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US Suspends Attack Helicopter Sale To Nigeria Over Human Rights Concerns

The United States lawmakers have paused a proposed sale of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter to Nigeria. But the setback could push Nigeria to buy military hardware from China and Russia.

Members of the United States Congress have placed on hold authorisation process for the sale of AH-1 attack helicopters and support systems worth about $875 million to Nigeria over human rights concerns.

The attack helicopters deal has not appeared in public comments by military and political leadership or in the recent defence budget, however, HumAngle believes authorities  could have used the recent supplementary budget approved for military equipment.

An American news outlet, Foreign Policy, reported on July 27 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 added that 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.

According to Foreign Policy, details on the proposed sale were first sent by the U.S. State Department to Congress in January before Joe Biden was inaugurated as president.

It added that “the proposed sale included 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.”

Former U.S. President Barack Obama stopped the sale of Cobra helicopters by Israel to Nigeria and the A-29 Tucano deal due to human rights and the bombing of Rann displaced persons camp.

However, a deal for 12 A-29 was later actualised under then-President Donald Trump with the first batch of six already in the country.

The Nigerian Government has other attack helicopter options including continuing the purchase of the Russian MI-3M or MI-28NE helicopters.

The variant of the AH-1 and the Nigerian Service seeking the aircraft is unclear, although the Nigerian government may have gone for the Jordian owned AH-1 helicopters or new variants of the aircraft the AH-1z offered by Bell.

In 2019,  senior officers of the Nigerian Army Aviation Corps met with soldiers from the California Army National Guard’s 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment.

During an engagement with the Commander of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in February, Nigeria’s Minister of Defence Bashir Salihi Magashi solicited U.S. assistance and support towards making the Nigerian Army Aviation fully operational.

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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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