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LAST week on this page, I was in the lighter mood, commenting on the revelation of our government’s award of a multi-billion naira annual contract for pipelines protection to some prominent ex-Niger Delta militants, and the negative reactions and comments it had attracted. In that lighter mood of mine, I also explained that I personally saw nothing wrong in contracting out protection of our nation’s vital assets to those guys, after all, no other set of Nigerians, in my view, knows the network of pipelines in the creeks more than the guys who had made a flourishing career of tracing and vandalising them over the years. Neither the Nigeria Police nor the armed forces can boast a good knowledge of the creeks! In any case, it appeared the wise thing to do, considering that the nation’s security services have not been able to secure these pipelines over the years against those who made a career of vandalising them. Let’s not forget that the army claimed it had been over-stretched in internal security operations across the nation.
Besides, these guys are now in their well-deserved retirement from that ignoble vocation, courtesy of the Federal Government’s amnesty programme which persuaded them to lay down their arms. Today, while thousands of former militants have benefited from the amnesty programme and are undergoing technical training in different countries across the globe, their former leaders and ‘Generals’ like Dokubo-Asari, Ateke Tom, Government Ekpemuopolo, aka Tompolo, and Boyloaf who, of course, are too big for any such training, are also enjoying their own shares of the national cake through the juicy contract awards. Come to think of it, shouldn’t these guys be given these juicy retirement packages, if only to serve as a disincentive to their returning to pipeline vandalism and militancy? Don’t mind me!
On a more serious note, today’s piece is about the current global practice of outsourcing or contracting aspects of security to private outfits and companies that specialise in security matters. The practice is not new, only that it is taking on greater significance across the globe. In contemporary times, the private security sector is assuming increasing importance, with private security providers now dabbling into and, in some cases, taking over areas and functions that were traditionally reserved for states and their official security outfits such as the police, armed forces and other security and intelligence agencies. Today, there are scores of such private security providers and contractors at both the national and international levels. Two categories are prominent, namely, Private Security Companies (PSCs) and Private Military Companies (PMCs).
When combined in the same outfit, they are referred to as Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs). The first type is usually a civilian security outfit that specialises in providing a range of vital but non-lethal security services, such as personnel protection, electronic security, escorting goods and deliveries, protecting buildings and strategic installations, among others. I think the pipeline protection services being rendered by the ex-militants mentioned above falls into this category. On the other hand, the Private Military Companies, as the name implies, are trained military professionals providing lethal and offensive services and combat roles of a military nature. In this category are mercenary groups and soldiers of fortune. A famous PMC on the African continent was the now defunct Executive Outcomes, a South Africa-based mercenary company that offered combat services to a number of African governments. This outfit was contracted by the government of Sierra Leone to help fight the rebels and secure the diamond mines at a time during that country’s bloody civil war when it appeared its own armed forces were no match for the murderous RUF rebels.
Generally across the globe today, the state’s traditional monopoly of the legitimate instruments of violence, which was a distinctive characteristic of the state alone, has come under increasing contestation. This is evident in the evolution and proliferation of registered mercenary groups, private military and security companies taking over security functions that hitherto were the exclusive preserve of states and their official security agencies such as the police and armed forces. In reality, these private military and security outfits have highly trained and skilled professionals, ex-military officials and others with diverse specialised skills in security matters that provide much needed private and corporate security services to individuals, companies and corporations, public and private sector organisations, and even senior government officials.
For example, the US government and NATO employ several such private security companies extensively in their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively to perform specialised functions such as convoy escorts, delivery of vital goods in hostile areas, protecting vital installations, providing security training for locals, collecting intelligence, and providing logistics, which invariably allow the regular armed forces to concentrate on their traditional functions. Instead of regarding the pipeline protection contract as a strange or unusual thing, it is important to note that private security protection is a burgeoning enterprise which should be encouraged and developed to harness them for the provision of certain aspects of internal security. Doing so will free the traditional official security outfits from the drudgery of non-essential security services such as offering personnel protection which the Nigeria Police has done for decades. It is ridiculous that a point in time, there were more policemen guarding private individuals and their families than were available for other serious policing functions in a country that is grossly under-policed. In today’s world, there have arisen great security challenges which states alone cannot address without overstretching themselves, and these include organised crime, transnational terrorism, environmental threats, natural disasters, civil disturbances for which armed forces and police may be inadequate or unsuitable because of local sensibilities with regard to uniformed soldiers and policemen.
In reality, the use of private security companies may be necessary to reduce reliance on the armed forces to complement the police for internal security operations and thereby curb their penchant to arrogate extra-constitutional political roles to themselves. Many Nigerians have seriously objected to the practice of soldiers mounting road blocks and such other security duties. In a post-military Nigeria, the need to reduce the military’s exposure and visibility in essentially civilian functions cannot be over-emphasised. In any case, soldiers often operate under strict rules and guidelines, such as wearing of uniforms and official insignia of rank, operating under a rigid command structure with little room for flexibility when dealing with civilians, and carrying their weapons openly as required by law, which invariably intimidate and scare civilians.
Their weapons are usually heavy and their tactics, such as barking orders at civilians, are too intimidating for civil purposes. Their command structure often renders them inflexible, and their gruff and brusque tactics make them ill-suited for basic civil protection purposes, except may be in extreme cases where only the presence of soldiers can instill and inspire confidence, such as in areas where the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists are operating. These generally hamper soldiers from being able to cultivate close and intimate relationships with the people or communities they are expected to protect. All this contrasts sharply with private security outfits whose non-uniformed civilian personnel can and do mingle freely with the people; able to penetrate difficult areas; they are more flexible in operation and can also be perceived as being generally politically neutral and non-partisan since they are essentially profit driven private companies.
Let me drop a caveat. This piece is neither against nor an endorsement of the pipeline protection contract. It is merely to furnish knowledge of the increasing relevance of private security outfits and the factors which compel states to outsource certain security functions to them. I do not know the mind of government or what informed awarding the pipeline protection contracts, whether it was in line with the current practice of using private security contractors or simply to put money in the pockets of so-called ex-militants to purchase political peace. Everybody knows the importance of petroleum and its contribution to the national economy. Nigeria is substantially dependent on the petro-dollar earnings from the Niger Delta region and thus cannot afford to joke with security in that region. The pipelines thus represent the nation’s economic jugular veins that must be jealously protected by all means necessary. It is common knowledge that effective policing of the pipelines in the creeks is beyond the capacity of the Nigeria Police. The deployment of the armed forces to complement the police has not also helped matters. Then, may be the next thing is to engage private security contractors with skills and expertise for the job.
However, some pertinent questions should be raised, concerning the contracts, and the competence of the security contractors to secure the pipelines from being vandalized. Do the ex-militants to which this job has been contracted have real and registered private security companies of their own or were the contracts simply awarded to them in their personal recognisance? If they have real security companies, what is the level of training, expertise, professionalism and experience of their personnel? Do they have the requisite discipline, and equipment for the job? What is the actual size of their workforce that makes them capable of adequately securing the network of pipelines? Regarding training and discipline, private security companies are often not accountable to anyone and have been known to operate in ways that verge on lawlessness in the enthusiasm to impress their clients. One then wonders whether these ex-militants have any real security training beyond their experience of vandalising the pipelines in their previous careers.
Would they be breaking any laws in the performance of their security functions? Who are they accountable to, and through what channels? Can the operatives of these private security companies be trusted with our oil resources, knowing full well that some of them had been implicated in oil bunkering in the past? These are just a few of the concerns that need to be considered by the relevant authorities. If properly addressed, there would be no need for anyone to demonise or object to these private security contractors simply on account of their criminal past.Share