FG Denies Hiring Foreign Mercenaries
THE Federal Government and military authorities have refuted reports making the rounds that Nigeria has engaged the services of hundreds of foreign mercenaries to strengthen its war against militant Islamist group, Boko Haram.
While military commanders described the stories in major international media and culled by local newspapers as “a joke taken too far,” Director General, National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Coordinator, National Information Centre (NIC), Mr. Mike Omeri, told The Guardian yesterday in Abuja that the foreigners, identified largely as South Africans, are technical advisers that are providing trainings and instructions on the use of new armaments recently procured by the Nigerian military in the war on terror.
He said: “I am not aware that the federal government has engaged mercenaries in the fight against insurgency. “I am aware that we have foreign trainers working with the Nigerian Armed Forces on the use of the new equipment purchased from those countries. I think these are the people that are being mistaken for mercenaries.
“We purchased equipment from South Africa and they are South African trainers, as well as other countries we purchased equipment from. Maiduguri is where the war is; that is where the fighters are, that is where the equipment purchased are being used and that is where the training is taking place.
“So, if you see them in the Maiduguri, were they in the field? Were they seen in Sambisa, Gworza or in Bama? This is what I want to ask. So, if you see me flying an aircraft, because I’m a white man does not mean I am a mercenary. It is just the mentality,” he said.
Omeri explained that the Nigeria military was doing very well in the fight against Boko Haram, adding that there was no need for the federal government to engage the services of foreign fighters.
“Without mercenaries, we have been fighting this war and we have reach where we are at the moment. What is wrong in hiring mercenaries by the way? Where is it an offence? Mercenaries are hired everywhere; there are process and if we need mercenaries, we’ll get mercenaries. I don’t know why people are blowing this issue out of proportion.
“We are right now focused on the problem. Our problem is not mercenaries; our problem is routing Boko Haram from this land. Our problem is making sure that people in captivity are freed and that normalcy is restored, while security and harmony is achieved.
“We have asked for support from anywhere and people are supporting us, in terms of intelligence. We should not succumb to the rumor; let us focus on our goal. Let us work towards ensuring that we regain our territories,” he added.
Some top commanders, who craved anonymity, said it was part of propaganda to paint the Nigerian military as incompetent in the fight against terror by “desperately ascribing recent spate of successes to ‘others,’ rather than the gallant troops’ efforts.”
A source recalled that only recently, some news agencies ascribed such successes to Camerounian, Nigerien and “battle hardened” Chadian forces, but when it became obvious that the forces of those countries were mainly fighting along their own border areas, blocking free movement of terrorists, “it became necessary to look for others, who are helping Nigerians to fight.”
It was gathered that the foreigners spotted in Maiduguri and other areas close to the battlefronts were technical partners assisting to train Nigerian troops on how to operate and maintain the recently-acquired equipments from different sources.
The source explained that the maintenance technician, who died recently, was not even a combatant, but a professional in fixing armoured vehicles.
He recalled with regret, the several years that Nigeria wasted while negotiating and appealing for equipment supply from Western allies, which were not only rebuffed, but also prevented other countries under their direct influence from selling to Nigeria.
“The fact that we have foreign experts outside the United States (US) helping to train our troops is not a secret, but it is not fair for them to embark on this blackmail, simply because we got assistance from other places when they turned us down at a critical period,” the source stated.
On his part, the Director Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said: “Sorry, I don’t have anything about that claim. I just know that Nigerian military and security forces are putting in all their resources, training and experience acquired over the years to address the security challenges.
“Our neighbours operating under the auspices of the Multinational Joint Task Force are also backing our efforts from all our borders with them. We also have some offer of training and intelligence assistance from foreign countries. Some of these arrangements even predate the present operations.”
From a localised terror group in 2006, restricted to Borno State, Boko Haram has now gone global, adopting the tactics of ISIL (or ISIS) and pledging allegiance to it recently.
The concerted effort from different fronts has no doubt dislodged it from a number of northeastern communities and weakened its ability and ability to operate at will.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday told the Voice of America (VOA) that two companies were providing “trainers and technicians” to assist Nigerian forces. But he did not name the firms or their nationalities.
And Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Intelligence, Rear Admiral Gabriel E. Okoi, explained in an interview on Wednesday in Washington DC, United States (US) that South African contractors had been hired in recent months to help train Nigerian troops. But he claimed ignorance of any current or former members of South Africa’s military or security services hired to engage in active combat against Boko Haram.
Many fear that the use of mercenaries puts a question mark on the strength of Nigeria’s military and national integrity.
“They are subcontracting the national polity,” said a leading Nigerian scholar, Paul Lubeck of Johns Hopkins University, adding: “It’s the destitution of Nigerian nationalism.”
In 1998, South Africa barred South Africans from working abroad as mercenaries.
Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, said the mercenaries in Nigeria “are relics of apartheid and love this gung-ho kind of stuff and they are good at it.”
South African news organisations have been awash with reports of former members of its armed forces travelling to Nigeria, with some reporting that mercenaries from former Soviet Republics, including Ukraine, have also been enlisted.
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