National Assembly plans to meet US Congress over $875m weapons deal stoppage


The National Assembly is billed to hold talks with the United States Congress over the stoppage of weapons sale to Nigeria, Saturday INSIGHT MEDIA 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 Muhammadu Buhari’s, 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.

Ndume added, “If you say you want to help somebody, it means that you have identified that they have a problem. So, when they want to solve the problem, they cannot do it with their hands. And then, when they want to use arms, they have to get it because Nigeria does not have the capacity to manufacture those things.

Also, the Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, said the lawmakers would deploy diplomatic means to resolve the issue.

Benson said, “There is what we call parliamentary diplomacy or advocacy. The US parliament is very strong and determines a lot of things. Plans have been in the works – not because of this – to visit the US parliament and explore ways of military cooperation and so on.

Recently, we visited the base where the Super Tucano aircraft were manufactured and what we all agreed was to cut out human rights abuses; that we needed to be more precise and ensure precision in whatever inventory or equipment we use so that we don’t hit collateral targets or innocent citizens unnecessarily.

If they don’t give us those armaments, it means that the human rights thing may worsen because there won’t be precision. One of the good things we got with the A-29 (Tucano) is that it is guided. But now, if they (US) are withdrawing, they are not helping us with reducing civilian mortality and building our human rights records.

Asked if the executive in charge of the Armed Forces should be more concerned about the records of human rights abuses than the legislature, Benson noted that it was still the same government and “there is no difference in Nigeria’s reputation and security that is at stake now.”

The lawmaker added, We as the people’s parliament need to ensure that when those in the executive go out defending the territorial integrity and internal security, they are more guided, and they need weapons to be well guided. And who produces the best weapons that can guide in this regard? It is them (US).

As a matter of fact, they have also trained our forces on how to minimise collateral damage and ensure civilian protection. There is ongoing training on that. If they now deny us, they are creating a bigger problem, not solving it.

Responding to a question of America wanting to see Nigeria walking the talk on human rights protection, Benson noted that the Lagos State Government “is doing a fantastic job” towards bringing closure to extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses by officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force.

Lagos and several other states had set up judicial panels to investigate and prosecute erring cops as well as compensate victims of their abuses.

We want them (US) to also look at that. I am sure that in the course of our diplomatic shuttle between the parliaments, those are the issues we would be bringing to the fore. We may not be perfect but we are taking great steps towards addressing the issues that were raised by their Congress,” he stated.

On how soon the Nigerian lawmakers would meet with their American counterparts, Benson said, “It is a top priority in our diplomatic shuttles. It was supposed to have been held but we are on recess. We hope that it would be done very soon. It is a matter that we would resolve. They just need assurances.

The lawmaker said, “It is said that the parliament is the heartbeat of democracy. It is the US parliament that is stopping this. Our parliament can also interface with them and make them to see the bigger picture; that if they are doing this, they are going to worsen the situation.

A ranking member of the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, criticised the US for refusing to sell arms to Nigeria when the same country had repeatedly declared interest in helping Nigeria to tackle its security challenges.

The lawmaker said, “We are having this challenge. You cannot move freely. This is a matter of Nigeria and Nigerians against insurgents and terrorists, and bandits who have graduated to an organisation that can be classified as a terrorist organisation. They are shooting down Air Force planes; they are killing people indiscriminately. This is why the Nigerian Government is looking for arms to fight them.

When these people (criminals) kill or abduct people, they are not doing it to only Christians. They are abducting every Nigerian that they can lay their hands on. So, why are they talking about human rights? Is it the human rights of a few individuals or the victims that are classified as Christians or Muslims? When you talk about religion, they have gone to Christian schools and abducted children; they have also gone to Islamic schools and abducted children who are even still in captivity till now.

He added, “We are trying to get our act together, not on newspaper yet, on how to appropriately respond or approach the matter to explain the situation to them (US). The Nigerian Government is clearly against human rights abuses; that is why it set up a (National Human Rights) Commission that is so independent.

The US is acting on what I will call misinformation. It depends on who gets to them and tells them what. You cannot say completely that there are no isolated cases of human rights abuse but what we are dealing with is more than that; much bigger and more people are affected – the innocent people who are being abducted on a daily basis, regardless of religion or tribe.”

Amid the growing security crises across the country, Buhari on Monday signed the 2021 Supplementary Appropriation Bill worth N983bn into law.

The supplementary budget, which saw some funds budgeted for the military and the police, had earlier been passed by the National Assembly.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Mr Umar El-Yakub, said the core target of the supplementary budget was the security and health sectors.

It targeted the provision of infrastructure to all the military formations – defence, army, police, civil defence, Department of State Services. All the security outfits in this country will benefit from the bill because of the President’s commitment to combating crimes and indeed insurgency and other security challenges facing the country; so this bill is very important and it has been assented to,” El-Yakub told journalists.

Also, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, had June said the budget contained an aggregate sum of N770.60bn to further enhance the capacity of the nation’s defence and the security agencies to enable them to address current and emerging security challenges in the country.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has said it is not aware of any $875m ammunition deal with the US which is being purportedly blocked by some Congress lawmakers.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, said this on Friday in Abuja, the News Agency of Nigeria reported.

Mohammed said there was no contract of such nature and sum between Nigeria and the US.

He said, “There is no contract of arms between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the United States of America today apart from the 12 Super Tucano attack helicopters, of which six had been delivered.

We are quite satisfied with the progress and cooperation that we received from the government of the US on this issue. As a matter of fact, six of the Tucano helicopters will be launched on August 3 this year.

We are not aware of the so-called $875m arms contract or some helicopters which they said some lawmakers in the US are trying to persuade the US not to honour.

However, Mohammed said the relationship between Nigeria and the US “is smooth and waxing stronger.