establishment and development of NASME in detail.

In his study of Kawo district, Kaduna; M. B. Salau9 examines the evolution of this urban settlement in some detail. He attempts to trace the genesis of the socio-economic crises that besets Kawo by shedding light on its evolution into an urban settlement both under colonial and post-colonial rule.

In his analysis of this district, he mentio

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