Defeating Boko Haram with mercenaries

March 19, 2015
5 mins read

LET me first start, that like all Nigerian patriots, I feel happy that in a few weeks, the Nigerian Army and allies from Chad and Niger, inflicted backbreaking blows on the Boko Haram insurgency. As a result, many communities hitherto occupied by the terror organization have been liberated, including the complete liberation of Adamawa and Yobe states.

And by early this week, Bama, Borno state’s second largest city, was freed; Chief of Army Staff, General Minimah, told reporters that only three local government areas remained to be freed in Borno state. Unlike the situation before,the fighting capacity of Boko Haram has been near fatally degraded.

Jonathan in combat fatigues congratulating troops after the recapture of Baga



From a strategic perspective, we can safely say that momentum has decisively shifted to the Nigerian Army and its allies. There is a spring in the step of our officer corps and the Chief of Defense Staff, Air Marshall Alex Barde expresses more confidence today. He seemed far removed from the soldier who couldn’t avert the humiliating Boko Haram takeover of his village, all those months ago. Even a new slogan was launched: #NeverAgain, promising that the Nigerian Army will no longer be humiliated by a ragtag insurgency!

Yet, something just didn’t add up in the string of successes being touted by the military and political hierarchies. While our top officers lapped up the plaudits, it seemed that the most decisive blows were dealt, by the Chadian Army. Instructively, it was while liberating Dikwa, that Chadian forces were said to have sighted Abubakar Shekau; this was confirmed by the Chadian President, Idris Derby Itno, himself.

Disparaging remarks

It was then alleged that Nigeria stopped Chad from pursuing, capturing or killing the Boko Haram leader. The prominence received by the Chadians has rankled the Nigerian side, especially when officers from Niger, were reported to have made disparaging remarks against their Nigerian counterparts.

Early this month, on March 3rd, Defense Spokesperson, Major General Chris Olukolade, condemned “the attitude and activities of segments of the society who are still hell bent on undermining the morale of our fighting forces by deliberately playing down the operational successes so far achieved…this group of people have been mischievously…exaggerating reporting the supportive roles of foreign allies to the detriment of our operational success in the fight against terror”.

Olukolade went further to narrow down to “some foreign media and their local collaborators”. The following day, a group of “sponsored” youths under the aegis of “Citizens in Defence of Integrity of Nigerian Military”, numbering about 30, staged a protest at the HQ of DAILY TRUST newspapers. With an NTA crew in tow, these “patriotic youths” carried several placards some of which read: “DAILY TRUST newspaper, Stop Your Hostility Towards Nigerian Military” and “Stop Bad Press Against Our Gallant Military”! The narrative of an “enemy media” has become central to the military hierarchy’s perception of reportage of the counter insurgency.

Media reports: But the most disturbing narrative is related to the entrance of South African mercenaries into the Nigerian counter insurgency war. President Goodluck Jonathan had told an interviewer recently, that there were foreign technical experts teaching Nigerian soldiers how to use newly procured war material.

But recent reports in the international media are indicating clearly, that Nigeria has imported at least a hundred ex-members of a notorious unit of the former apartheid South African Army, the Koeverts, as “advisers” in the war against Boko Haram. The report came out in the open, when one of them, Leon Lotz, was killed in what was described as “friendly fire”, in the war against Boko Haram.

The Koeverts units were actually some of the most vicious of the apartheid regime’s counter-insurgency groups, used to hunt and kill fighters of the liberation struggle in Namibia, South Africa, as well as participating in the destabilization efforts against Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Adam Nossiter, writing for THE NEW YORK TIMES, quoted a senior Western diplomat, who confirmed that the South African mercenaries were playing “a major role”, particularly at night. “Equipped with night-vision goggles, the mercenaries ‘are whacking them in the evening hours”. According to the unnamed Western diplomat, by “the next morning the Nigerian Army rolls in and claim success”. These mercenaries “are doing the heavy lifting”.

Soldiers atop armoured vehicles

The report said “photographs showing white soldiers atop armoured vehicles, on what appears to be a major road in Maiduguri have been posted on Nigerian Twitter feeds”; while a NEW YORK TIMES correspondent in Maiduguri “identified the location as the Baga Road”, even some of the South African mercenaries were seen “jogging around Maiduguri airport, now closed, where they are encamped”.

The war against Boko Haram just underlines the seismic shift that has taken place on the Nigerian political subsoil, in attitudes towards the use of mercenaries in wars. During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), mercenaries fought on the Biafran side and there were casualties amongst these soldiers of fortune.

By 1975, the Angolan war of Independence saw the widespread use of mercenaries by UNITA and FNLA. Many of these were captured by the MPLA, and an international tribunal, which included the Nigerian late Justice Adesiyun, tried these mercenaries, who were seen as fighting against the interest of Africa.

Angola executed many of those mercenaries. One of the most notorious mercenaries ever to prowl in Africa was Colonel “Mad” Mike Hoare, who had attempted to overthrow the radical government of President France Albert Rene in the Seychelles, at the behest of the pro-West, former President James Mancham. It led to a widespread condemnation of the activities of mercenaries in Africa. The fact that they had often been recruited to support unpopular causes in our continent made mercenaries widely loathed in Africa.

But the post-communist world of imperialist triumphalism, from the 1990s, has seen a more widespread use of private contractors like Blackwater from the USA, employed by the United States in Iraq as well as Executive Outcomes of South Africa, which was used in the war in Sierra Leone. The emergence of these new mercenary outfits fitted the frames of outsourcing wars to private contractors, within the ambits of the relentless search for profit, by modern, neoliberal capitalism.

If war used to be the monopoly of the state and its army, the new world order of triumphant, neoliberal capitalism has opened up war as a realm of private investment, with opportunities for profit. The private contractors in Iraq made tons of money, while it is reported that the Koeverts mercenaries helping Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram, are paid $400 per day! Those who are in the know, have always underlined the huge sums of money that an alliance of top military officials, politicians and foreign arms contractors have continued to cream off, in the struggle against Boko Haram. The South African mercenaries are just the latest group getting their slice of the Nigerian counterinsurgency cake!

In the final analysis, Adam Nossiter quoted another official who frankly admitted that: “It’s not the best option for a nation to compromise her sovereignty by bringing in mercenaries”. But the Jonathan administration was under tremendous political pressure.

It had for long “underrated” Boko Haram, according to President Goodluck Jonathan himself. But even worse, it seemed that the administration allowed the insurgency to fester, believing it was the handiwork of his Northern enemies, and was therefore available to exploit for political advantage. But it boomeranged! The resort to the use of mercenaries became a desperate last throw of the dice, for electoral advantage.

And in turning to mercenaries to fight the counter-insurgency war, the Jonathan administration has put to naught a principle that Nigeria has always held to very firmly: no mercenaries in African conflicts! When the Boko Haram dust finally settles, the Nigerian Army’s capacity would still have to be rebuilt. There is no other way!

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