Boko Haram: Understanding America's New Song
A Reuters Exclusive should get us all, Nigerians, worried. The headline reads, “U.S. seeks to approve attack aircraft for Nigeria in Boko Haram fight”. When someone insists you should hire tarpaulin tents from them for a night time event in the dry season then one must find out their relationship with rainmakers. The development around the United States of America’s reported (possible) acquiescence to sell weapons to Nigeria has all the markings of a red flag operation that should send all those responsible for our security into panic mode.
First, the story cited sources that spoke on condition of anonymity for aspects pertaining to the possible aircraft sales while the analysts that provided clarity were clearly named. In the event that decision makers in Nigeria have cause to reject the crazy demands that will come attached to the several millions dollars bill for the 12 units of A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft we could be buying, the story has already created grounds for deniability. All the US administration has to do is to carry on as if nothing of such was ever discussed since no senior officials were named speaking on the plan.
As a guarantee that Nigeria would be boxed into a corner should we be unwilling to smooch the devil in the deal, “The possible sale -- which the officials said was favored within the U.S. administration but is subject to review by Congress,” is another groundwork that ensures the deal can be easily torpedoed should President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration fail to deliver on some conditions that could amount to Nigeria having resident colonial masters.
The brightest red flag is perhaps to be seen in the comments of J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council think tank, which the Reuters report acknowledged as cautioning that the Super Tucano aircraft “ability to counter Boko Haram could be limited.”
“When you're fighting a group that's no longer holding towns and villages, that's no longer massing forces in a conventional way, the aircraft – attack aircraft – have a much more limited role in that kind of fight," Pham was reported as saying.
So why is the US suddenly willing to assist Nigeria when their support to Nigeria is coming too late? If it is that they find a darling in President Buhari why did it take the whole of one year before the so call support is coming? We all know that in the one year, despite Mr President's pleas during several visits to USA, UK, France and Germany no support came.
The recall threshold of Nigerians is not that short that they would have forgotten the humiliation heaped on the country as it struggled to procure weapons to stop the killing machine that Boko Haram became. The Nigerian Air Force suffered several frustrations and outright blockade to procure needed platforms to fight the insurgent Boko Haram in the country. Things went tough enough that a local automobile company has to start fabricating spare parts for Nigeria’s fighter jets in what has emerged as a blessing in disguise.
All manners of excuses were cooked up to ensure the Nigerian military could not get direly needed hardware. This was at the same time that “moderate” terrorists were able to get their hands on state of the art weaponry, some of which ended up with Boko Haram to further compound the difficulty the military had in fighting them.
Then just when Nigeria is winning the war without tangible support from the USA, now that the Nigerian military is in the heart of Sambisa on its own, the leading nation in the free world has found a voice and willingness to support the Nigerian government. This is too little too late. Those who hold unto this announcement of US support will soon discover it is a mirage, a mere rhetoric with no concrete and actionable support. It is like scrambling to sign onto a winning team just when the garlands are about to be handed out.
To get a sense of what Nigeria is being offered, the Afghan Air Force ordered for 20 Super Tucano aircraft in 2012 and only began taking delivery in January 2016. That is a waiting time of four years. So, assuming the US Congress gives approval for sales to Nigeria under six months and we factor in three years for delivery; we will be looking at getting the aircraft into service in 2020. At the current rate of the success of Nigeria’s military, even with the cancerous nature of terrorism, the concern by year 2020 should be very different in terms of improvement. We would have thus helped oil the US economy and sustaining jobs in that country by paying for what we no longer need, the same ones they had once refused to sell to us.
We must also of necessity send pilots for training in flying the aircraft. (Something that will provide them opportunity to recruit spies right inside our Armed Forces and that Malian coupist, General Amadou Sanogo is a ready reminder)
Except the US know something they are working on that they have not shared with us like propping up Boko Haram to remain a credible threat in the region to ensure their defence industry can continue to sell weapons to lackey nations. What is driving this zeal to sell us wartime aircraft at a time we are hopeful of entering peacetime? As an expert pointed out, if we get the aircraft this minute it would not contribute anything meaningful to the current stage of military operations and it definitely will be even more pointless by 2020 when agricultural aircraft would be the need in the northeast of the country.
Post degradation of Boko Haram, surveillance would become priority and the country may just as well order Rotorway Helicopters at $100,000 apiece instead of selling ourselves down the river.
The Reuters report alluded to the convincing anti-corruption fight of the current administration as part of the factors that brought about the change of mind that is making the US consider selling the aircraft to Nigeria. That is an angle that simply doesn’t wash. One must urge at this point that President Buhari, while he may not be able to go public, must be on the same page as his security chiefs on this matter and hold nothing back from them. If the noxious U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) is part of the sweetener for this deal, Nigeria wants no part of it. The military chiefs have discharged their duties credibly to the admiration of Nigerians who have acknowledged that Mr President got it right with their appointment. He should listen to them.
If the US is truly committed to rendering assistance in finishing off Boko Haram, considering the progress our military has made on their own, there are several other areas it can step in. The first is to champion a global drive at recovering the weapons in the hands of “moderate” rebels since they have an uncanny way of ending up in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents.
Then it can help clean up the mess in Libya, where a report by Andrew Malone for the Daily Mail noted that “There are an estimated 15 million Kalashnikovs in a country of just six million people,” with the nature of the region, this has continued to impact incidence of terrorism in Nigeria.
Let no one be deceived. The offer to sell Super Tucano aircraft has everything wrong about it. The US should hold unto its support in this instance as we not only survived but also made headways without it in the recent past. One is tempted to ask, are we expecting a new Boko Haram?
Odoma is National Coordinator, Africa Arise for Change Network based in Abuja.