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The mercenaries take over

February 27, 2009

Image removed.The Niger Delta is crawling with British and American private paramilitary companies providing security services for clients in the oil and gas industry, in clear violation of Nigerian law, according to a weeks-long investigation by Next on Sunday.

No fewer than 10 such companies, prominent among them Control Risk-- which has on its payroll the former body guard of Diana, the late Princess of Wales-- as well Erinys International and ArmorGroup, currently operate in our restive Delta, some through opaque partnerships with local companies.

These paramilitary organisations, which used to be known as mercinaries or soldiers of fortune, operate in such violent outposts as Iraq, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan. They provide, in the Niger Delta as elsewhere, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism services, personnel security, and anti-piracy operations. The Niger Delta in particular has become notorious for piracy, kidnapings, and sabotage of oil installations.

Our laws forbid foreigners from operating armed security companies or paramilitary organisations of any kind and, strictly speaking, these hired guns are forbidden from freelancing here.

But almost all of them have sought to get around the law by forming vague partnerships with local companies and by claiming to provide mainly advisory services, which contradict their stated objectives and services on their parent websites and their known activities in other countries.

Government denial

Astonishingly, our military and security services also claim to know nothing of their presence.

“I am not aware,” said the spokesman for Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Col. Christopher Jemitola. “If there is any evidence, including photographs, bring them up and we will address the issue.”

Some of the security companies also claim not to bear any arms in the Delta, a chaotic frontier where foreigners are routinely kidnaped and gunfights are a fact of daily life in cities such as Port Harcourt and in the creeks of the mangrove swamp.

This denial beggars belief, said Ishola Williams, a former commandant of the Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command.“They must be magicians,” said the retired general. “Are they going to fight the militants with karate or judo? We have to be very realistic, because if someone gives you a contract to provide protection for oil workers in the Niger Delta, what would you do-- you would go there with your bare arms?”

Apart from the Biafran war of 1967-70, paramilitary groups are relatively new to Nigeria. But the protracted and deteriorating insurgency in the Niger Delta has made them increasingly sought after. One of the security companies that claims local partnership in Nigeria is Erinys International, a British company with experience of guarding oil installations in Iraq.

Erinys claims to operate in partnership with the Ibru Organisation, as described on the company’s official web site.

The company touts its partnership with the Ibru Organisation as a union between a group whose “portfolio includes oil and gas interests and facilities, port facilities, banking, hotel and real estate,” and Erinys’ own expertise, “the ability to migrate unique expertise gained in Iraq and elsewhere in the protection of oil and gas-related critical infrastructure.

The partnership will enable Erinys to facilitate “negotiations with the company and various local groups which are putting pressure, either peacefuly or brandishing weapons, on oil companies working in the Niger Delta.”

Repeated telephone calls to Oskar Ibru, vice chairman of the Ibru Organisation, went unanswered. Mr. Ibru also failed to respond to several text messages.

In the wild frontier of the internet, private military companies are rife and active, peddling their services to prospective patrons. Many of them have announced that they are now operationally domiciled in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, and some claim they work in partnership with the military Joint Task Force, the Nigeria defence forces known by its acronym JTF and which has primary responsibility for security in the area.

A JTF spokesman, Musa Sagir, denied knowledge of the existence of the foreigners nor any collaboration with them. We don’t have any connection with any foreign military contractor,” Col. Sagir said, adding that “With my inside knowledge and experience in the Niger Delta, in particular River State, I don’t have formal or informal knowledge of the existence of foreign military contractors.”

What was more, he added, somewhat indignantly, “we are trained for the job and we know what to do at the right time.”

Willaims, the retired general and now head of the local Transparency International office in Nigeria, was buying none of that. “Remember that these are government officials. If they say they know them, you as the press will go and blow it up that foreign military companies have taken over the job of security in this country and what are they doing? The House of Representatives will take it up and want to investigate, and it shows the weaknesses of all the armed forces and all the security agencies in Nigeria.”

