South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma flew into Nigeria last night reportedly to ink a deal that would see the deployment of his country’s special forces in Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram.
About a year ago, when Goodluck Jonathan was still president, he belatedly showed more vigour in engaging the insurgents as the (s)election approached. The more proactive approach involved the use of South African and former Soviet Union mercenaries, allegedly on $400 a day to rout the militants. Naijiant.com criticised their deployment at the time: “The inability of the Nigerian Army to perform this function [defending the country] is a severe indictment of the army and Goodluck as its Commander-in-Thief”.
Buhari, as an opposition candidate for the presidency, was similarly scathing about the use of mercenaries. He said last month, after winning the March (s)election on the back of Jonathan’s ineffectiveness in tackling Boko Haram, in an interview with the UK’s Telegraph: “I personally was very disappointed that the previous government resorted to mercenaries. I was also disappointed by the recent revelations of how military allocations were also misappropriated. How is it that Nigeria’s military, which has a good record across west Africa, cannot claim back to 14 out of 774 local governorates from Boko Haram? They have to ask for mercenaries from South Africa? How the mighty has fallen!”
However, in October last year, his spin-doctor Femi Adesina was forced to deny rumours that Buhari had continued the practice of using mercenaries against Boko Haram: “The position of the president has always been that he believes the military has the capacity to fight terrorism. President Buhari has always made it clear that Nigeria will appreciate support in terms of equipment, training and intelligence. The support the president is seeking is definitely not in terms of manpower or what you will call mercenaries.”
Since then, there have been reports that British “military advisers” are helping the Nigerians and an announcement in December that the number of “advisers” was increasing from 125 to 300. The New York Times reported last month that the Pentagon will send “send dozens of Special Operations advisers to the front lines of Nigeria’s fight” against Boko Haram.
A lot of this so-called advice is allegedly in relation to training and intelligence. But the previous administration made similar noises to rebut the claims about using mercenaries. Now, we are being told that South African special forces are coming to Nigeria. Most of the mercenaries previously engaged in the war against Boko Haram were former South African special forces soldiers.
Whether they are “military advisers” or mercenaries (or security contractors as they were known in Iraq), how do they fit in with Adesina’s claim in October that: “The position of the president has always been that he believes the military has the capacity to fight terrorism”? How does South African military support for Nigeria’s “little local difficulty” square with Nigeria’s “Giant of Africa” posturing?
Buhari himself asked in the Telegraph interview” “How the mighty has fallen!” It doesn’t appear like he is breaking that fall.