John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Opposition to U.S. Military Aircraft Sale to Nigeria

by John Campbell
May 18, 2016

U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Clayton, an 81st Fighter Squadron instructor pilot, flies an A-29 Super Tucano in the skies over Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, U.S., March 5, 2015. (Reuters/enior Airman Ryan Callaghan)

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The New York Times on May 18 opposed the U.S. sale of military aircraft to Nigeria in an editorial titled Block the Sale of Warplanes to Nigeria. The core of the editorial’s argument is that President Muhammadu Buhari has not done enough to respond to charges that the Nigerian army has committed war crimes in its fight against Boko Haram. The newspaper also asserts that “Nigeria’s government cannot be entrusted with the versatile new warplanes, which can be used for ground attacks as well as reconnaissance.”

The newspaper cites the State Department’s annual human rights report, which it quotes as saying that Nigerian “authorities did not investigate or punish the majority of cases of police or military abuse” in 2015. It also cites a staffer to Senator Patrick Leahy as saying “we don’t have confidence in the Nigerians’ ability to use them (the aircraft) in a manner that complies with the laws of war and doesn’t end up disproportionately harming civilians, nor in the capability of the U.S. government to monitor their use.” Also cited by the newspaper is a report conducted by Amnesty International that states the Nigerian security services “murdered, starved, or tortured to death” more than 8,200 civilians between 2011 and 2015.

The New York Times acknowledges that President Buhari “is an improvement over his disastrous predecessor” and is fighting Boko Haram, which some U.S. military officials see as cooperating with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. It also notes the president’s anti-corruption campaign. But the paper’s bottom line appears to be that the Nigerian president has not done enough.

Senator Leahy is the author of the “Leahy amendment,” the law that blocks U.S. assistance to foreign military units credibly accused of human rights abuses. Opposition will also be supported by other American human rights organizations. Senator Leahy is a Democrat and represents Vermont. (Vermont’s other senator is Bernie Sanders.) A former president pro tempore of the Senate, Leahy commands immense respect on both sides of the Senate aisle. President Obama’s Democratic administration would sponsor the proposed armed sales, so opposition is likely to come primarily from within his own party and human rights organizations, which Democrats often regard as part of their core constituency. The Obama administration leaves office on January 20, 2017. It remains to be seen whether it will pursue the warplane sale, and if it does, whether it will be successful.

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  • Posted by Bruce Uba

    Mr. Campbell, your brief article overlooked the fact that there at least two important issues involved in the support of the Nigerian military by the US: One, the US needs to have serious allies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is very significant in the West African and Central African Region. How the US develops and manages that relationship must certainly include a military element giving the prevailing enormous security and terrorist challenges that are posed. The question of human rights of the military and security personnel in Nigeria is also an important issue, but a separate one. It arises largely from the poor selection, poor training, poor motivation, poor salaries, poor equipment and rampant corruption, within the military itself. Isolation by the US (which is what a denial of the sale of these aircrafts will result to) cannot be the solution to this problem, but rather, more robust engagement, co-operation, aid and empowerment.

  • Posted by SG Shehu

    Type your comment in here…First the US policy makers should understand that the aircraft are meant for the use of the Nigerian Air Force which as a Service does not have allegations of violations of human rights. Second it should be clear that denying the Nigerian military the needed equipment indirectly prolongs Boko Haram reign of terror which could lead to even more horrendous violations and possible abductions and hostage taking the US clearly has a moral obligation and humanitarian obligation to stop this from happening. In the light of this the US ought to make an exception on the Leahy Ammendment based on humanitarian imperative. Give the Nigerian Air Force the much needed planes while continuing to demand for accountability and respect for international laws. The US could even make compliance as a condition for further military cooperation

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