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Opposition to U.S. Military Aircraft Sale to Nigeria

May 18, 2016

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The New York Times on May 18 opposed the U.S. sale of military aircraft to Nigeria in an editorial titled Block the Sale of Warplanes to Nigeria. The core of the editorial’s argument is that President Muhammadu Buhari has not done enough to respond to charges that the Nigerian army has committed war crimes in its fight against Boko Haram. The newspaper also asserts that “Nigeria’s government cannot be entrusted with the versatile new warplanes, which can be used for ground attacks as well as reconnaissance.”

The newspaper cites the State Department’s annual human rights report, which it quotes as saying that Nigerian “authorities did not investigate or punish the majority of cases of police or military abuse” in 2015. It also cites a staffer to Senator Patrick Leahy as saying “we don’t have confidence in the Nigerians’ ability to use them (the aircraft) in a manner that complies with the laws of war and doesn’t end up disproportionately harming civilians, nor in the capability of the U.S. government to monitor their use.” Also cited by the newspaper is a report conducted by Amnesty International that states the Nigerian security services “murdered, starved, or tortured to death” more than 8,200 civilians between 2011 and 2015.

The New York Times acknowledges that President Buhari “is an improvement over his disastrous predecessor” and is fighting Boko Haram, which some U.S. military officials see as cooperating with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. It also notes the president’s anti-corruption campaign. But the paper’s bottom line appears to be that the Nigerian president has not done enough.

Senator Leahy is the author of the “Leahy amendment,” the law that blocks U.S. assistance to foreign military units credibly accused of human rights abuses. Opposition will also be supported by other American human rights organizations. Senator Leahy is a Democrat and represents Vermont. (Vermont’s other senator is Bernie Sanders.) A former president pro tempore of the Senate, Leahy commands immense respect on both sides of the Senate aisle. President Obama’s Democratic administration would sponsor the proposed armed sales, so opposition is likely to come primarily from within his own party and human rights organizations, which Democrats often regard as part of their core constituency. The Obama administration leaves office on January 20, 2017. It remains to be seen whether it will pursue the warplane sale, and if it does, whether it will be successful.