The Trump administration has commented on the arms sale approved for Nigeria on August 2, 2017, but the comments left out many vital details.
Following a detailed request by TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington, D.C. on the arms deal now approaching almost two years without any concrete delivery date in sight, a State Department official in an email skipped several questions and provided general answers to specific requests.
“The United States sold twelve A-29 aircraft to the Nigerian government in 2017. The sale of these aircraft includes extensive training and other elements aimed at improving the professionalism of Nigerian security forces with explicit emphasis on respect of human rights, the protection of civilians, and adhering to the Law of Armed Conflict,” the official said.
The official only obliquely seemed to address concerns that despite growing human rights violations by Nigerian troops as recently released by the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, the Trump administration approved the arms sale blocked by the Obama administration.
President Barack Obama had blocked the deal amid concerns from lawmakers over human rights violations by Nigerian armed forces, especially after the Nigerian Air Force bombed a displaced persons’ camp in 2017 killing more than 100 civilians.
The Air Force claimed that its men mistook the camp for a gathering of Boko Haram insurgents. No one has been brought to justice for that massacre.
“The United States government continues to raise at the highest levels Nigeria’s need to honor its public commitments to improve respect for human rights, accountability, and the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms,” the official said in the email to TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.
“We continue to use our annual human rights report to highlight the need for credible, thorough, and transparent investigations, and accountability for those found guilty of wrongdoing,” the official added.
On August 2, 2017, the Department of State notified the United States Congress of a proposed sale to Nigeria of up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano Light Attack Aircraft, training, munitions, related equipment, and maintenance support valued at up to $593 million, under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
These aircraft, the State Department said back in August 2017, “offer improved targeting capabilities, allowing Nigeria to more effectively lead the fight against Boko Haram and the ISIS West Africa branch, while also potentially reducing risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties”.
“The training included in this comprehensive package would help build the skills and procedures to effectively and responsibly operate the aircraft in accordance with international human rights law and the law of armed conflict”.
The Trump administration described Nigeria back then as “a strategic partner of the United States“, adding that “we continue to work closely together on security matters. We provide a range of assistance to the Nigerian security services, including advisors, intelligence, training, and related support activities”.
The administration added that “the United States is committed to working with Nigeria and its neighbors to combat Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa”.
“This proposed sale is one element of a broader effort to help our regional partners protect civilians, respond to the humanitarian emergency in the region, and restore governance in the affected areas”.
Last year, President Donald Trump commented on the arms sale to Nigeria during President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the White House on April 30.
During their Rose Garden news conference, following a question about the turboprop A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft at the heart of the deal, President Trump repeatedly called the attack aircraft “helicopters.”
“We make the best military equipment in the world, and our friends can now buy that equipment,” Trump said in the Rose Garden, President Buhari standing beside him.
“We love helicopters. He loves them more than I do,” Trump said of Buhari. “He likes buying helicopters, and they’re buying a lot of helicopters.”
A Nigerian reporter had told President Trump that Nigeria was in “dire need” of the Super Tucano to fight Boko Haram insurgency, and asked him whether he would “be kind enough” to release at least two by 2020.
Her question came after Nigeria received some helicopters from Russia, and the reporter may have mistaken them for attack aircraft from the United States.
“Real soon,” Trump told her. “Part of the problem is you weren’t allowed to buy helicopters in our country and now you are. I worked that out so that now you can buy the helicopters that you want.
“They weren’t allowed to buy the helicopters for various reasons, which frankly weren’t good reasons. Now they get them, and they get them very quickly, and they are the best helicopters in the world,” Trump said.
President Trump claimed that the arms deal was the first-ever sale of American military equipment to Nigeria, an information that was not correct.
He described Nigeria as “a valued partner and a good friend.”
Buhari had at the same news conference earlier on thanked the United States for the A-29s that were approved by the Trump administration, but were yet to be delivered.
During his visit to Nigeria, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan, also commented on the arms sale to Nigeria.
“As we consider the deadly enemies facing the Nigerian people – including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa – I want to emphasize today that the United States is Nigeria’s partner in this fight. We are committed to helping the Nigerian people provide their own security,” John Sullivan said, adding that “since the last BNC, we have made tremendous progress.
“For example, the A-29 Super Tucano Foreign Military Sales package is one element of our broader security cooperation in support of the modernization of the Nigerian military. But a military response alone in the Northeast cannot lead to sustained peace,” he said.
According to Sullivan, Nigeria’s success does not just depend on its military effectiveness on the battlefield. “It requires improvements to the economy and governance off the battlefield as well. In other words, a comprehensive response is necessary to build a better future in the Northeast”.
“Nigeria cannot simply restore the Northeast to what it was before the destruction brought about by Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. The Nigerian government, with civic leaders and a wide range of community leaders, must work together to create a durable social, economic, and political infrastructure to support lasting peace and development for decades to come.
“That must include transparent and credible investigations of human rights violations and mechanisms to hold those found guilty accountable for their actions. This is essential to deepening the people’s trust of the government, strengthening security efforts in the Northeast, and improving the United States’ ability to partner with Nigeria,” he added.
But since those comments were made, nothing seems to have changed. A 2018 human rights violations report released by the State Department this year chronicled grave human rights violations still taking place in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast where Nigerian troops have continued to kill many civilians and detained many other innocent people.
Two years on, since the deal was announced, and one year since Presidents Trump and Buhari praised it at the White House, the U.S. Department of State was unable to provide details on why it’s taking so long.
More importantly, the Department could not tell this medium how much money has the Buhari administration paid so far. Attempts to get these answers from the Nigerian military proved futile.
As Boko Haram continues to kill many civilians in Northeast Nigeria, most Nigerians still do not have the necessary details on the arms sale.
Many people do not know exactly when would the weapons be supplied, or how much money has been paid so far and when will the payment be completed.
An attempt by TODAY NEWS AFRICA to get answers to the above concerns in the United States and Nigeria were not very successful. At least, for now.