As terror attacks intensify in the North West and other parts of Nigeria, the federal government said it was doing her best to tackle it. But many Nigerians, including clerics, some lawmakers, governors, security analysts and ordinary citizens in the street hold a contrary view, saying government’s best is not enough.
Among the people who hold this view are diehard supporters of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, such as Governor Nasiru el-Rufai of Kaduna State and the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado Doguwa.
In his outburst after meeting with President Muhammdu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja over the incessant attacks in Kaduna State, Governor El-Rufai threatened to invite foreign mercenaries to fight the terrorists if the federal government failed to tackle the problem head on. Expectedly, such utterance generated a lot of public debate.
The question on the lips of many is: Does Nigeria need mercenaries to fight terrorism successfully?
Mercenaries are private soldiers who fight for independent contractors for money. They are used by governments and non-state actors in different war situations. They are not subjected to official oversight, which means that they are only accountable to their employers and not the state. Mercenaries are not motivated by patriotism but personal gains.
Security analysts said it is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is not bound by responsibility, regulation, transparency, political concern, human rights, and that is why they try to fight immoral wars. And they kill without the fear of accountability.
Who uses mercenaries and why?
Strong countries around the world use mercenaries to solve issues of insecurity. For instance, the United States of America had hired several military contractors to shield their marines from public scrutiny.
The country had contracted a private naval company owned by Erik Prince, known as Blackwater. The company has been in the headlines for committing war crimes in Iraq.
Blackwater was found guilty of killing Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, while its sniper shot three guards dead at the Iraq media centre, which was considered a war crime at that time.
It is alleged that Blackwater is a ‘dirty work department’ of the US and a tool to keep the country’s marine safe.
The success of the company gave birth to many security companies globally, which led many governments to out-source military operations to help their army evade accountability in their wars.
Russia’s Wagner Group is another private military company owned by a businessman alleged to be close to Vladmir Putin. Much like the American Blackwater, Moscow uses Wagner armies to maintain deniability in conflict from the civil war in Syria, the Donbas war in Ukraine and even covert military operations in Africa.
Wagner Group is one of the world’s most effective army of mercenaries that have a history of allegedly tampering with western world democracies from high profile assassination, taking over strategic land and winning wars. But the world hardly knows about it because it does not exist on paper.
Do mercenaries operate in Africa?
Russia’s Wagner Group is now in Mali, where it signed a deal and sent 1,000 troops, with the aim to protect the military junta in the country and train the Malian military, as well as protect senior members of the region.
According to European sources, Wagner is getting $10.8million (N5.7 billion) a month for its service in Mali.
Despite resistance from the West, the Russian mercenaries are now operating in Mali. In their recent operation, they were alleged to have participated in killing about 300 jihadists in five days.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), witnesses and local community leaders said hundreds of men were rounded up and killed in small groups during the anti-jihadist operation on March 23, 2022 in the central town of Moura.
The operation was in the rural town of about 10,000 inhabitants in the Mopti region, a hotspot of jihadist activity that has intensified and spread to neighbouring countries in the Sahel region.
According to a statement by the Malian government, it was a response to a militant attack on an army base in central Mali on March 5 that killed at least 27 soldiers and wounded 33 more.
As at now, the private soldiers have their traces in Libya, Central African Republic; and they are on ground in Burkina Faso.
In these countries where Wagnar is present in Africa, constitutional governments were toppled by the military, saying they have been unable to deal with insurgency by groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Is FG failing to tackle insecurity in Nigeria?
While defending government’s inability to successfully tackle insecurity in Nigeria, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said, “The mercenaries cannot be compared with our country’s forces.
“The fight against bandits is a difficult one because of the terrain. We cannot just go with full force to bomb them, else, innocent people living around them will be killed, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Meanwhile, the terrorists that bombed the Kaduna-bound train and abducted passengers had released a video footage and pictures of captives, including that of a pregnant woman who gave birth to a baby girl.
Till today, the federal government has neither publicly responded to the terrorists’ message nor are the captives rescued to reunite with their families.
Deploying mercenaries is logical – Security expert
Analysing the issue, a security expert, Mr Kabiru Adamu, said that in the Nigerian context, where the military is overstretched while fighting several conflicts in multiple theaters, engaging military contractors is a logical thing to do.
“The most obvious benefit of private military contractors is flexibility. They are able to operate without political and bureaucratic interferences, as well as the lead time required for decision making processes to mobilise forces (police or military. Such contractors are able to move forces and conduct wide variety of tasks as required.
“However, they need to be managed proficiently to ensure that their compliance to local and international laws is maintained and that they stay within their mandates. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not shown enough capability and capacity to manage such complex arrangements,” he said.
Adamu, however, said the major disadvantage of the mercenaries is abuse of local and international laws because they are not bound by any rules beyond their contracting terms or sometimes, financial obligations.
“They could be used for espionage and other subversive activities. They are expensive and their presence can dampen the morale and psychological disposition of troops in the national force,” he said.
He also said that Wagner had filled gaps on national security requirements in at least three African countries where they are currently present.
“They have been accused of human right abuses and heavy handedness, and in some instances, war crimes,” he added.
‘It is a negative way of achieving peace’
Another security analyst, Dr Ndubisi Ani of the Institute for Security Studies, said the deployment of mercenaries could be seen from two folds.
“One is the cost. Why wouldn’t Nigeria enhance the capability of the Police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Army so that they can carry out such operations? We should give them political backing to operate freely within bounds.
“Also, hiring mercenaries is like taking the foot from the mouth of the child to give it to another. There is the need to enhance the capabilities of the Nigerian security forces.
“Secondly, who are the mercenaries? That means we are privatising security, which is the responsibility of the state and giving it to mercenaries who are not accountable for human right abuses and the security and interest of the country per se.
“When you see it from these two folds you will know that it doesn’t really make sense. We have capable officers in Nigeria who are being praised across Africa. The only thing is that they are not provided with enough intelligence to carry out operations.
“We talk about negative and positive peace. When you use mercenaries to carry out an operation, these are people who are not accountable to human rights laws. It is not that they are not accountable, they are, in some ways, but they are not fighting for a country but trying to obliterate the enemies for money without any concern to issues of dialogue and compromise.
“However, it is either we go for positive or negative peace. Using mercenaries to achieve peace is negative,” he said.
Can El-Rufai hire mercenaries at N5billion monthly?
The total amount that Kaduna State received from the federation account as at January 2022 was N4.183billion, after deductions. It is, therefore, believed in some quarters that to be able to hire mercenaries to tackle insecurity in the state, the governor would have other sources of making money.