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Nigerian Vice President Confirms Secret Deal To Purchase U.S. Built Military Helicopters

Nigerian Officials have kept the deal for the United States (U.S.) manufactured aircraft and variants under the radar. The first public confirmation was made during a ceremony in Abuja with the U.S. Secretary of State.

The Nigerian Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, have confirmed the attempt by the Nigerian government to purchase military helicopters from the U.S. despite denial by Lai Mohammed, the country’s Minister of information.

The revelation was contained in the details of the remarks made by the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and Nigerian officials at the signing ceremony for a $2.1 billion development assistance agreement at the Aso Villa in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

“We – they’ve also been very supportive in the security area, provided a Super Tucano aircraft.  We have a slight issue with some attack helicopters, but that’s more on the legislative side and not on the executive side” said Onyeama.

On his part, the Nigerian Vice President spoke on security cooperation with the U.S. which he described as being very important.

“The Super Tucanos have been delivered, and of course, we’re looking forward to the helicopters as well.”

He also commented on intelligence support from the U.S. on the security issues in the Northeast and the Sahel.

Secretary Blinken’s remarks focused on areas of operations between the two countries.

“We very much appreciate, as well, the security cooperation that we’re developing and making sure that we do it in a comprehensive way that puts our concerns about people first and foremost in what we’re doing.”

In July, Lai Mohammed was quoted to have 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.”

The minister stressed that “We are not aware of the so-called $875million arms contract or some helicopters which they said some lawmakers in the US are trying to persuade the President of the US not to honour.”

His comments followed a Foreign Policy report on July 27, which revealed that top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have delayed clearing a proposed sale of the 12 AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and accompanying defence systems to the Nigerian military, citing U.S. officials and congressional aides familiar with the matter. 

Foreign Policy said the behind-the-scenes controversy over the proposed arms sale illustrates 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 U.S. lawmakers want to push the Biden administration to rethink U.S. 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 news outlet said.

The move to buy the AH-1 attack helicopters from the U.S. was kept under the radar and away from the public until the Foreign Policy publication surfaced.

The deal demonstrates the opaque nature of military acquisition in Nigeria as well as the human rights concerns surrounding the use of the equipment.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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