Cobus Claassens, a South African and Chief Executive at Pilgrims Africa and Executive Outcomes, private military organisations once hired by the Nigerian government to recover abducted Chibok school girls as well as fight Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, has stated that the continued incidence of Boko Haram insurgency in the country is as a result of the failure of political leadership.
Claassens, who made this observation in an interview with RT, a Russian international television network, said past Nigerian leadership allowed the country’s military capability to degenerate. This made it difficult for the nation’s military to successfully engage the jihadist group, although individually members of the military are patriotic and highly self-motivated.
“Nigerian soldiers are brave and physically capable to fight, and quite willing to fight. As a matter of fact, they are some of the best in the world. However, their leadership has failed them. Past leadership has degenerated the logistical capabilities in Nigerian military, and the training has been lacking,” he said.
He hinted that it was against this backdrop that the government (particularly the former President Goodluck Jonathan-led government) elected to engage the services of foreign private military company (PMC), or mercenaries.
According to him, the country was close to completely sacking the insurgents with the mercenaries but for the fact that government failed to fully fund their operations, and even threw them out of the country three years ago.
He said: “They (the mercenaries) did fantastically well, considering the constraints of time and money. They were given just a part of the budget that were promised, and they were given a very short period of time, as a matter of fact, over December, to mobilize.
“And, you know, a mobilization like that would be a logistical effort, and logistics means arms and ammunition. Nobody sells arms and ammunition over December to private company, everybody goes on holiday.
“So they pulled off half a miracle. I say half a miracle, because, unfortunately, due to financial constraints they can’t find themselves to base and then they left.
“They were thrown out of Nigeria. It’s a great pity that they were not given the opportunity to finish what they were contracted for.
“I believe they would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and Nigeria’s North-East would be in a politically far more stable condition than it is right now.”
According to him, the private military organisations had much to offer in revamping the capabilities of the Nigerian military as well as training them for fighting counter-insurgency operations, as they were only trained for conventional combats.
He said this and others constituted the terms of reference of the private military organisations until they were sacked by the government. And ever since, defeating the insurgents have become an existential challenge for the army.
“The PMC that came here was contracted to train a unit and to create that from scratch, and then to go into combat and achieve limited objectives, so as to show the Nigerian military some initiative, to get them on the front foot, to get some momentum going and to achieve certain limited objectives,” he said.
“Unfortunately, they are facing counter-insurgency or an insurgency enemy, and they need to adopt a counter-insurgency strategy and tactics, and equipment, and formations.”
He added, “They (the Nigerian military) need help with that, they need to be assisted in order to restructure the material. The manpower on the ground is fantastic.
“They are brave, they are strong, they are physically capable, they are nationalistic, they are proud of their countries; they will fight.
“But they need to be taught how to fight, and they need to be equipped correctly and trained correctly.”
He lamented, however, that despite the common threat of Boko Haram being faced by Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon due to their porous borders, there hasn’t been sufficient coordination between their militaries.
He said, “Nigeria needs a concentrated effort. It has to be a collaborative effort between Niger, Cameroon and Chad, at least.
“And Nigeria, and all of these other countries, need help. Most of their militaries hark back to the conventional days, so their order of battle, their structures, the way they teach their soldiers and train them – is in a conventional manner.”
He stressed that to successfully fight jihadist insurgency in the country, the government must also take certain proactive initiatives, such as formally bringing local militia groups into a coordinated arrangement with the military to battle the terrorists.
According to him, “There’s an important decision for governments that are facing enemies like Boko Haram has to make. And that is whether to enlist civilian help officially.
“In some countries like Sierra Leone it was done successfully, the local hunting societies were organised in a paramilitary group, and a part of that was placed under Executive Outcomes control and utilized very effectively.
“The same can happen here, but first of all it has to be a political decision by the political leadership of the country.
“Are we going to arm civilians and put them in harm’s way in order to supply and support the military? If they do make that decision, however wide or limited that decision may be, then those people can be invaluable.
“As a matter of fact, right now the fight is carried to Boko Haram and its offspring by local militias that are simply armed with shotguns and the occasional AK-47.
“But these people are fighting to protect their lands, their villages and their people. I think there’s scope for them to be organised, well-controlled, well-trained, well-mobilized, and it will certainly add value.”