Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram in the area bordering Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon; the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade in the eastern DRC is another case in point.
Nigerian army soldiers patrol along a road in Chibok,
northeastern Nigeria, on March 5, 2015. Nigeria’s government said that work had
begun to rebuild a school in the northeastern town of Chibok from where Boko
Haram gunmen kidnapped more than 200 girls in 2014.
Nigeria: Internal security is the central concern for
the comparatively well-equipped and-trained armed forces, with border and
maritime security also vital tasks. There have been repeated clashes with Boko
Haram in the north of the country with reports that the difficulty in defeating
the insurgents was adversely affecting morale, despite training support from
the US and other countries. The armed forces have been attempting to adopt COIN
tactics, and looking to establish forward-operating bases and quick-reaction
groups. Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring states has given Nigeria allies in
combating the group, and the Multinational Joint Task Force is in the initial
deployment stages. In response to the continuing insurgency, items have been
brought out of storage and into service, including transport aircraft and light
fighters. Equipment maintenance and serviceability has been a long-standing
issue. Piracy remains a problem in western waters and in the Niger Delta.
Support to the campaign against Boko Haram in northeast
Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, Jan 2015-Aug 2016.
Since the major Nigerian government offensives of
2015, the number of Boko Haram attacks in the region has declined
significantly, but attacks continue to occur in Borno State (especially in its
capital, Maiduguri) and the surrounding Lake Chad region. Regional support for
the campaign has been demonstrated by contributions to the Multinational Joint
Task Force (MNJTF) set up through agreement between the African Union and the
Lake Chad Basin Commission in March 2015. Initial international support for the
campaign was mainly limited to training and advising by the United Kingdom and
the United States. Pledges of international support significantly increased in
the wake of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014 (especially
from France, which also hosted the first Regional Security Summit in Paris in
May 2014) and continued into 2016 (with the second Regional Security Summit in
Abuja in May). However, international support remains mostly confined to
training and advising, with the ground campaign left to regional countries,
both in their relatively small contributions to the MNJTF in the immediate Lake
Chad border area, and in their wider domestic commitments of their own forces.
There have also been reports of support from private military companies.
In January 2012 a female suicide bomber from Bauchi State in
northeastern Nigeria attempted to gain entrance to the headquarters of the
Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) in Abuja, the capital of
Nigeria. The FCTA runs Abuja, and its offices house the senior government
ministers and thousands of government workers. Although she was stopped before
she could detonate the bombs strapped to her body, the emergence of this female
suicide bomber in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, again points to a
breakdown in traditional society and the resulting mutation. Although suicide
bombings have been frequent in the region, this was the first known example of
a female suicide bomber. It may well be a harbinger of things to come.
Over the previous three years, the group popularly known as
Boko Haram had struck fear into Nigerians with its ferocious attacks on both
government and civilian targets. Many commentators translate Boko Haram in its
literal sense as “book forbidden,” implying a rejection of
“book” or Western education. The group identifies itself as People
Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. It was
founded by a Kanuri, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf- “Ustaz” meaning teacher-in
2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern Borno State, as a nonviolent
microfinance Islamic organization opposed to what it saw as a corrupt
government. Its members were drawn from the lower economic classes and students
of Quranic schools. The group was dominated by the historically segmentary
lineage Kanuri people, who previously had their own independent kingdom until
In July 2009 violence erupted when Boko Haram’s meeting
place in Bauchi State was raided by Nigerian national police and nine of its
members were arrested. Within a couple of hours, reprisal attacks occurred
against the police. Riots then erupted, eventually spreading to three other
states in the northeast. The fighting lasted for five days. During this time,
the military was filmed executing suspected members of the group in public.
According to the Red Cross, 780 bodies were found in the streets of Maiduguri
alone, with hundreds more killed throughout the northeast. The government
targeted the group’s affiliated mosques for destruction. After the riots,
Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the group, was captured and shot, and his body
was later found dumped in Maiduguri in full view of its residents, his wrists
still in handcuffs. The government claimed he died while attempting to escape
custody, an incident later cited by Boko Haram as provocation for revenge
attacks against the security services.
After Yusuf’s death, Abubakar Shekau, also a Kanuri, became
leader of the group. To show solidarity with Yusuf, he married one of Yusuf’s
four wives and adopted their children. The group began to recruit other ethnic
groups, such as the Fulani, another segmentary lineage people in northern
Nigeria. The first suicide bomber in Nigerian history, who Boko Haram announced
was Fulani, blew himself up in the national police headquarters in Abuja in
June 2011. His target was the inspector general of the Nigerian national
police, who the day before had declared in Maiduguri that “the days of
Boko Haram are numbered.” Another suicide attack followed a few months
later, this time on the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing
twenty-one people and injuring seventy-three.
Boko Haram also began to target fellow Muslims, particularly
those associated with the central government. In September 2011 Babakura Fugu,
Mohammed Yusuf’s brother-in-law, was shot outside his house in Maiduguri two
days after attending a peace meeting with the former president, Olusegun
Obasanjo. In July 2012 a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up in the central
mosque of Maiduguri, killing five and injuring a further six. His main targets,
who escaped from the blast uninjured, were the deputy governor of Bornu State
and the shehu of Bornu, Abubakar Umar Garbai el-Kanemi, both Muslims. The
previous year, the shehu’s younger brother was killed by gunmen. The shehu is
one of the main religious leaders of the Kanuri, and the position of shehu was
also the former ruler of the Kanuri Kanem-Bornu Empire, which was absorbed into
the British colonial government. The current shehu is directly descended from
the shehus of the Kanuri Empire. One month later, a suicide bomber targeted the
emir of Fika, another religious figure who had spoken against violence and in
support of the security forces; this attack occurred during Friday prayers at
the central mosque in Potiskum in Yobe State, missing the emir but injuring
dozens of people.
