Technical Mercenaries: Nigeria can beat Boko Haram with mercenaries but it won’t win the vote for Jonathan

BY FRANKIE EDOZIEN

So now we know where Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan is getting his new found swagger.

In recent months, the extremists who have wrecked havoc on the country’s northeast—killing thousands and displacing about one million people – finally seem to have been pushed back.

The regional force made up of soldiers from Chad, Niger and Cameroon as well as Nigeria’s own military have all claimed to have scored victories against the dreaded Boko Haram.

Chad’s president Idriss Derby has said he knows where the group’s fearsome leader Abubakar Shekau is hiding (perhaps in the vast Sambissa forest) and he’ll exterminate him.

Jonathan himself has said he’ll have this insurgency under control before the elections at the end of the month.

Wow.

After five years of bloodshed and Boko Haram pledging allegiance to their equally blood thirsty cousins in extremism, Islamic State, why is Mr. President suddenly so confident?

Well it turns out he’s gotten himself Russian, Ukrainian and… wait for it, South African mercenaries. Mercenaries for hire, or rather technical security advisors as Mr. President would have the world believe.

On Wednesday Jonathan told Chris Stein, reporting for the Voice of America that these companies were simply providing “technical support” for newly acquired weaponry and other military equipment.

“So we now have these technical people who are trainers and technicians, who are to train our people on how to use them, and technicians that help the maintenance, at the same time training our people how to maintain this equipment,” Jonathan said from the presidential villa here, near the gargantuan Aso Rock.

But up in north east Nigeria’s biggest city, Maiduguri, there are hundreds of foreign soldiers from South Africa and Eastern Europe who are engaged in the fighting. Mercenaries.

It was these kinds of foreign mercenaries, white soldiers who attempted for years to crush the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. They bombed and killed many black South Africans for decades.

These soldiers are the ones who know how to operate the rocket propelled launchers and the South Africans like to work on their own not alongside the Nigerian soldiers.

Then there is the strange scenario of foreign ‘soldiers’ in night goggles flying fighter jets with Nigerian military equipment to attack the Boko Haram from the air. One foreign contractor has already lost his life, but gains are being made it seems

Jonathan must feel he’s got to try something different after all Boko Haram razes entire villages, straps bombs on children and kills with abandon.

Jonathan believes they have trained with Islamic State though he wouldn’t say which country this training took place.

“So we know the links are there. … we may not know the degree of linkages as to how much funds are coming in from them, the kind of volume of weapons coming in from them, the nationalities coming from them,” the president said. “But the training, because some of the Boko Haram members go to have their training in the ISIS camp and come back.”

But even if this new round of foreign military contractors succeed in killing many Boko Haram members, how will this play in two weeks when Jonathan is up for reelection against a surging Muhammadu Buhari?

In the shadow of the Aso Rock presidential villa, I chatted with a few blue collar workers. The ones who make this beautiful city work.

Unlike the chaotic nature of traffic in many Nigerian cities, Abuja is still fairly orderly, highways still have bright street lights and roads tarred immaculately.

On the surface it seems Goodluck is the man, but still a chunk of people here lowered their voices to me and whispered conspiratorially ‘We want change.’

Joseph, a launderer and sometime gardener, is a 41-year old Christian from the Jos area in the middle-belt of the country. He supported Jonathan for years. But now, back home in his village, people sleep in the bush at night, too afraid to sleep in their homes in case they are attacked by Boko Haram insurgents.

“There is no security. Our people dey sleep for bush. People are dying, he said mixing in Nigerian pidgin English.

He told me he was disappointed because working class folk supported Jonathan and put him in office last time but now all the poor are with Buhari.

Parking lot attendants, roadside traders all whispered some version of the same sentiment. This was hardly surprising after all people with little economic heft would of course hunger for a better life.

But then civil servants and friends in the private sector here also whisper the same thing, with one telling me that the galling thing about Jonathan and his cadre of ministers was that corruption was rampant and had become the norm. In the last year there has been an on going debate about whether as much as $20 billion really went missing from the treasury.

Could security and corruption issues, derail Jonathan’s bid to remain office? Despite the slick TV ads from Jonathan’s campaign urging voters to keep him in office ‘for the love of the country’ pollsters say it’s still too close to call.

