Thinking Aloud: Nigeria’s Mercenary Motive

Mar. 14, 2015 by Darius

In the last few days, Nigeria’s government has claimed a number of successes against Boko Haram.  If you know anything about the typical performance of the Nigerian military, you might find these alleged successes somehow…unlikely.  As it turns out, there’s a new factor in play: the Nigerian government has deployed mercenaries, predominantly South Africans, to fight Boko Haram.  And it’s working.

It isn’t known exactly how many mercenaries are fighting Boko Haram, or even who they are—the entire operation is being kept under wraps as much as possible.  However, the mercenaries are able to bring to the table weaponry, like attack helicopters and night vision goggles, as well as professionalism that the Nigerian military, well, lacks.  In particular, the mercenaries have found much success in night operations against Boko Haram.  In the morning, of course, the Nigerian army arrives and claims credit for the whole thing.

I’m not generally a fan of mercenaries, but if they should ever be used, this seems to be an ideal situation.  The Nigerian military has shown time and time again that it is incapable of either beating Boko Haram in battle or winning over the support of the local population.  Mercenaries are likely to perform (and, so far, have) far better at both killing Boko Haram fighters and refraining from committing atrocities against civilians.

Given that Boko Haram formally pledged allegiance to ISIS this week, the Nigerian conflict is more important than ever.  Under the circumstances, it’s a good thing the Nigerian government has called in the experts to get the job done right.

For more, see “Mercenaries Join Fight Against Boko Haram,” The New York Times, Friday, March 13, 2015, p.A8,

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