In adopting an Islamic identity, the group was also
concerned about matters outside the tribe such as the status of Muslims in
Nigeria, a country largely divided between a Muslim north and Christian south.
In January 2012, in the wake of the 2011 Christmas-day bombings in which
several churches were attacked in Abuja, Jos, and in the northeastern Yobe
State, Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, announced, “We are also at war
with Christians because the whole world knows what they did to us. They killed
our fellows and even ate their flesh in Jos.” Shekau was referring to
several incidents in 2011 in which Christian Berom tribesmen ate the charred
flesh of Muslims they had killed and roasted in the Plateau State of the Middle
Belt region in Nigeria. In a widely circulated online video, voices can be
heard telling a young man who is hacking apart a charred and headless body with
a machete, “I want the heart” and “Did you put some salt?”
as youths proudly hold up severed heads blackened by fire for the camera.
Several policemen can be seen standing back and watching the cannibalistic
feast. There is an air of festivity about the gathering, as if the revelers
were enjoying a special celebration. The volatile Middle Belt region, which
serves as the border between Muslim north and Christian south and where
different religious and ethnic groups live side by side, has for the past
decade been caught in a vicious cycle of attack and counterattack between the
tribal communities. Revenge attacks between Christian and Muslim tribal groups
remain a constant threat in the region, such as in Kaduna State, bordering
Plateau State, where a number of assaults killed dozens of Christians in the
fall of 2012, including a November suicide bombing of a military base church
The group remains active not just in northeast Nigeria but
now also across the border into Cameroon and Niger, particularly as Nigeria and
the regional Multinational Joint Task Force have exerted greater pressure on
the group. Significant gains by Nigeria’s armed forces continue to reduce Boko
Haram’s strength and territory, in conjunction with the military deployments of
regional nations as part of the Multinaltional Joint Task Force. Weakened
further by a leadership division, the group’s factions remain capable of
conducting attacks, including cross-border raids.
Things were not going well in Nigeria in 2015. Its military
was fighting war against a powerful force of Boko Haram today. Then suddenly,
things began Jihadis – as it is still doing to change. That came after the
government of West Africa’s superpower secretly approached a group of former
South African mercenaries to gather together a force of former Executive
Outcomes (EO) professional soldiers to see if they could sort out the mess.
Nigeria did so knowing that South African law does not permit its nationals to
fight in foreign wars.
Old names in the industry, like Eeben Barlow (former head of
Executive Outcomes, now chairman of STTEP) and Pilgrims Africa Ltd. (another South
African PMSC based in Lagos), made headlines in 2015 assisting the Nigerian
government in combating Boko Haram.
Since EO has an `alumnae’ network that stretches all the way
across Africa and remains strong today, the new combat unit – only 75 strong,
including an Air Wing with helicopter gunships – were ready to roll within
weeks. Their numbers included many former SADF personnel – black and white –
quite a few in their fifties and some even older. Almost all had subsequently
served with EO in Angola and Sierra Leone. Most international news reports at
the time spoke of a foreign force of several hundreds.
Effectively, said one of them, “I think the ghost of EO
was resurrected. The Nigerian decision to hire our blokes to fight this new
form of Islamic terror came at a good time and actually, we did exceptionally
well.” Though press coverage of conflict was minimal, the international
community – and many Nigerians – were stunned.
This tiny group of `guns for hire’ fought for only six
months in north-east Nigeria and in that short time achieved more than the
Nigerian Army had managed to do in six years of sporadic combat against a powerfully-motivated
What has since emerged is that the South Africans had a
secret. “When we go to war,” the author’s contact admitted, “we
command the night.” This was something that had very rarely happened in
Nigeria in the past, he disclosed. “So, when the sun set, we left our
secure bases and did our thing.” It was apparently something for which
Boko Haram was totally unprepared.
Then, almost overnight, South African mercenary
participation ended. Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari, a former major
general in the Nigerian Army was sworn in late May 2015 and soon afterwards the
money intended to pay EO was stolen and the venture called to a halt. Buhari
was not actually opposed to the mercenary effort because, officially, the word was
put out that it was Nigerian troops who were winning the war and not a rogue
band of geriatric foreigners. The Nigerian military was involved, but played
only a minor, peripheral role, supplying hardware like armoured vehicles and
weapons, but little else – their main problem being that they were not prepared
for night deployments.
A couple of months later the EO veterans returned home and
there is an ongoing dispute as to whether everybody was properly paid. Since
then, an impasse in hostilities has returned and Boko Haram is once again
terrorising civilians and kidnapping their daughters. This raises the
interesting question: how did a relatively small group of freebooters who
originally fought in Angola from 1993 onwards manage to achieve so much in such
a short space of time?
In truth, they were a hand-picked, select group of
professional soldiers. The majority had fought for Executive Outcomes in Angola
against Dr Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA guerrillas from 1993 onwards – and thereafter
in Sierra Leone. Moreover, all had seen action, some quite a lot of it. Several
had been wounded in action and quite a few decorated for bravery while serving
in the SADF.