The US government has said it is on the brink to sell up to 12 light attack aircraft to Nigeria. THISDAY reports.
The decision on arms sales is coming less than two years after the US blocked the sale of American-made Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria from Israel because of human rights violations in the country’s prosecution of the war against Boko Haram.
A report in the New York Times on Sunday said the sale was part of efforts to support Nigeria’s fight against the Boko Haram terror group.
But the pending sale of the Super Tucano attack warplanes which would require congressional approval, is already coming under criticism from human rights organisations that say President Muhammadu Buhari has not done enough to stop the abuses and corruption that flourished in the military under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
According to the New York Times, “Officials at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon have been bracing for a fight with congressional Democrats, in particular Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, over the sale of the planes.”
Senator Leahy is the sponsor of the Leahy Law passed by the US Congress barring the US government from selling American arms to countries’ militaries with a history of human rights abuses.
The Pentagon often bypassed Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram, choosing to work directly with neighbouring Cameroun, Chad and Niger.
In addition to citing corruption and sweeping human rights abuses by Nigerian soldiers, American officials were hesitant to share intelligence with the Nigerian military, saying Boko Haram had infiltrated it. That accusation prompted indignation from Nigeria.
Since coming into power, President Buhari has fired a number of Nigerian military officers accused of corruption, and American military officials say they are now working closely with some of their counterparts in Nigeria, said the NY Times.
The Obama administration is also considering sending dozens of Special Operations advisers to the front lines of Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram, an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians in the country’s North-east as well as in Cameroun, Chad and Niger.
Buhari has also pledged to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and has said he would not tolerate them.
General Mark A. Milley, the US Army chief of staff, is attending a meeting of top African military officials, including from Nigeria, in Arusha, Tanzania, this week. Aboard his flight on Saturday, General Milley declined to comment on whether Nigeria’s human rights record had improved enough to warrant the sale, but said one of the reasons he was attending the meeting was to learn more about the African militaries with which the Pentagon is working.
Consideration of selling the attack aircraft to Nigeria is a sharp turnabout from two years ago, when the United States blocked the sale of American-made Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria from Israel, amid concerns about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.