The dour and conservative Buhari, in many people’s minds, would tackle Boko Haram and publicly punish the thieving.

As a child, I remembered the former dictator’s ‘War Against Indiscipline’ and his drive to root out corruption over 30 years ago, civil liberties be damned. But in a country with 60% of the population under-30 memories of his controversial reign are dim.

Yet support for Jonathan remains strong in the mid-western and south eastern parts of the country where he hails from. As I head out to that region, I wonder if the public vociferous support for him will be the same in private.

Nothing in Nigeria is ever what is seems.

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The key difference between Africa’s two biggest economies right now


Goodluck Jonathan (left) and Jacob Zuma at the World Economic Forum.(Reuters/Pascal Lauener)

Cape Town, South Africa—The ruling political party, the African National Congress (ANC), turned 103 years old and held a big bash at the Cape Town stadium over the weekend.

The party of the late Nelson Mandela pulled out all the stops, bands, minstrel troupes, deejays, to commemorate the event and entertain hordes of party loyalists who poured into this city by trains, planes and buses in the days leading up to it. The entire affair reminded me of the World Cup celebrations in 2010, with all that dancing on the streets.

President Jacob Zuma is the de facto head of the ANC and chose Cape Town for this massive celebration, because in a sense it could be considered enemy territory. He wanted to send a message: The municipal government is in the hands of a minority party, the Democratic Alliance, and Zuma has an eye on reclaiming this Western Cape province for the ANC in 2016. So he brought his party here to tout his successes and respond to his critics. Before the bash he spent a few days in an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign, facing the voters here head-on.

This is the main difference between him and the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. Both men run Africa’s largest economies. Both men are controversial. But one man doesn’t hide from his foes.

For years, South Africa was this continent’s largest economy until it was overtaken recently by Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is up for re-election next month—but he would never be so bold as to enter a part of Nigeria where some folks don’t want to see him, the way Zuma did this weekend.

Indeed, those parts are growing. It appears Jonathan has ceded complete control of the northeastern Nigeria, to Boko Haram, the ultra violent extremist insurgents that want to destroy his government and establish a strict Islamic caliphate.

While the world wasn’t paying attention, Boko Haram now rivals Islamic State for deadly carnage on innocent citizens. Over the last few days:

Yesterday, bombs reportedly rocked Potiskum, bringing down buildings.

The day previous, Boko Haram strapped a girl, probably 10 or 11 years old with a bomb and sent her into a crowded market in Maiduguri, an ancient city. The blast killed 19 and injured many more. The new tactic of using little girls is particularly heinous and ungodly.

And it came just after many were reeling from what was supposedly the deadliest attack yet by Boko Haram, last week in Baga where scores, hundreds possibly up to 2,000 were slaughtered.

Baga is on the Lake Chad and many reportedly drowned swimming to an uninhabited island for safety. Those who reached the mosquito-infested destination were trapped without food and clean water. Many headed for buses that took them to Maiduguri—also the site of a Boko Haram bombing.

Is anyplace safe in Northeast Nigeria?

Bama, Baga, Damaturu, Chibok, Ngala, Dikwa, Banki, Gulak may not be familiar towns to the outside world but they represent places where this terrorist group has wreaked havoc, burnt down entire villages, and defeated the Nigerian soldiers.

And in the process displaced 1.5 million people.

But Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy. Where is Jonathan?

The world knows about the attack and kidnapping of 219 schoolgirls in Chibok and the resulting #BringBackOurGirls campaign, but Jonathan’s government hasn’t succeeded in bringing them home or remotely taming Boko Haram. It took the Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafza’s urging Jonathan to even meet with the relatives of the abducted girls.

Last week Jonathan was quick to condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, but remained mum on Baga. This weekend, his dancing at his foster daughter’s wedding made the rounds on social media. He spoke about Nigeria’s “big challenge” but doesn’t appear to have named Boko Haram specifically.

Meanwhile, Jonathan continues to campaign for votes across the country, just not in the northeast.

Wouldn’t it be great for Nigerians there to see their president? Or for him to show solidarity with those people? Some believe those in the northeast won’t get to vote with bombs going off daily.

