•Uganda, Kenyan soldiers also owed
Eleven months after they were deployed on peace enforcement duties in Somalia as Formed Police Unit (FPU) to assist the Somali police maintain law and order and provide cover for the country’s first democratic elections holding tomorrow, Nigerian troops have not been paid, Assistant Editor Seun Akioye, who was with the troops in Somalia, reports
Superintendent of Police (SUPOL) Theophelius Eze is an epitome of tough cops. As the commandant of the 140 strong contingents of Nigerian mobile policemen deployed in the war blighted Republic of Somalia on peace enforcement/support duty, Eze and his men are the last line of defence between the dreaded Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen otherwise known as the terror organisation Al-Shabaab and the government troops.
Eze and his men, referred to as the Formed Police Unit (FPU) in Somalia have their duties spelt out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). They are to, among others, provide training and logistics support for the newly formed Somali Police Force (SPF); secure and restore civil order in all territories retaken from Al-Shabaab and provide security for the Individual Police Officers (IPO) specially recruited by the African Union (AU).
In the police unit of the AMISOM troops, only the officers in the FPU are permitted to bear arms.
“Before coming, we were trained for six months, we knew it will not just be peacekeeping but peace support operations, we were trained by the Nigeria Police in all manners of operations including crowd control and Very Important Personality (VIP) movement,” Eze said.
He and the other officers are not the first Nigerians to be deployed in Somalia. They are the fifth batch of 140 mobile unit contributed by the Federal Government AMISOM operations to bring lasting peace to Somalia.
Five other African countries, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti also contribute military troops to the mission.
The first batch of mobile policemen, who touched down at the Mogadishu Airport in Somalia in September 2012, was holed up for almost half of the six months of the tour of duty at the base camp, a gigantic military fortress built by the AMISOM.
In 2012, much of Mogadishu and the rest of the vast Somalia geography were still in the hands of Al-Shabaab.
The police worked behind the lines as the military began to take more territories, pushing the terrorists back into the countryside. Slowly, the Nigerian police began to enforce civil order, training and supporting the ragtag undisciplined and totally unprofessional Somali Police.
‘We suddenly realised we were fighting terrorism’
There was nothing to prepare the fifth batch of Nigeria police contingent for the shock that awaited them in Somalia. Not even the training in the country. The team suddenly realised they will not be keeping peace and controlling crowd, their presence alone made them prominent targets for Al-shabaab. “When we got here, we suddenly realised we were fighting terrorism and we have to adjust to that reality,” Eze said.
The police were camped at the Stadium barracks, situated in Yawshid District, one of the most undesirable neighbourhoods of Mogadishu. The stadium, where the policemen are accommodated, has a not-too-sterling record. Before Al-shabaab took over the capital city, it was where sporting activities held and talents discovered, but Al-shabaab turned it to its slaughter lab where offenders were routinely beheaded. All over the buildings, one could see the handiwork of bullets, mortars and rockets.
The camp is heavily guarded, but not fortified enough to ward off terrorists’ attacks.
“They (terrorists) usually attack us from the air,” said Muhammed Sani, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), who is FPU’s Operations Commander.
The terrorists have are delighted shelling the camp of the Nigerian troops. Earlier this month, four of such of such bombardments killed two civilians but none of the officers was affected.
The Nigerians are also put in harm’s way any time they go on patrol. In August, during a tour of duty, a female cop, Ladi John, a Sergeant, was shot at close range by the terrorist.
“She was shot at close range, the bullet missed her heart by the whiskers. She was rushed to Nairobi where she spent two months recuperating. Thank God she is back and she is alive. This is one of the hazards of the job. We have seen worst things,” Sani said.
But Eze said his team has devised a method to checkmate the terrorists. Not fool-proved though, the method has helped in the past to avert greater tragedy.
Eze said: “We are proactive about security here; we do not allow them to bring the fight to us; we have been successful using the cordon and search approach which we do majorly on intelligence. We do that twice a week with our mentees – the Somali Police. Recently in Bakara Market, we recovered large cache of materials used in making Improvised Explosive Device (IEDs).”
But the gallant Nigerians face a lot of challenges from explosions daily.
“Since we recovered the IED materials, we just realised that bombs have been going off indiscriminately in Mogadishu. This country is highly unpredictable, anything can happen anytime” he said.
