Military contractor says Nigeria’s President Buhari ignored intelligence on Boko Haram for political reasons

Chairman of private military company Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP), Eeben Barlow has expressed concern over the death of more than 100 soldiers in Metele, Borno State Nigeria. The soldiers were killed in an attack by terrorist group Boko Haram.

STTEP, which provides military combat forces was hired by the Nigerian government in 2015 to provide military training for the offensive against Boko Haram, but politics took its toll, as the new government led by President Muhammadu Buhari wanted STTEP out as soon as he assumed power. STTEP had trained the 7 Infantry Division and 72 Mobile Strike Force (MSF). Barlow said the president’s false narrative that Boko Haram had been technically defeated was at best political, as President Buhari, a retired General should know better.

“There is, in a purely military sense, no such thing as a ‘technical defeat’—something the President, as an ex-military man ought to know,” wrote Barlow in a Facebook Post titled The Ongoing Conflict in North-Eastern Nigeria. “His narrative that Boko Haram was ‘technically defeated’ was false as soon as he uttered those words.”

President had in December 2015, seven months after he was sworn in, announced that the Nigerian military had technically defeated Boko Haram. He told the BBC that the terrorist organisation could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centres. But attacks have continued in the country’s northeast region, most unreported.

Ignoring Intelligence

Barlow revealed that STTEP’s intelligence warnings were rejected in favour of President Buhari’s false narrative. Despite knowing that the army was ill-equipped and lacked adequate training to fight insurgency, the government has maintained its narrative.

“The initial 3-phase campaign strategy (known as ‘Operational Anvil’) to degrade and destroy BH in Borno State, was rejected by his advisors. Instead, pressure forced only a small part of the campaign to be successfully implemented before we were ordered to pack up and leave,” Barlow wrote.

“Prior to, and following our departure from Nigeria, we issued numerous intelligence warnings to his government. These warnings covered the implications of not allowing the 72 MSF to annihilate BH in Borno province; the plans by Boko Haram to rearm and escalate their activities; the implications of regional spill-over, the impact on the armed forces; and so forth.

“These intelligence warnings were all rejected in favour of a false belief. Neighbouring countries were advised not to listen to us as it was claimed to be a cheap attempt to ‘get a contract’. Chad, Cameroon and Niger are now also reaping the benefits of rejecting intelligence in favour of an agenda-driven narrative aimed at destabilising an entire region—a region where Nigeria remains a prime target.”

“They were, however, quite happy to allow the armed forces to receive both substandard training and the incorrect equipment provided by both foreign governments and their PMCs—along with the worst possible ‘military advice’. When this approach failed, the military could be blamed for any lack of success.”

All about politics

According to the security expert, there are rumours that “President Buhari viewed Boko Haram as an instrument that could reduce the force and standing of the military and thereby protect him from a possible coup d’état”.

While the presidency is expected to turn up with a defense and dismiss Barlow’s revelation as the work of detractors, the STTEP chariman’s post makes one wonder why President Buhari has retained his service chiefs despite their seeming incompetence in the face of Nigeria’s biggest security threat. There have been rumours in the past that no matter what happens, President Buhari will retain the service chiefs until after the 2019 elections.

Barlow added that while it remains a government’s prerogative to ‘hire-and-fire’ as it wishes, President Buhari’s move made it look as though he preferred defeat over victory, noting that soldiers can only do what they are trained, equipped, and led to do.

“Don’t blame the armed forces when poor political decisions result in the deaths of people,” he wrote.

However, Barlow stated that Boko Haram can be defeated but “victory requires more than a few soundbytes”.

“Soundbytes do not—and never have—resulted in victory over an enemy,” Barlow wrote.

The STTEP chairman’s post comes as President Buhari’s political opponents reacted to the death of the soldiers killed by Boko Haram terrorists, in a move political and security analysts see as calculated to undermine the security credentials of the president ahead of the 2019 elections. Incidentally, President Buhari had reacted similarly when in the opposition ahead of the 2015 elections which saw him defeat sitting president Goodluck Jonathan. But as president, his comments about the deaths were belated and raised criticisms.

Also published on Medium.