There were indications on Thursday that about 250 mercenaries from South Africa may have been hired by the Federal Government to boost the military’s effort to crush Boko Haram insurgents.
President Muhammadu Buhari had months ago given the military a December 2015 deadline to crush the insurgents.
According to a report by Turkish news agency, Anadolu Agency, the mercenaries hired from South Africa-based private contractor, Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), are being deployed along with fighter jets in Operation Fire Force, a source at the Defence Headquarters said on condition of anonymity.
“The mercenaries have been reengaged and their platforms are being deployed,” the source said. “By platforms, I mean fighter jets, helos [helicopters], coms [communication], surveillance, medics, etc.”
Another army source confirmed the development to Anadolu Agency. “There is definitely something happening in that direction,” the source said, again on condition of anonymity.
Asked why the Buhari administration is again deploying mercenaries, the DHQ source said it appeared to be the most practical option if headway was to be made against insurgents whose guerilla tactics are new to the Nigerian military.
According to him, the Buhari administration initially terminated the mercenary contract because it was “opaque and without accountability”. However, a new agreement was reached to boost the counterinsurgency operation, he said.
“As it stands now, huge amounts of monies are owed to the contractors as fulfillment for the previous engagement,” the source added. “So they are starting a new engagement for an initial period of three months. As for their outstanding balances, investigations are being carried out to ensure everything is above board.”
The DHQ did not respond to Anadolu Agency’s request for comment.
However, Senior Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, denied that the administration was engaging mercenaries again.
He said: “It is true that the previous administration hired South African mercenaries to fight Boko Haram. They, however, left with the government that brought them.
“Since coming into office, this government did not have any engagement with mercenaries of any kind and there are no plans to do so.”
Contacted, Siphiwe Dlamini, a spokesman for the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), said his country did not have any troops in Nigeria but could not say if private mercenaries were operating there.
“I wish to reiterate there are no SANDF personnel in Nigeria fighting Boko Haram,” he told Anadolu Agency. “If there are South Africans who are there as you allege, they are not our members but private citizens.”
“I cannot comment on what private citizens are doing in any part of the world.”
STTEP did not respond to emailed requests for comment.