Lhe US State Department finally approved a major sale of attack helicopters to Nigeria for nearly $1 billion last week, despite concerns over human rights in Nigeria’s most populous country. Africa. The sale, which includes 12 US AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and associated military equipment, including guidance and night vision systems as well as training support, is estimated at $997 million.
It will make it possible “to better equip Nigeria to […] promote regional stability and enhance interoperability with the United States and other Western partners,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said. This sale “will constitute a major contribution to the security objectives of the United States and Nigeria, a strategic partner in sub-Saharan Africa”, added the DSCA in a press release.
In addition to their air-to-ground firing capabilities, the AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters can also be used during reconnaissance and escort missions, indicates the American manufacturer Bell Textron on its website.
A Washington partner in the sub-region
In November, on the occasion of his first tour of sub-Saharan Africa, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Nigeria to play a greater role on the continent while encouraging it to be more transparent in its management of rights. humans. The largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria, home to 215 million people, is a key player on the continent in the eyes of the various American administrations, which have all courted Nigerian leaders since the restoration of democracy in 1999.
But the American discourse towards Nigeria had hardened, especially after the bloody repression of a vast peaceful protest movement against police violence in October 2020. The American Congress had also delayed the sale of military equipment to Nigeria in the face of questions on the army’s commitment to protecting civilians in its fight against the jihadist insurgency that has been waged in the northeast of the country for more than a decade.
Last year, the African giant began receiving American Super Tucano ground attack aircraft. President Donald Trump gave the green light to the sale in 2017, suspended by his predecessor Barack Obama following an accidental Nigerian strike on a refugee camp, which killed more than 100 people.
For twelve years, northeastern Nigeria, hundreds of kilometers from the northwest, has faced a jihadist insurgency. The groups Boko Haram and Iswap, affiliated with the Islamic State, operate there.
The criminal gangs of the northwest, on the other hand, act for financial reasons without ideological claim. But the infiltration of jihadists within them raises many concerns. Indeed, since May 2021 and the death of the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, many jihadists have surrendered to the authorities or joined Iswap. Both factions have killed more than 40,000 people over the past decade and more than two million people are still displaced from their homes due to ongoing violence. But a minority of them have also moved into northwestern Nigeria to form gangs, according to security reports.
At the end of March, a sophisticated attack launched against a train connecting the capital Abuja to a city in the north-west, during which 8 people were killed and a significant number of passengers kidnapped, shocked the most populous country in Africa. But the modus operandi is more like the methods employed by jihadist groups. Despite military operations and amnesties, attacks are increasing.