The idea of hiring mercenaries to combat Boko Haram is not new. However, as the excerpted accompanying article from the South African non-profit think tank Institute for Security Studies notes, Nigeria’s Borno State governor has called on the government to hire mercenaries to combat the terrorist organization. Whether the government’s inability to defeat Boko Haram is due to issues with its military’s training, leadership, or materiel is not described. However, the article is clear that there is widespread concern among the region’s population that the government alone is not up to the job.

Mercenaries have long been employed in African nations. Nigeria most recently used mercenaries to stop Boko Haram attacks before the 2015 elections. Before that, from 1967 to 1970, both Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra brought in mercenaries. However, despite the previous use of these guns for hire, Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, has condemned their use. Given the African Union’s Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa, which Nigeria ratified, it appears that at least at the national level there is little appetite for engaging their services.

Interestingly, as the article points out, the 2015 contingent of mercenaries had significant success in reclaiming territory from Boko Haram. Reportedly, the South African mercenaries employed a doctrine known as “relentless pursuit.” Unfortunately for the Nigerians, when the mercenaries left over nonpayment of their services, some of the gains against Boko Haram were erased. However, their achievements before leaving are one of the reasons the Borno State governor is calling once again for private military contractors to return to Nigeria. The ongoing success of mercenaries in neighboring Cameroon, along with serious concerns regarding their costs and possible human rights violations, provides points both for and against their use in Nigeria.

A Nigerian governor’s call for mercenaries to support the counter-insurgency revives questions about a controversial practice.

Source: Teniola Tayo, “Soldiers for Rent in the Boko Haram Crisis,” Institute for Security Studies (a South African non-profit think tank emphasizing security related issues), 8 February 2021.

A Nigerian governor’s call for mercenaries to support the counter-insurgency revives questions about a controversial practice.
The profit-driven motivations of mercenaries and the companies hiring them should never be underestimated, and their private contractor status also makes it difficult to hold them accountable. There are allegations that mercenaries have also been recruited by Boko Haram.

Mercenaries have a rich and chequered history in Africa including in countries like Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Libya and Sierra Leone. Experience has repeatedly shown the dangers of resorting to these fighters. Still, they have enduring appeal to some African governments, most recently in Mozambique.

Whether mercenaries should again be recruited in the war against Boko Haram remains a valid question. Victory in the war against
extremism in the Lake Chad Basin has been slow to materialise and attacks are recorded weekly. South African mercenaries appear eager to return to the region, with the Conella representative saying, ‘We would like to come back and finish the work that we started in Nigeria.’

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