Nigerians securing the election
After battling terrorism for more than a decade, AMISOM has created enough security for the “democratic electoral process” to take place. But the new-found democracy is unlike what obtains in most African countries as there is no universal suffrage here. In 2012, when President Hassan Sheik Mohammed was selected, only 135 elders combined to produce the President.
“But there is a big improvement this year, according to Deqa Haji Yusuf, the Deputy Chairman, Federal Indirect Electoral Implementation Team (FIET) which is responsible for the conduct of the election.
“Unlike the last time, we have been having elections into the Upper and Lower House. Already, 53 out of the 54 spaces in the Upper House has been filled while the process to fill 275 seats in the lower house is ongoing.
“The two Houses will later come together to elect the President. There will be 14,025 electorates participating in all of these elections this year and already, we have 18 per cent women participation. This is a big step towards what we call one man, one vote election scheduled for 2020,” she said.
Security has been a big issue in the electoral process, a situation which is responsible for the constant postponement of the polls, although Yusuf said the presidential election billed for tomorrow, would go on as planned, there is no concrete indication that this will happen.
Ten aspirants, including a woman, Fadumo Dayib, are in the race to become the next president. Barring the unforeseen, the next president would lead the country out of war to prosperity.
The FPU made up of the Nigerian and Ugandan troops are playing a big role in tomorrow’s election. The Police command in Somalia has suspended almost all other activities for the election according to Christine Alalo, the Deputy Police Commissioner.
“We are training the SPF on how to handle the elections. Nobody is allowed to come in armed near the polling units,” Alalo said.
Nigerians are responsible for the security of the two main polling units in Mogadishu. According to Eze, the Special Forces branch of the SPF – trained by Nigerians – is working closely with him to secure and control the polling units.
Mogadishu: It’s two murders a day
Peace support operations in Mogadishu are being compounded by proliferation of guns in the ancient city and the most common crime perpetrated is murder. According to Alalo, there are at least reported cases of two murders every day. “The commonest crime in the city is murder. There are least two reported of such cases every day. There are guns everywhere in the hands of the people. Some still hire militia to protect them and the solution we have is to increase our cordon and search operations. Through this, we have been able to recover many guns and other dangerous weapons,” the Deputy Police Commissioner said.
Some of the Nigerian officers who spoke to The Nation in confidence said the security situation in Mogadishu is dire and that the troops risk their lives going out on patrols daily.
“That is what we do every day. We only go out in our armoured vehicles called Mambas. We wear bullet proof vests all day. This is the most difficult battle in the world today,” an officer, who pleaded for anonymity, said.
But the FPU may soon found a way around the security situation in Somalia, according Ambassador Francisco Madiera, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. He said AMISOM is planning to begin troops draw down in 2018 to kick off the process of allowing Somalia to take charge of its own affairs.
Alalo said the police high command is in a hurry to train and allow SPF take over the country’s internal security. “We plan to train more police officers. In every state, we will recruit at least 2000 officers and there will be at least 500 officers in Rapid Response Unit (RRU).”
“We have not been paid for 11 months”
The threat to the Nigerian troops is not only from Al-Shabaab. The contingent suffers from non-payment of allowances and emoluments. Since the team arrived in Somalia on January 6, no allowance has been paid to any of its members.
The situation has dampened the morale of the hard- fighting troops. Commander Eze is having it tough inspiring and reassuring his men.
“Since we came here we have not been paid. The situation has not been palatable. Sometimes, the thought of it would dampen the officers morale, no one is sure when the money will be paid so it is not funny at all,” Esther Markus, an ASP said.
The Nigerians are not the only ones who suffered this fate, the troops from Uganda and Burundi are also being owed several months. Burundi recently threatened to withdraw its troops if the money due to the soldiers is not paid.
According to The Nation’s investigation, the European Union (EU) is directly in charge of paying AMISOM troops while the United Nations (UN) provides the logistics, including equipment. According to Hubert Price, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the issue of non-payment of troops is being looked at with a view of finding a solution to it. But while the EU and its partner agencies are “looking into the matter” the Nigerian troops are going through a tough time.
To worsen matters for the Nigerian troops, the Federal Government did not give the officers any money prior to their departure from Nigeria. The officers therefore survive on whatever personal resources they took from home.
The situation is more compounded for the 30 female officers, whose personal needs supersede that of their male counterparts. “We don’t have money to buy anything. If members of your family cannot send money to you from Nigeria, then you just continue to eat and go to work,” Sarah Logji, an Inspector of Police said.
More worrisome is the fact that none of the officers have been able to visit home on holiday for 11 months.
