Mahmud Jega

Ghosts of the 67 rice farmers massacred at Zabarmari, Borno State ten days ago are still haunting the Nigerian landscape this week. House of Representatives is eagerly awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari to appear before it this week and speak on insurgency and banditry, the hottest potatoes on the national plate. The President has agreed to appear before the House but has not set a date. We assume that presidential aides are very busy writing a speech. Or maybe, they are instead planning a devastating military answer to Zabarmari, for which there is no shortage of options.

Borno State Governor Babagana Zullum publicly called for the reengaging of South African mercenaries who, in early 2015, helped the Jonathan Administration to recapture many Borno towns from Boko Haram. They may possibly lend us a helping hand to get rid of bandits, armed robbers, cattle rustlers, secret cultists, pipeline vandals, oil bunkerers, Yahoo boys and communal warriors as well.

Three decades ago, every African’s heart automatically missed a beat at the mere mention of mercenaries. In the 1960s and 1970s, European mercenaries played prominent roles in African civil and national liberation wars. We remember with disgust the notorious mercenary “Colonel Callan,” who was captured and executed by the MPLA in Angola in 1975. US President Gerald Ford shamelessly said at the time that Callan’s execution was “unjustified, unwarranted, hostile.”

We remember with more disgust Col. Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare, the Irish mercenary who fought for Moshe Tsombe in the Congo civil war of the 1960s. In Nigeria here, Biafra’s bitter experience with mercenaries led by German soldier of fortune Rolf Steiner was well captured in Eddie Iroh’s novel, ‘48 guns for the General.’ Steiner spent months supposedly training a commando division while Biafran towns fell one by one to Federal troops. It is a sign of how bad things are here that Governor Zullum is now calling for the mercenaries’ return.

A South African “defence contractor” [read: mercenary] said in a video clip last week that his men will not help Nigeria again because the Buhari Administration treated them shabbily in 2015. He might only be driving a hard bargain; which mercenary will see money and not take it, shabby treatment or not Some people were asking whether Governor Zullum’s request for mercenaries, publicly made to a Federal Government delegation that arrived in Borno on a condolence visit, was not his way of saying the Nigerian military cannot do the job. Other people will shrug and say the extremely dynamic Zullum is an overzealous academic, an ASUU member in a Government House.

But don’t underestimate the pain, frustration and desperation out of Zabarmari. Patience may not be one of Zullum’s qualities but his predecessor Senator Kashim Shettima, who has it in abundance, briefly abandoned his cool mien last week and tabled an angry motion on the Senate floor on behalf of 18 senators. Shettima said, among other things, that “whatever the military chiefs are doing [in Borno] is not working” and that by retaining them, President Buhari has failed in his constitutional duty of protecting lives and property, which he said robs the government of its legitimacy. The senators’ motion called for the service chiefs’ removal; probe into alleged corruption in the war effort; renewed cooperation with Nigeria’s neighbours, and recruitment of 10,000 Civilian JTF youths into paramilitary forces.

I am not supporting the deployment of mercenaries and I am also not supporting the carpet bombing of Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad islands, which the Presidency might be considering. Rather than the ongoing pinpricks bombing by the Nigerian Air Force [NAF], carpet bombing entails covering every inch of Sambisa with bombs. Amnesty International may cry foul, even though Europeans and Americans invented carpet bombing. The Fascists started it in Barcelona in 1938; German Nazis did it to Rotterdam in 1940; Anglo-American bombers did it to German cities of Wesel, Munich, Dusseldorf and Dresden in 1945. US Air Force bombed German cities and industrial plants with 1,000 planes in daytime while Britain’s Royal Air Force did the same at night.

Right now, Nigerian troops often lie in ambush on Boko Haram supply routes into Sambisa. They might be considering carpet bombing the route instead, as USAF did to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the famous underground supply route under mountain passes and thick forests through which North Vietnam supplied Viet Cong guerillas in South Vietnam. If the State Department protests, Lai Mohammed should remind them that they started it.

For a decade now, Borno’s Sambisa Forest has been the redoubt for Boko Haram because of its dense, mined and booby-trapped forest, which is nearly impregnable to ground forces. Faced with a similar terrain in Vietnam, the US Army used chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange, which shed all tree leaves and exposed the hidden guerillas. Since I am an environmentalist, I will not support the use of chemical defoliants in Sambisa Forest.

Or maybe Buhari and Lt Gen Buratai are considering the use of napalm. There is an infamous picture from the Vietnam war, of a stark naked Vietnamese girl child screaming in pain, her body half burnt by napalm that USAF dropped on her village. Nigerian Army might be planning to drop napalm in Mandara mountains and Lake Chad islands which will smoke out all the insurgents. Personally I will not support it, being a human rights activist.

Sometimes, political leaders approve desperate measures when their country’s existence is at stake. Winston Churchill said in his memoirs after World War Two ended that if Adolf Hitler had landed German troops in Britain in 1940, Royal Air Force would have gassed them with mustard gas right there on the beaches. I will not support the use of mustard gas to flush out Boko insurgents because I do not want our leaders to be hauled to ICC, which specializes in trying African, but not American, leaders.

Maybe out of desperation to end this war, Defence HQ may be studying the methods used by foreign forces to take out their enemies. For example, how Israel’s Mossad killed Palestinian bomb maker, “Engineer” Yahya Ayash in 1995. They created a fault in his telephone and when he took it for repairs, they rigged it with a bomb, which exploded when he answered a call.

Or what Afghanistan’s Taliban did to Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of their Tajik opponents in 2001. A TV crew went to interview Massoud and a bomb hidden in the camera exploded. Or may be DHQ is studying what the Russian Air Force did to Chechen separatist leader Dzohar Dudayev in April 1996. He was speaking by satellite phone on a field when a fighter plane struck. Or even, what Russia’s FSB did to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, leader of Riyadus Salikhin, who it blamed for the 2002 Moscow theatre massacre, the 2004 Beslan school massacre and assassination of President of Chechnya Ahmad Khadyrov in 2004. Dudayev was inspecting a consignment of smuggled landmines when FSB agents remotely detonated it and killed him.

Maybe our embattled service chiefs have biological warfare among their desperate options. Insurgents are concentrated in a few pockets. The Air Force may be planning to drop food items and clothing contaminated with anthrax spores in Sambisa and Lake Chad islands. The Army regularly captures people that supply merchandise to the insurgents. When the mercenaries demanded by Zullum arrive, they will say, instead of parading such people before pressmen, why not use them to supply clothing and medicines laced with anthrax spores to Boko Haram? I will not support it because I do not want Alhaji Lai Mohammed to be stammering when he is asked about the Convention on Biological Weapons.

Some foreign military contractors may even advise DHQ to harvest locust eggs from the Arabian desert, drop them in Sambisa just before the rains, so they hatch, swarm and eat all the leaves, severely exposing the insurgents. I will not support such a measure because as a biologist, I love the chlorophyll that makes leaves green.

Monday Column, December 7, 2020.

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