As the March 28 elections approached, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan devised a new strategy to defeat terrorist group Boko Haram. His strategy included allowing foreign troops from Niger and Chad to get involved in the fight.
He also recruited South African private security firms to take over the training of his own troops. The South African security firms included men who had previously served in the South African Koevoet, a pre-1994 police force trained in counter insurgency tactics. Although steeped in controversy, because South Africa has outlawed mercenaries, his strategy paid off, and the Boko Haram were driven out of many of the towns they previously occupied.
Jakki Cilliers, director at the Johannesburg-based Institute for Security Studies, told Quartz that it was a chance for Nigeria to finally assert itself in the region by using these former Koevoet.
“The Nigerian government is proud, and by asking for assistance from South Africa, or any other African countries except Lake Chad Basin Commission countries before an election, Jonathan would suffer humiliation. He doesn’t want to be seen asking for assistance.”
About 100 of these men are currently working in Nigeria to train the Nigerian Defense Force to fight against Boko Haram and terrorism, as well as teach them counterinsurgency techniques. Most of the men involved are in their 60s and 70s, although Leon Lotz, who recently died as the result of friendly fire, was only 59. South Africa denies that any South African mercenaries are working in Nigeria, although unconfirmed reports discussed in Deutsche Welle claim over 100 private South African security firms are currently active in South Africa.
Another advantage in the use of private security firms to fight Boko Haram was that the Nigerian president had unsuccessfully tried to secure aircraft from the United States because the U.S. claimed his military did not have the qualified pilots to pilot the aircraft. President Goodluck Jonathan then solved this problem by hiring the private South African security firms. Not only did they offer the aircraft he needed, they also offered skilled pilots as well.
An unnamed senior Nigerian official told the New York Times that the mercenaries had helped to roll back Boko Haram’s advance.
“They are playing a very important role. They are in the vanguard in the liberation of some of the communities. They came in with much more sophisticated equipment than the military. Thanks to their involvement the tide is turning. I believe because of them we will witness a seismic shift.”
Most recently the Chadian and Niger troops have chased Boko Haram out of the Northeastern Nigerian town of Malam Fatori. Recent threats made by Boko Haram to join ISIS has made driving them out more crucial to Nigeria’s success in protecting it against terrorism. Although President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have driven back Boko Haram with his policies, he was defeated in the election by former military leader Muhammadu Buhari.
[Photo Credit International Business Times]