Official denials and a seeming lack of awareness of the activities of these companies also demonstrate the enfeebled state of the Nigerian state, said Kayode Soremekun, a professor of international relations at the University of Lagos.

“My own problem here is that the ministry of internal affairs and ministry of defence are not aware of their existence,” Soremekun said. “It is either one or two things: the ministry of defence is genuinely ignorant of this particular development, or it is pretending. Either way it does not bode well for the Nigerian state. And it simply shows what a lot of people had thought all along, that those who really control the Nigerian state, those who really determine what happens in the Nigerian state, cannot even be located in this country. You can locate them offshore.”

The companies one their activities

Since our laws do not allow for foreign owned security company to operate locally, most of these private security contractors have resorted to calling themselves “risk management consultants” rather than hired guns.

This way, they are able to provide a cocktail of services and products that are not different from what regular private military companies provide-- or what the same companies do elsewhere in countries like Sierra Leone,

This much was admitted by officials of AmorGroup, another British private security company which was recently acquired by Group 4 Securicor, or G4S, which claims a partnership with a local security guard company called Asset Guard.

Derek Warby, chief of AmorGroup for West Africa, told us that his company does not function in Nigeria as a paramilitary organisation at all, but merely does consultancy in risk management and risk mitigation for unnamed clients.

The legality of this type of arrangement is unclear. An official of the Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps, the agency responsible for licensing private security guard companies, told Next on Sunday that the agency was unaware of such partnership arrangements and that, if they existed, they would still be illegal by virtue of the 1986 Private Guards Company Act.

The Olive Group, another private security company, sees the perceived vagueness of the law as leaving enough room to claim compliance. Paul Ananaba, counsel to the Olive Group, said because the law is silent on partnership arrangements, “the question of its illegality does not arise.”

The evident sensitivity surrounding the presence of these private military groups leads all of them to act cagily or speak only through lawyers. None, for example, agreed to disclose clients.

ArmorGroup, for example, states on its corporate web site that a key client is “a major German construction company” that “boasts a workforce of over 17,000 employees” (hint: Julius Berger.)

At Control Risk, yet another of these security companies active in the Niger Delta, company spokesman, Edward Murray, told Next on Sunday to “go to hell” when asked to help define the scope of their Nigerian operations.

The company states that it is in Nigeria to protect British oil workers and names “a large oil producer” as a client. However, its mission includes, according to its official web site, “the provision of technical security services (onshore and offshore) and sophisticated management of security strategy in places where security is linked to broader issues of social performance.” In plain English, the company guards oil company interests against restive locals.

Control Risk caught national interest recently when we revealed that Trevor Rees the body guard of the late Princess Diana, has signed a two-year contract with to protect British oil workers at a daily rate of about £300 (67,000 naira.) Officials of Control Risk declined to comment on Mr. Rees’s stay in Nigeria because “if we say anything about him that will place a huge burden on him, and he himself could become a security risk-- if you know what I mean. He will be like a Christmas tree that everyone wants to hang something on.”

Among the foreign security companies active in the Delta is Triple Canopy, which has offices in Lagos. The company says it set camp in Nigeria and “mitigates risk and develops comprehensive security programmes for government agencies, private corporations and non-governmental organisations working in high-risk environments.”

Triple Canopy says it is a full-fledged military company that provides services such as prevention and resolution of kidnapping, provision of personnel security, and the teaching of shooting skills, among other functions.

The attraction of Nigeria, it says, is its “instability and social turmoil that have created unique security challenges for individuals and enterprises operating within its borders.”

Other prominent private paramilitary contractors domiciled in the Niger Delta are Aegis Defence System, and Northbridge Service Group, the successor company to the now defunct Executive Outcomes, the notorious South African paramilitary force known for its role in helping the Angolan government during the war with the rebel UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi,and for fighting directly in the Sierra Leonean civil war.

The private military business globally is estimated to be a $120bn industry.


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