By Dirisu Yakubu
The increasing spate of killings in the country has again elicited commentaries across sundry media platforms with eminent Nigerians calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to demonstrate sufficient eagerness to address the problem headlong. In the past few months, the frequency of senseless killings by the dreaded Boko Haram and its estranged ally, the Islamic State in West Africa Province, ISWAP has left the All Progressives Congress, APC-led government struggling to convince Nigerians of its capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and properties.
A fortnight ago, the killings took a new turn with the beheading of 43 rice farmers in Zabarmari, an agrarian community in Jere local government area of Borno state. Prominent Nigerians and citizens of the world condemned the dastardly act even as the call for the sack of the service chiefs intensified.
The agony that greeted the fate visited on those farmers led to the dispatch of a Presidential delegation to Borno led by Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan. As it were, the delegation met the State governor, Professor Babagana Zulum in a gloom of the unusual kind. Having survived three attempts on his life in the spate of two months, Zulum’s pain of having to bury almost on a daily basis, people who voted him to make their lives better, could better be imagined.
Rather than sob, shake hands and bid his visitors goodbye, the Professor of Soil and Water Engineering gave his august visitors a food-for-thought message for the Commander-in-Chief. The federal government, Zulum said, should consider the use of mercenaries in the prosecution of the war against insurgency.
“Our third recommendation is for him (President Buhari) to engage the services of mercenaries to clear the entire Sambisa forest,” Zulum said; a request that was latter backed by governors of the North-East geo-political zone.
It would be recalled that prior to the 2015 general elections, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan utilized the services of “military technical advisers,” believed to have been sourced from South Africa and the defunct Soviet Union. That singular decision made it possible for elections to hold in volatile areas in Borno and Yobe states; an election Jonathan lost to the then newly-registered All Progressives Congress, APC.
The winner, Muhammadu Buhari immediately made known his intention to discontinue the use of the mercenaries, promising to equip the military sufficiently enough to run Boko Haram out of town.
Reacting recently to the call for the engagement of mercenaries, Major General John Enenche, Coordinator, Defence Media Operations pledged the loyalty of the nation’s armed forces to constitute political authority, saying security agencies of today are literally owned by the people.
“Request or proposal to engage mercenaries, is at a very high level. The kind of armed forces and security agencies you have now are determined by the people. It (engagement of mercenaries) is not in our powers. It is a kind of force package; it is what the government wants. It is not for the military to contend. No armed forces anywhere in the world will tell the people, ‘this is how we want to operate.’ The legislators, National Security Council will decide on it,” he said.
Speaking exclusively to Saturday Vanguard, former governor of Jigawa state, Alhaji Sule Lamido cautioned against public debate of anti-insurgency strategies, saying the relevant security stakeholders know what to do and how to go about it.
“Nigeria is a sovereign country with institutions- the National Assembly, the bureaucracy supporting that sovereignty. I think there is leadership dilemma. When there is so much agitation arising from insecurity, government wants to give confidence to the people. Sometimes, government will have to speak to the people and reveal some issues bordering on security in order to restore confidence and calm nerves.
“On the other hand, in the desperation to restore confidence and calm nerves, you may be undermining your own sovereignty. So, that is the dilemma. To me, the National Assembly has committees on Defence which can discuss at their own level and meet with the President and security agencies and pass on its advice. But the public invitation and request undermine the confidence and professionalism of our own security agencies. Therefore, they would be seen as having failed the nation and this is not proper.
“The solution is to have a discussion at the highest level of confidentiality. What Nigerians want is security of lives and properties and how the security agencies go about this is their own business. But if, out of desperation, we begin to make security issues topics of public discussions, it will not be good enough. And that will portray the country in a very bad light. How do we restore confidence? People must feel safe and secure in their own country. That public call is not advisable,” Lamido declared.
For Captain Aliyu Umar (retd), Nigeria must weigh her options and think over the implications of bringing foreign elements to prosecute the decade-long crusade against insurgency.
Speaking to our correspondent, the founder of Gold Water and River Sand Consults, a private security firm said for the avoidance of doubt, mercenaries are nothing but ‘soldiers of fortune.’
