The international media has being agog, in recent weeks, with reports that the Donald Trump administration was close to closing a mega $600M deal to permit the sale of a dozen highly sophisticated Turboprop fighter planes to Nigeria to aid its anti-terror war against Islamist fundamentalist group, Boko Haram in the country’s North-East. Nigeria is said to have been attempting to procure these highly eclectic combat aircrafts since 2015 when the Obama administration gave preliminary approval for the sale prior to vacating office, but the deal was put on hold as a result of some unfortunate incidents in Nigeria’s anti-terror campaigns in the North-East.
Turboprop Light Attack airplanes are reputed to be very effective for close aerial reconnaissance, close air support and counter-insurgency operations. They are equipped with multiple armaments, including precision-guided munitions. They boast advanced avionics, communications, and sensors and can operate from remote, unpaved airstrips. They have maximum speeds of 367 mph and flight ceilings of 6.6 miles, and they cost as little as $10M apiece or as much as $50M, depending on specifications. There are over 200 of these planes operating in 10 countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
If ultimately purchased by the Nigerian government, the Turboprop aircraft can become a game changer in the country’s long-drawn anti-terror campaigns in the North-East as it would, to a large extent, tilt the symmetry of power in favour of its military forces, who have sometimes come up short on the battlefront, due to its highly versatile functionality, ability to navigate seamlessly through rugged terrains with high temperatures and high humidity, and deliver appropriate firepower at the right time and at the right place. For a military that has at times found it difficult to contend with the guerrilla tactics of Boko Haram, a weapon as lethal and stealthy as a Turboprop would sure come in handy.
However, despite the burning desire of the Nigerian government to deliver on its promise of speedily and comprehensively obviating the Boko Haram menace within a short space of time, a desire shared by most Nigerians, there are serious reservations in some quarters that purchasing expensive fighter planes such as the Turboprop is not the most pressing item on the country’s scale of preference. This thinking stems from the debilitating effects of the dire economic downturn in the country which has stimulated an asseverating recession and fiscal cliff, thus, making it stupid for the authorities to have even contemplated the idea of spending such an astronomical sum on purchasing weapons of war in peace times. The aircrafts are luxuries Nigeria cannot afford in the present circumstance.
Thus, rather than encouraging capital flight through wasteful expenditure, the Nigerian government, considering the difficulties it is currently experiencing in shoring up the dwindling value of its national currency, the naira, should be seen to be acting more prudently and responsibly. Pulling out $600M from an already depressed economy to fund a war project is not only ill-advised, but unnecessary. The economy needs more injection of funds to stimulate its quick recovery, not a further depletion of an already overdrawn treasury.
Again, what are the guarantees that these aircrafts, if purchased, would be used in consonance with the rules of war as spelt out in the Geneva Convention and other related protocols defining the rules of engagement in armed conflict? The carpet bombing tactics that have become the trademark of the Nigerian Air Force in the North-East, which has resulted in civilian casualties, is an instructive point of reference. According to independent reports, the Nigerian Air Force has bombed civilian targets at least three times in recent years. In January, 2017, approximately 236 civilians and aid workers were killed when a Nigerian fighter jet repeatedly bombed a camp at Rann, near the border with Cameroon, where civilians had fled to escape Boko Haram. This coupled with the Amnesty International report that indicted the Nigerian military of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the extra-judicial killing of approximately 8,000 Boko Haram suspects, adds further credence to the arguments of those opposed to the procurement of the fighter planes.
Mr. Donald Trump, like most of his Republican predecessors in the Oval Office, is a core business man who is only interested in enriching the American military industrial complex, regardless of the consequences of these business deals. Unlike the Obama administration which stalled on the conclusion of the deal in reaction to the ghastly killing of non-combatants – including women and children – in the bombing sorties by the Nigerian Air Force in Nigeria’s North-East, Trump is a different kettle of fish. The aircraft sales to Nigeria are many military sales to other countries which are undergoing a final review before being submitted to Congress for approval. It is not a humanitarian gesture from the American government. Pure and simple!
Here is advising the Nigerian government to back out from the proposed arms deal with immediate effect as it would not be in the best interest of the populace who are made to bear the brunt of government expenditures. For a government that wants to earn the trust of Nigerians, especially in these times of low national morale, forging ahead with the deal would constitute a serious stab in the back; a gross betrayal of trust; a neglect of its fiduciary responsibility.
The Boko Haram menace can be fought and defeated, not only on the battlefields, but complementarily through a systematic, comprehensive and sustained approach that takes cognizance of the structural/background factors that cause terrorism and working towards checking them. Spending big on the military front, without making purposeful efforts towards redressing the social, economic and political injustices that make the country conflict prone, is like treating the symptoms of an ailment without proper diagnosis and prognosis. As Noam Chomsky in his masterpiece, “What Uncle Sam Really Wants” (Odonian Press. 1993) would say: “To destroy a virus, one must not only treat the virus, but also inoculate potential victims to make sure the virus does not spread”.