Members of the United States of America Senate Committee on Foreign Relations have delayed clearing the sale of 12 AH-1 attack helicopters and accompanying defence systems worth $875 million to the Nigerian military due to concerns about human rights abuse.
A United States-based magazine, Foreign Policy,reported that the proposed arms sale had raised concerns among Washington policymakers over how to balance national security with human rights objectives.
“The hold on the sale also showcases how powerful US lawmakers want to push the Biden administration to rethink US relations with Africa’s most populous country amid overarching concerns that Nigerian President,Muhammadu Buhari, is drifting toward authoritarianism as his government is besieged by multiple security challenges, including a jihadist insurgency,” the magazine posted on its website.
According to magazine, Senator Bob Menendez, chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for a “fundamental rethink of the framework of our overall engagement” with Nigeria during a Senate hearing with U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken in June.
Both Menendez and Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations , have placed a hold on the proposed arms sale, according to multiple U.S. officials and congressional aides familiar with the matter, who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity.
Foreign Policy also reported that the details on the proposed sale were first sent by the U.S. State Department to Congress in January before then-former U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, according to officials familiar with the matter.
In addition to the helicopters, the proposed sale included 28 helicopter engines produced by GE Aviation, 14 military-grade aircraft navigation systems made by Honeywell, and 2,000 advanced precision kill weapon systems—laser-guided rocket munitions, according to information sent by the State Department to Congress and reviewed by Foreign Policy.
Nigeria has relied on U.S. arms sales in the past to help address multiple security challenges: the 12-year insurgency by Boko Haram militants in the country’s North East, a spate of high-profile kidnapping-for-ransom campaigns targeting schoolchildren in the country’s North West, and deadly clashes between the country’s semi-nomadic herders and farmers fueled by climate change and environmental degradation of the country’s arable land.
The State Department describes the U.S.-Nigeria relationship as “among the most important in sub-Saharan Africa” and has provided limited funding for various military training and education programmes.
According to the medium, some experts said the United States should hit the pause button on major defence sales until it makes a broader assessment of the extent to which corruption and its management hobble the Nigerian military and whether the military is doing enough to minimize civilian casualties in its campaign against Boko Haram and other violent insurrectionists.
“There doesn’t have to be a reason why we don’t provide weapons or equipment to the Nigerian military,” said Judd Devermont, director of the Africa programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.
“But it has to be done with an assessment of how it will actually, one, change the direction of conflict in Nigeria, and, two, that they will use it consistent with our laws. In both cases, it’s either a question mark or a fail,” Devermont added.