The National Assembly is billed to hold talks with the United States Congress over the stoppage of weapons sale to Nigeria, Saturday PUNCH has reliably learnt.
The Senate and the House of Representatives may be sending different delegations to meet with their American counterparts on how to successfully procure attack helicopters and other arms and an munition in a deal valued at $875m (N360bn).
Chairmen of different security committees in the National Assembly, in separate interviews with one of our correspondents between Wednesday and Friday, confirmed knowledge of the deal’s stoppage and their readiness to seek legislative and diplomatic interventions.
The US lawmakers are holding down a proposed sale of warplanes to Nigeria amid mounting concerns over the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd), human rights record as the country grapples with multiple security crises.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the Congress has reportedly delayed clearing a proposed sale of 12 AH-1 Cobra fighter jets and accompanying defence systems to the Nigerian military.
The proposed sale also includes 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 Magazine.
A report by the magazine on Tuesday said the behind-the-scenes controversy over the proposed arms sale illustrated a broader debate 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 Joe Biden administration to rethink US relations with Nigeria amid overarching concerns that Buhari is drifting toward authoritarianism as his government is besieged by multiple security challenges, including the Boko Haram insurgency.
Western governments and international human rights organisations have ramped up their criticisms of the Buhari regime, particularly in the wake of its ban on Twitter, systemic corruption issues, and the Nigerian military’s role in crackdowns on #EndSARS protesters last October.
The details on the proposed sale were first sent by the US State Department to Congress in January before then-former Vice President Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, according to officials familiar with the matter.
Nigeria recently took delivery of six out of the 12 Super Tucano fighter jets purchased from the US government.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, noted that the US lawmakers had expressed concerns over rights abuses in Nigeria.
He recalled that the American government raised similar concerns when Nigeria ordered 12 Super Tucano aircraft, part of which had been delivered.
Ndume said, “When we resume at the National Assembly, after consultations, we will know what to appropriately also do as the Nigerian National Assembly that appropriated such amount of money for those purposes…even if it requires our intervention… Definitely, this is based on information that was given (to the US) by one side.”
Asked if the National Assembly would engage the US Congress on the matter, the lawmaker said, “Yes, that is possible. That is what is right. If it requires that, we would do it.”
Ndume added, “What is going on (in Nigeria) and what the arms are needed for, every Nigerian knows. We are not acquiring arms in order to abuse human rights; we are acquiring so the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies can be armed because of the security challenges we are facing. These are two different things. Human rights and the fight against terrorism, banditry and other forms of criminality are different things entirely.
“So, I am surprised that the US Congress is mixing up the things. If it requires that they should hear from the side of the Nigerian Government – not even the executive because the Nigerian Government which we are in collectively is fighting against banditry, insurgency, which is terrorism, and which the American Government has even placed bounty on some of their (insurgents’) heads – they will.”
Speaking on funding for the Armed Forces, the lawmaker said it “is adequate for now, based on the resources at the disposal of the Nigerian Government.”
The lawmaker, however, stated that the country had serious challenges in terms of adequate equipment and platforms for the Forces “while the government has appropriately responded.”
He also noted that the American Government had offered to assist Nigeria in the fight against insecurity.
“That is what the arms are meant for,” he stated.