Last month, US presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Jonathan and his government had squandered Nigeria’s oil wealth. “Nigeria has made bad choices, not hard choices,” Clinton said. “They have squandered their oil wealth; they have allowed corruption to fester, and now they are losing control of parts of their (own) territory because they would not make hard choices.”

Jonathan seems to care only about squelching the campaign of his opponent, a former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari, who despite his brutal past, many see as a viable alternative to the current state of affairs.

Before the election next month, maybe he ought to go and explain himself to residents of northeastern Nigeria. Just like Zuma did to voters in the Western Cape. I won’t hold my breath.

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I left Nigeria 25 years ago—but America just sees me as black

It stings, but doesn’t surprise.

No criminal charges were brought yesterday against the New York City police officer who tussled with a black man and the latter ended up dead.

I wasn’t even mildly surprised.

By now, I know better. I moved to New York 25 years ago and spent most of that time as a reporter covering the city. I have investigated stories on corruption and the misuse of funds that have resulted in some serious consequences for people, including getting fired.

The death of Eric Garner—placed in a chokehold by an officer in a fight over loose cigarettes— was caught on video, though. I saw it and knew nothing would happen. Perhaps I am jaded.

Journalists hold up the mirror to our societies. We don’t have to like what is looking back at us.

New Yorkers have reacted with demonstrations. More than 30 people were arrested yesterday. More protests are expected today. Thousands are tweeting and Facebooking their fury.

America is having another racial moment. I’ve covered these before. And yet I’m still left wondering why, in 2014, black men scare the bejesus out of white police officers.

I suspect most Africans of my generation aren’t conscious of race until we have this awkward dance with her after we’ve settled in the first world.

Growing up in Nigeria, I was an Asaba man first. My ethnic identity was a source of pride. While I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, I wasn’t Yoruba.

And Lagos might have been home, but Asaba was and is where I come from.

For me, and those of my ilk, our whole identity is wrapped up in our ethnic identity. You are a Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa or Fulani first, then Nigerian.

But once you set foot in America, you are Black.

It’s a shock to the system but then you get with the program, assimilate or remain fiercely African.

Or Nigerian. Not just the catch-all “black.”

I was just beginning my career around the time of the vicious Rodney King beatings at the hands of white police officers, also videotaped, and the riots that followed in 1991. I can still remember the shooting death of an unarmed African son, Amadou Diallo in 1999 in the Bronx. Forty-one shots fired, and none of the shooters, all Caucasian, got any jail time.

Even after Diallo, in 2000, Patrick Dorismond, a dad of two, brushed off an uncover officer who inquired about drugs, was shot killed outside a bar in midtown Manhattan.

That officer got off with no criminal charges.

It was 50 shots that were fired at Sean Bell in 2006 on what was to be his wedding day. At least the shooters lost their jobs.

I didn’t grow up with the indignities that my African-American brothers endure daily—but they came eventually.

I’ve learned to put white fear in its own box when coded language like “angry” is used to describe hard working black professionals.

It really stings, but it no longer surprises.

It’s not just an American issue. Years ago, I walked past a blonde guy in a bar in Amsterdam. Instinctively, he reached back to grab me and held me—making sure his wallet was still in his pocket before letting go. This was in supposedly enlightened Europe.

It stung, but didn’t surprise.

Just last week, a young Liberian woman had to school much older white people in Britain that the entire African continent isn’t infested with Ebola. That she had to ask them to check their white savior complex in 2014 was shocking to me.

I spoke on a panel about newsroom diversity right after Ferguson erupted. I told the large group of New York University students to embrace all the things that made them different, whether it was ethnic diversity or ginger hair.

One student asked me what needed to be done to make changes in our world.

I responded that I thought it the responsibility of the powerful, the majority, white folks in general, to embrace and demand fairness for those who are not like them.

And it doesn’t have to involve money. Or maybe, it does have to in these cases.

New York City has paid millions in taxpayer dollars to settle civil cases of the families of minority men that police have killed. We all deserve better than what we are getting. Black lives matter and should be everyone’s concern.

I’d like to be pleasantly surprised soon.

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