Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
Rattled by the recent killings of the Commanding Officer of the 272 Special Task Force Task Battalion, Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu-Ali and six soldiers by members of Boko Haram, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) is mulling over whether to reach out to President Muhammadu Buhari on the urgent need to recall the South African mercenaries recruited by former President Goodluck Jonathan to help finish off the terror group.
Sources, who spoke with THISDAY from both the presidency and DHQ yesterday in Abuja, said some army chiefs have decided to impress it on the president that the sophisticated weapons the South African mercenaries possess could help in “finishing off members of Boko Haram” that has witnessed a resurgence in the war between the terrorists and Nigerian troops.
THISDAY gathered that members of Boko Haram might have experienced a boost, especially after they received a huge payout from the presidency for the release of 21 Chibok girls recently.
In the last few weeks, there has been an upsurge of suicide bombings linked to Boko Haram. The terror group has also killed several Nigerian troops fighting in the North-east, including Abu-Ali and his men, who were given a national burial at the military cemetery, Abuja on Monday.
Some weeks ago, 83 soldiers were also declared missing in action (MIA) after an attack on their military base by Boko Haram. However, the Nigerian Army denied reports that the soldiers were MIA, insisting that some had returned to the base.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, had described the late Abu-Ali as “Sarkin Yakin, the frontline general” and wept profusely while reading the brief funeral oration of the fallen warriors during the burial ceremony. Buhari was represented by his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
“During the Jonathan administration, the DHQ agreed that for the Nigerian Army to successfully prosecute our war against Boko Haram we needed the assistance of some mercenaries in South Africa, and we sought their assistance,” a top military source stated.
“And from our calculations, coupled with the sophisticated weapons the mercenaries came with, it was envisaged that the Nigerian Army would have been able to finish Boko Haram in a matter of months.
“But this administration came and said that Nigeria did not need South African mercenaries to battle a mere group of insurgents like Boko Haram and later terminated the contract. The truth is that we need them now,” he added.
THISDAY further gathered that some senior officers of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and DHQ are currently in South Africa talking to leaders of the Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP) in respect of the new deal.
However, a member of the Senate Defence Committee, who spoke off the record on the issue, while confirming the trip to South Africa, said the DHQ might encounter difficulties securing the assistance of the mercenaries given the fact that the monies owed them by the Jonathan administration has still not been paid by the current administration.
During the Jonathan administration, Barlow, a former member of the South African Defence Force that was said to have fought for liberation movements in South Africa and the Southern African region, had come to Nigeria with over 100 men made up of black troops who served in elite units of the South African military as well as communist guerrillas who had fought against the South African Defence Force in the days of Apartheid.
The DHQ source added that they had initially been recruited by the Jonathan government to help locate and free the kidnapped Chibok girls but became involved in “map-reading and attacking” Boko Haram.
“By the time former President Goodluck Jonathan handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari, Barlow and his gang had almost assisted the Nigerian Army recover parts of the Nigerian territory taken over by Boko Haram in the North-east,” the source added.
It was gathered that the mercenaries applied “hit and run tactics” to unnerve the terrorists and bush trackers to establish their hideouts, and smoked them out and depleted their ranks.
The cancellation of their contract by Buhari, on assumption of office on May 29, 2015, was said to have resulted in mixed results but not the complete annihilation of the terror group.
The THISDAY source added that the use of South African mercenaries was a rational step by the Jonathan administration, which had battled the terrorist with some results.
“These men (South African mercenaries) have a record of providing excellent counter-terrorism training through various pop-up private military and security companies. They have assisted several governments in overcoming insurgencies in Angola, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan,” the source added.
When contacted, DHQ spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, dismissed the attempt to recruit the South African mercenaries a second time around.
He said in a text message sent to THISDAY: “It is not true. Who said that and why should we bring them back? We have said it over and over again that there won’t be anything like that again.
“The Nigerian Armed Forces will shoulder its security challenges and they have been doing very well and only dealing with the insurgency within a very short time.”