Last month, August, US State Department approved the $600m sale of 12 highly sophisticated attack aircraft to the Nigerian Airforce. These were for the fight against the Boko Haram terror group. This sale had been negotiated with the former US President Barack Obama’s administration.


The deal itself was suspended after the mistaken bombing of an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. The bombing took place near the Nigeria-Cameroon border by a Nigerian [Defence Forces] jet. This is the third bombing of civilian settlements that the Nigerian government has been accused of. The government claimed it believed it to be a Boko Haram base camp. The death toll from this incident early this year totalled 236 with 9 Red Cross workers’ lives lost. This and other accusations of human rights violations by the Nigerian government led to the suspension of the sale deal. This came under the USA Leahy Law which prohibits US military assistance to security force units suspected of gross human rights abuses. The prohibition is lifted once the human rights violations and accusations are effectively addressed. The USA Congress [effective 4 August 2017] has a thirty-day period within which they can debate and block the sale proposal. 

Human Rights

Major questions have been raised regarding the future threat of human rights abuses.  Further, regarding the United States’ interests in this sale proposal. In the 2016 County Reports on Human Rights Practices, the US State Department asserted that “few steps” had been taken by the Nigerian government to “investigate and prosecute officials who committed violations”. In April this year, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Robert Corker (R-Tenn) voiced his support of the trade deal. He added “We need to deal with human rights issues, but not on weapons sales”. This may sound contradictory- especially in regard to the Leahy law. But taking to account Nigeria’s geographic position at the edge of the ungoverned semi-desert, the Sahel, and America’s active role with the MJNTF [African multinational joint task force combating the Boko Haram]. This could be seen as the USA’s contribution to anti-terror efforts in Africa. However, the MJNTF- an African Union approved coordinated military effort between Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Niger- has been inconsistent in its performance.


Even with United States’ continued logistics, equipment and intelligence support. Further, after the capture of their operations base in Sambisa Forest in Borno State late last year, the Boko Haram have stuck to operating in the shadows and conducting asymmetric attacks on civilians with no known central base: how effective will these high-tech fighter planes be against this group? A 2016 report conducted by Dr Botha, Mahdi Abdile and partners found that many joined the Boko Haram group because of human rights abuses. These abuses were suffered at the hands of the military and sought revenge. 

The recklessness of anti-Boko Haram efforts has so far bred recruit fodder and civilian casualties. One can only predict the devastating effects of mishandled high-tech attack planes. The current American administration hails this sale as likely to improve relations between America and Africa’s economy giant. Adding that it will create employment as well as benefit US manufacturing. Moreover, it confirms Donald Trump’s pledge to support nations fighting Islamic extremist groups. 


Nigeria, working its way out of a hard-hitting recession, is facing difficulty paying the salaries of its military men in the frontlines. This purchase is forecasted to take up half of the [Nigerian] annual defence budget. Further, religious tensions are mounting and there are lack of resource allocation to humanitarian efforts in the North of Nigeria. Atta Barkindo, in researching political violence and the Islamic radicalisation of Nigeria’s North. 

By Patience Nasieku