Two US senators, Cory Booker and Rand Paul have opposed the sale of attack aircraft to Nigeria, saying the country must investigate cases of alleged human rights abuses before sealing the deal with the US.
In a letter dated June 8 and addressed to Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, the senators expressed concern that Nigeria’s acquisition of these aircraft would “spur unrest and violence, particularly in the north-eastern part of the country.”
They said that if the aircraft are sold without any indication of Nigeria’s commitment to the protection of human rights, it would go contrary to the US security objectives.
While citing the Shi’ites “massacre” allegedly carried out by the Nigerian army and the accidental Rann bombing by the Nigerian airforce, they said there were allegations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the military.
Booker was part of a bipartisan group of senators that voted to block a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia “because of concerns over the country’s targeting of Yemen civilians”.
“We request that before you approve this sale, you brief us on the steps Nigeria has taken to investigate and hold accountable those that have committed human rights abuses. We believe the security threats Nigeria is facing are very real but that a sale of this nature, and at this time, is ill-advised,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“Boko Haram – a 5,000 to 10,000 strong insurgent force with ties to the Islamic State – will not be defeated through expanded air power alone.
“At the same time, there continues to be additional allegations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct throughout the Nigerian military. While some soldiers have been released or retired, there has yet to be any real or meaningful accountability for the systemic challenges that have plagued Nigeria’s security forces for decades.
“Without addressing these problems at an institutional level, reform is merely cosmetic and will only perpetuate long-standing patterns of abuse, which could serve as propaganda for Boko Haram and other insurgent groups seeking to discredit the Nigerian government.
“We are concerned that the decision to proceed with this sale will empower the government to backtrack even further on its commitments to human rights, accountability, and upholding international humanitarian law, which in turn could spur greater unrest and violence, particularly in the north-eastern part of the country.
“Accordingly, we strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria without any meaningful reform or any clear safeguards in place. Instead, we recommend you make clear to Abuja that the sale of these aircraft can proceed only if there is positive and measurable progress on reforming the security institutions.”
In April, Washington Post reported that the administration of President Donald Trump had agreed to sell 12 fighter jets to Nigeria at $600 million.
Quoting some officials, the newspaper had said congress was expected to receive formal notification of the deal within weeks.