His words: “First and foremost, we have to acknowledge the fact that the results we are getting are not satisfactory and that is a call for concern. It is not surprising that the governor of Borno state initiated the call for consideration of the option of the use of mercenaries. For a man in his shoes, we know that he is hard pressed to bring succour to his people and if the armed forces of our nation are not getting him there, then, I understand why he is looking at using mercenaries.
“But we must understand who a mercenary is. Mercenaries are basically soldiers of fortune; they fight for money. Technically, mercenaries are outlaws. The United Nations do not recognize mercenaries but we have a modified version of mercenaries known as Private Military Companies, PMCs. A Private Military Company is a company you can sub-contract a job to and in most cases, the jobs these company do are jobs that nationals of countries want done but may not want to identify or be connected with the jobs. If a country wants something done through force of arms whatever it may be and there are certain treaties of pacts that forbid them from doing so, they engage mercenaries. So mercenaries are like what Fela called ‘Beasts of no nation’-they have no commitment, no stake. They are third parties that come in to do the job strictly for cash.”
He continued: “If you engage such services, you have to understand something. They can come in and get the job done but they owe you no loyalty whatsoever. They are not under you and you don’t control them. If they step out of line, you have no recourse other than to say leave. By the time you ask them to leave, probably the damage may have been done. Mercenaries are not as controllable as soldiers who are deployed under a country’s flag.
“While the mercenary is actually working for you, he is also open to work for others. Mercenaries do not have any particular nationality. They are gathered from anywhere. Anyone who is willing can join them and come to your country. That mercenary can be anyone-insurgent, spy, and hostile intelligence agency can use them because, don’t forget they work for money. While he is coming to work for you, there is no guarantee that someone has not paid him to also do other jobs at the same time. While going for mercenaries, the options have to be weighed,” he advised.
Why mercenaries are deployed
According to Captain Umar, “countries that contract private military companies do so when they have assignment they need to fulfill outside of their own territories. You hear of Black Water, Executive Outcomes-these people have worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia but if you observe, those who bankrolled them to do these jobs didn’t have them do those jobs in their own countries. So if you carry mercenaries and pay them to go to another land and do a job, you are probably much safer than you have them come from God know where to do a job in your own home. You could actually pay for the job they are going to do in the immediate but you will continue to pay for that job in the medium and long term in ways that may not even be known to you. So, we have to be careful.
Use of retired military personnel
On alternatives opened for consideration, Captain Umar called on the federal government to summon a meeting of retired military personnel which he said would bring adequate mileage to the table.
“There are enough resources on ground including myself to put up a PMC in this country overnight. The population of armed forces personnel outside the barracks is much more than those who are serving actively. Nigeria has a healthy reserve and all that is required is the will, imagination and mental cognition of those in position for us to have our own PMC which can then go out there and help others instead of other PMCs coming in here to ‘help us’.
“Once you get into the habit of bringing in strangers to come and fight your battles, it is like a man who pours sands on his own hairs. You can’t pick all the sands out. You probably have to shave your entire hairs to get the sands off,” he stressed.
He further dismissed claims in some quarters that the federal government needs to improve its funding of the military, saying “no government will deny its armed forces that which it requires to keep that government and country safe. I don’t accept that our government is not funding our armed forces well. If you look at the expenditure in the North-East in the last 11 years, you will understand what I am talking about. Contiguous nations around us that are also afflicted by this threat do not spend anywhere near what we are spending and they do get results.”
Tackle poverty, unemployment, Sani counsels FG
On his part, Anthony Sani, immediate past Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, said except the twin evils of poverty and unemployment are addressed, the fight against all forms of criminality would linger for years.
“I wish to point out the fact that terrorism transcends national boundaries given the calls for regional or international togetherness in the fight against terrorism. Hard power of military might alone cannot upend terrorism without addressing the underlying cause which is poverty that comes with unemployment and ignorance.
“And given the fact that the coalition of countries irrespective of faith against terrorism that includes Nigeria has been increased from 66 to 102 countries, one begins to wonder the wisdom of calls on the need to use mercenaries in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria,” Sani said.
The security situation in the country has been made worse with the activities of bandits and kidnappers many of whom kill their abductees when ransom is late in coming. There have been incidents too of criminal elements killing their victims even after payment of millions of naira is made.