Nigeria has got the green light to acquire some American attack planes to fight Boko Haram, officials of the Trump administration have said.
The deal, which is about $600 million, will strengthen Nigeria’s fire power against Boko Haram and other extremists, AP reported.
The approval is despite U.S. concerns about human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces. The military has denied such abuses, which have been a subject of big rows with Amnesty International.
Specifically, Nigeria plans to buy up to 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp, according to officials who were briefed on the matter but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the development publicly. The aircraft come with sophisticated targeting equipment that the U.S says will help Nigeria fight terrorism, trafficking, insurgency and illicit trade.
In his final days in office, former President Barack Obama put the sale on hold after a Nigerian fighter jet repeatedly bombed a camp near the Cameroon border housing civilians who had fled Boko Haram. Local officials have said more than 230 people were killed. The incident brought new attention to alleged abuses by Nigeria’s forces.
A few weeks later, newly inaugurated President Donald Trump said he supported the sale. He told President Muhammadu Buhari that it would increase American exports and help Nigeria fight terrorists, according to officials.
The move is Trump’s latest to arm countries despite their questionable rights records, a report said. On his first trip abroad as president, Trump announced a $110 billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, including precision-guided munitions that Obama had cut off over concerns about high rates of civilian casualties in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is at war with Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen.
Despite approving the sale to Nigeria, the U.S. is keeping up the pressure on Buhari administration to improve its forces’ human rights practices and ensure accountability for violators, a U.S. official said. The aim of the sale is to help Nigeria and its neighbours strengthen their ability to fight Boko Haram and an Islamic State group affiliate in West Africa. Other countries in the region fighting similar threats already have the Super Tucano, the official noted.
ABOUT THE AIRCRAFT
The Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, also named ALX or A-29, is a turboprop light attack aircraft designed for counter-insurgency, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance missions in low-threat environments, as well as providing pilot training. Its features include Top speed: 593 km/h,Range: 4,820 km, Cruise speed: 520 km/h, Engine type: Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6, Manufacturer: Embraer
The State Department notified Congress late Wednesday of its plans to approve the sale. That triggered a 30-day review period in which lawmakers can try to block the sale. While several Democrats in particular have raised concerns, Congress is unlikely to stop the administration from proceeding.
John Campbell, a Nigeria scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations said concerns had receded somewhat as Nigeria has taken steps to address shortcomings, including granting the International Committee of the Red Cross access to some Nigerian detention facilities.
“There are signs of some progress,” Campbell said. Still, he said Nigeria had a “long way to go.”
If the sale goes forward, the U.S. will have to send employees or contractors to Nigeria to provide logistical support and train teams on how to use the aircraft. They also would provide guidance on international laws for protecting civilians, officials said.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been accused of bombing civilian targets several times in recent years. The State Department said in report last year that the Nigerian government has taken “few steps to investigate or prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained widespread at all levels of government”.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest consumer market, with 170 million people, and the continent’s second-largest oil producer. It is strategically located on the edge of the Sahel, the largely lawless semi-desert region bridging north and sub-Saharan Africa where experts warn of Islamic extremists expanding their reach. More than 20,000 have been killed and about 3 million displaced in Boko Haram’s insurgency since 2009, in which the extremist group has sought to enforce strict Islamic rule.