The United States State Department has cleared the sale of 12 AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria worth nearly $1bn, apparently after US lawmakers lifted objections over human rights concerns.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Thursday announced the sale of the helicopters and related defence systems to the Nigerian military.
The package includes $25m for human rights-related training, according to YahooNews.
The sale includes the Bell-made Cobras; 28 General Electric-made T700-401C engines; 2,000 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems used to convert unguided missiles into precision-guided missiles; and night vision, targeting and navigation systems.
The case highlights the Biden administration’s attempts to balance human rights concerns in the arms sale process.
Foreign Policy had reported in July that the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed the sale amid concerns Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was drifting toward authoritarianism. The country is facing multiple security challenges, including terrorism.
“Nigeria requires a fundamental rethink of the framework of our overall engagement,” committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the diplomat’s testimony before the panel last year.
Menendez also tweeted that “the Nigerian government must get serious about security” after the militant group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolboys in December 2020. The Nigerian government also ran afoul of the New Jersey Democrat in 2019 after arresting one of his constituents, Nigerian-American journalist Omoyele Sowore.
According to the announcement, $25m in the package will be dedicated to “institutional and technical assistance” to Nigeria’s military to continue its Air-to-Ground Integration program, which concerns targeting processes that are consistent with international humanitarian law and the laws of armed conflict.
“The proposed sale will better equip Nigeria to contribute to shared security objectives, promote regional stability and build interoperability with the U.S. and other Western partners,” the announcement read.
“This sale will be a major contribution to US and Nigerian security goals,” it added
The development appears to open a new chapter in US-Nigeria relations.
The United States had last May said there was no plan to relocate its Africa Command from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any other part of Africa despite the worsening state of insecurity in the region.
The US gave the response barely two weeks after the President, Muhammadu Buhari appealed to the US government to consider relocating AFRICOM to Africa to assist Nigeria and other adjoining countries to combat worsening terrorism, banditry and other security crises.
The President made the plea in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on April 27, 2021
Germany-based Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the US military headquarters that oversees its operations in Africa.
Buhari’s request followed a series of recent military casualties in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against Boko Haram terrorists, fresh expansion of the insurgents’ bases to Niger and Nasarawa States, and heavy waves of abductions and killings by bandits in the North.
Buhari had said, “In this connection, and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation.”
However, the US government later ruled out any plan to relocate AFRICOM from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any part of Africa.
According to the United States Department of Defence’ Pentagon, previous studies have shown that the cost of relocating AFRICOM from Germany to Africa is very huge.