When in May this year the very unpredictable American president Donald Trump called our president Muhammadu Buhari, then on his London sick bed to wish him well and assure Nigeria of American help in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists, we suspected something good was in the offing, but perhaps not as good as the news received shortly afterwards. Trump’s election as US president in November last year was totally unexpected in Nigeria because Republican administrations have not been known to be friends of Africa.
So it came as a surprise that the Trump administration was “greenlighting” a nearly $600 million sale of high-tech attack planes to Nigeria. According to State Department officials, “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 are believed to already have the Super Tucano.
The report came as a surprise because Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barak Obama had stopped the dea after a Nigerian fighter jet allegedly bombed a camp near the Cameroon border housing civilians who had fled Boko Haram. It was said that “more than 230 people were killed, in an incident that brought new attention to alleged abuses by Nigeria’s forces”.
However, the situation appears to have changed as, according to John Campbell, a Nigeria scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, “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”.
The deal needs to be approved by the US Congress.Observers see no obstacle there because the president’s Republican Pary controls both chambers of the legislature. Congress has 30 days to debate it. If approved, the sale will allow Nigeria “buy up to 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp.”. The aircraft come with sophisticated targeting equipment that the U.S says will help Nigeria fight terrorism, trafficking, insurgency and illicit trade.
There has been no official Nigerian government reaction to the report since it broke on August 3. The news will be largely welcome by Nigerians at home who are beginning to worry afresh over what was suspected a Boko Haram rebound. The group, July 25, pulled off a dramatic ambush of a Nigerian military convoy, killing over a dozen soldiers.
However, there are some aspects of the proposed sale that will ruffle feathers in Abuja. It requires that the US “send employees or contractors to Nigeria to provide logistical support and train teams on how to use the aircraft”and “provide guidance on international laws for protecting civilians”.
The question is which side will underwrite the officials’ accommodation costs and salaries. There are also security concerns over allowing the American military access to sensitive defence installations and intelligence. We hope it does address those concerns in an unambiguous way. If it does, why not, we welcome the sale.