Some Nigerian decision makers are convinced that contractors are the ideal countermeasure to growing unrest in the country. Others feel the risks far outweigh the rewards.
Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai recently bemoaned what he called the federal government’s inaction against terrorists. “I have complained to Mr. President and I swear to God, if action is not taken, we as governors will take actions to protect the lives of our people. If it means deploying foreign mercenaries to come and do the work, we will do it to address these challenges,” he remarked. The government has used contractors in the past and recently debated doing so again, but no official action has been taken.
Many people criticize contractors as off-the-chain private armies that operate with little or no oversight. Others point to the advantages of contractors. They cost less and eliminate the need for large civilian drafts. So, the Nigerians, like so many others, try to walk a narrow line.
Situation in Kaduna and Borno
As a nation, Nigeria’s history dates back to around 2,000 B.C. Today, Nigeria is one of the most stable countries in the world. The country has over 200 million inhabitants, one of the world’s largest and most diverse economies, and a long history of briefly-interrupted democratic rule.
However, not everything is wine and roses for this West African nation. That is especially true in outlying provinces, such as Kaduna and Borno.
Civilization in Kaduna, which is based on the Hausa word for “crocodile,” goes back almost as far as civilization in lower Nigeria. However, Kaduna is almost exactly on the line between Africa’s mostly Muslim north and mostly Christian south. Religious tensions came to a head in 2002, during the so-called Miss World riots. Muslim extremists reacted to a controversial newspaper story by attacking Chirstians, and the Christians retaliated. By the time authorities restored order, 250 people were dead and roughly 30,000 were homeless.
Ethnic violence is a problem in Kaduna, as well. The state is home to over 60 different ethnic groups. In 2021, militants attacked five schools. During an April 2021 attack, gunmen kidnapped 23 people and killed five of these individuals.
These incidents have deeply affected residents of this normally-peaceful state. As mentioned, Governor El-Rufai basically vowed to do whatever it takes to end religious and ethnic violence in the state.
The situation in Borno, which is in the extreme northeast, is even more critical. Borno is one of the largest and least-populated Nigerian states. That and its remote location make it an ideal breeding ground for international terrorists. Beginning around 2009, Boko Haram, which was named as the world’s most dangerous terrorist group in 2015, used Borno as a staging area. As fighting escalated, Nigeria’s president declared a state of emergency in Borno in 2013. By 2014, most schools were closed. A large, multinational offensive forced Boko Haram fighters out of their strongholds and into the forests in 2015. However, periodic attacks continue. Furthermore, Borno’s agriculture-based economy struggles to recover from the double whammy of the Boko Haram insurgency and the coronavirus pandemic.
How Countries Use Contractors
Overall, flexibility is one of the hallmarks of private military contractors. Countries like Nigeria typically ask contractors to serve in one of three major areas.
In a Hollywood movie, the technical advisor basically screens the film prior to its release and ensures that it’s fairly accurate. Frequently, these individuals also review the script before filming begins. Technical advisors are especially common in military films.
Private military contractors often serve in roughly this same capacity when they are stationed overseas. That is especially true for nations dealing with terrorist, religious, ethnic, and other types of violence that government security forces are usually ill-equipped to face. Contractor advisors review things like tactics, strategy, and weapons and determine their effectiveness.
Increasingly, technical advisor contractors are not overseas contractors. Instead, they participate in Zoom meetings from stateside offices.
These contractors often face minimal injury risks. However, the risks are there. The workplace injury rate among white-collar office workers is almost as high as the injury rate for blue-collar manual laborers. Repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome, are quite common. So are falls and other injuries.
Normally, these contractors are in the field, but they are not working in the field. Instead, they directly support the individuals, mostly government fighters, who are on the front lines.
This support often includes on-the-spot training. When they face ethnic and other violence, government security forces often face unfamiliar and unexpected situations. Experienced private military contractors informally share their expertise, so security forces have an edge during their next mission.
Equipment maintenance is important as well. Frequently, insurgents enjoy considerable popular support, at least in some areas. It is easy for them to hide, rest, and recharge. Technology helps government security forces overcome these advantages. Militants usually cannot match security forces in terms of firepower.
However, the most advanced weapons are useless unless they are in top operating condition. A little excess wear and tear or a little dust could make a big difference. Government security forces in places like Nigeria count on contractor support to keep them well-equipped in the field.
Intangible contractor support, like maintaining morale, is key as well. This moral support could be encouraging government security forces after a difficult mission or simply having a beer or two, or maybe even three, after hours.
As their activity level increases, the possibility of injury increases for private military contractors. Additionally, military bases are tempting targets for armed militants looking to raise their profile.
Armed contractors often escort supply convoys, man checkpoints, and perform other duties which place them directly into the line of fire.
Injured service members can turn to the Veterans Administration for injury compensation. Overseas private military contractors can turn to the Defense Base Act. The DBA replaces lost wages and pays medical bills. The wage replacement benefit is usually two-thirds of victims’ average weekly wage for the duration of their disabilities. Additionally, the DBA insurance company usually pays all reasonably necessary medical bills.
For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.