AMISOM, it was learnt, offers a return ticket to its officers from Somalia to Kenya. Therefore, if the Nigerians must return home for the three weeks break, they will have to pay their way from Kenya to Nigeria. “Where is the money? To go to Nigeria will cost nothing less than $800-$1000. Where will you get that from when you have not been paid,” Markus said.
In many foreign missions, contingents are usually paid some stipends for personal maintenance and the head of mission would have some out-of-pocket allowances or petty cash for exigencies. But the Nigerian government provided no such funds, even though Eze refused to speak on the issue, The Nation learnt that the troops involved in AMISOM lack access to minimum comfort.
A top official of another contingent, whose country’s troops have not been paid, said the situation is worse for the women as some of them have started seeking alternative means to make ends meet. “Please don’t blame them because there is nothing they can do. The IPOs are better and regularly paid, so, to survive, these junior officers would follow them. I will not be surprised if it is not already happening to your country’s troops too,” he said.
But Eze continues to inspire his troops. The problem, according to him, is not that of the Nigeria Police but that of the EU.
“The situation is demoralising but we cannot afford to allow that affect our work. We must never let that happen. I tell them every day that the money will be paid. There is no doubt about that; it has not reached Abuja or we would have received alerts by now, but we just don’t know when it will be paid,” he said.
What’s Nigeria’s interest in Somalia?
AMISOM is a big mission in Somalia and it requires a lot of planning and logistics. With over 21,000 troops and AMISOM still asking for additional 4,000, the needs and opportunities for countries are endless. The UN is unambiguous in its determination not to deploy boots to Somalia anymore but said it is willing to fund additional troops from willing African countries. In the meantime, its personnel are on ground, providing logistics and support for the troops. In this, Nigeria is missing out.
Nigeria has been in Somalia since 2012 but very few Nigerians are benefitting in direct employment. The country has 22 IPOs who are directly recruited and one Staff Officer Movement Control, Major Jude Eze. Most of the employment in administration and training has been taken over by Kenya and to some extent, Uganda.
There are the business opportunities too. No Nigerian is part of the contractors accredited to supply much of the needed materials, either in food or other logistics. Again, the Kenyans are dominating this arena.
“What is Nigeria’s interest in this Somalia? Gone are the days when nations just sacrifice for another country without getting something in return. Where are the Nigerian businessmen? Where are the technocrats? This country has one of the longest coast lines why are we not here? Why are we not exporting our food stuff here? Why are we not supplying cement? Is AMISOM buying oil from Nigeria? What is our gain in this war?” an angry senior officer, who pleaded not to be named, said.
But Eze disagreed with his position. He said as Africans, we need to sacrifice for one another and ensure there is stability in all the regions. He said terrorism in Somalia has an overarching effect on what is going on in the Northeast.
Lessons to be learnt
Many of the police officers said they have learnt many lessons serving in Somalia even though they were there to also impact on the society. According to ASP Markus, most Nigerians are yet to understand the dynamics of dealing with terrorist attacks.
Markus said: “If there is a bombing here, you will see everybody will lie down, both young and old even their animals, that shows that they already know what to do, but you find in Nigeria, people will rush there without knowing that the bombings might occur again.
“Also, there is this sandbags which are deployed around the cities, it is a good cover in case of attacks. I think we can also adopt that in Nigeria,” she said. Many of the officers confirmed they have learnt the virtue of patience and tolerance.
There is also the talk of Nigeria deploying its military, especially the Air Force to shore up the operations against Al-Shabbab.
According to a top Ugandan military officer, Nigeria would have learnt a lot in dealing with Boko Haram insurgents if it had deployed its army in Somalia.
“You see, there are things to learn here if your military had been here. You would have learnt how to properly respond to Boko Haram because the two terrorist groups deploy similar tactics. The experience here would have helped your country’s military in your own terror fight. It is still not too late to deploy and help,” the official, who pleaded not to be named because was not authorised to speak on the matter told The Nation.
Troops home sick
The officers are also looking forward to coming home; many of them left spouses and children at home and have not seen them for almost a year.
“I think everybody in the FPU should be looking forward to going home. It has been an eventful one year and we need to see our families,” Eze said.
The troops believe they are making Nigeria proud by their exceptional service. “We are the only troops that the ordinary Somalis love. We are grateful to the Nigeria Police Force for this opportunity to serve and please, help us to tell Nigerians that we are here and working and making the country proud,” ASP Amaechi Faraday, said.