Looking for More Trouble: NE Governors, Mercenaries and the Merchants of Insurgency

The recent decapitation and massacre of over 46 rice farmers in Zabarmari has sparked outrage across the country. Following the killings, Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, urged the FG to engage mercenaries in the fight against insurgents in the region. Governors from the Northeast in a condolence visit to the state Governor expressed their dismay over the recent killings, while maintaining that they were all traumatized by the horrendous massacre. The governors, through the Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku, added their voices to Zulum’s call to the FG to bring in mercenaries ‘to come and help us out of this problem because what you cannot do, what you cannot solve, I think we should invite who can solve it for us.’ While many have commended the call, making it seem like the right thing to do, Zulum’s proposition overlooks some crucial nuances. It failed to account for concerns such as: how are we sure that this is not a part of the idea of prolonging the war so that government can resort to Private Military Contractors (PMCs) who make a living from this? In other words, how are we sure some of those intended to be brought in as mercenaries are not in one way or the other fueling the insurgency so that the government can resort to them? Is this not a case of looking for more trouble?

Notably, mercenaries and PMCs rely on conflicts for their pecuniary gains. It becomes more profitable for them, the longer the conflicts lasted. Zero conflict implies zero money for these marketers of war. There is therefore a stronger case for PMCs fuelling the war against Boko Haram to ensure it remains protracted, which may altogether form part of a ploy to ensure that Nigeria and countries around the world remain a ready market for their services. Whose interest does it then serve when we ask that the government expand the economy of insurgency by bringing in mercenaries? Why can’t these monies be used in investing in our own military whose loyalty and nationalistic sensibilities to the course of ending the war can never be in doubt. Besides, one cannot wholly say that these foreign mercenaries have at heart the best interest of countries than the country’s own military. It is also important to note that mercenaries will not be accountable for human rights abuses perpetrated by them in the service of a country or a cause. In many warfare spaces, they are the unaccounted-for members of the force who internally sabotage the spirit and valour of the team, and commit atrocities that would take ‘expensive’ strategies to repudiate. Even so, foreign interest has since been speculated to be one of the major reasons the war against insurgency has not ended. With the refusal and delay in the delivery of armoury already paid for by the Nigerian Government, it doesn’t leave much room for doubt to the truth authentication to these speculations.

For those who are clamouring for mercenaries, it is important to recall that the past administration tested the idea with little or no results. In the heat of the moment, the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration hired mercenaries in the third quarter of 2014. According to ex-NAF Chief, Mohammed Mamu, some of the mercenaries were Ukrainians, while others were from South Africa. The mercenaries claimed to have achieved notable results, but the country has gone back to square one which questions the integrity of the overall mercenary cause. The failure of mercenary efforts in African countries like Mozambique further brings to bear the infelicities of Zulum’s propositions.

What the Northeast governors, as well as other concerned stakeholders, should however be considering is the case for what the military needs in putting an end to the protracted war. Is it manpower, armoury or incentives? These are crucial questions that ought to be asked? If the military needs as much as 200, 000 people on ground in the Northeast, what does it cost to engage them, and how can it be achieved? If it is armoury or incentives, are the monies budgeted for them proportionate to the demands of the sort of warfare they encounter on the battlefield? The North-East governors should be wary of making hasty judgements in a face of recorded disappointments in the North-East frontier.

Rather than push for mercenaries to be brought in, the focus should be on our military and the way/s in which support can be given to them, especially as regards funding. The Nigeria Military, known as one of the best in West Africa, has shown remarkable potential. Few cowardly acts by the insurgents does not make any case to invest money in short-lived, unsustainable measures, like bringing in mercenaries. Massive recruitment into the army can be embarked upon. The NA is capable of training ten thousand people within the timeframe of three months. With ample boots, firearms and technology, the war could permanently come to end with victory on the side of Nigeria. The FG does not need to spend so much money on a temporary arrangement for beneficiaries who will still ensure that the crisis continues one way or the other so as to remain on the government payroll.

The idea of bringing in mercenaries to help in the fight against insurgency is thus a case of looking for more trouble while ignoring the peculiarities of the situation. The Nigerian Army is not handicapped, neither does it lack what it takes to end the war in terms of skill and discipline. The only trouble is that it is degraded by lack of adequate funds to prosecute the war. The budget earmarked to end the war indicates that the government is not fully aware of the realities on the ground, and is equally oblivious to the level of investments necessary for peace in the troubled regions. The FG needs to massively fund the NA and rely on its expertise and patriotism to cleanse the land of terrorism. The case for the deployment of mercenaries would yield no lasting peace and should be discarded.

Nelson Okoh

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