As United States President Barack Obama tinkers with a trip to Nigeria in July, the US government has said it is poised to sell up to 12 light attack aircraft to Nigeria.
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.
Last year Buhari while in the US, criticised the law, which was used to block the sale of the Cobra helicopters by the Israelis to the Nigerian government in 2014.
The proposed sale reflects the warming of the relationship between the Nigerian and American militaries, which had frayed under Jonathan.
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.
But that was before Buhari, a former Nigerian Army major general, defeated Jonathan in an election last year.
Since coming into power, Buhari has devoted himself to rooting out graft in Africa’s largest economy.
He 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.
A move to sell the Super Tucano attack aircraft to Nigeria, first reported byReuters, would continue the détente between the two militaries, administration officials said.
The Super Tucano, a turboprop aircraft, is designed for light attack, counterinsurgency, close air support and reconnaissance missions. It could prove useful as the Nigerian military tries to clear Boko Haram out of the Sambisa Forest, which is believed to hold large numbers of the terrorists, as well as kidnapped girls and women.
The administration has not made a formal decision to send a notification to Congress, but a senior administration official said he expected one soon. President Obama is considering a trip to Nigeria in July.