Nigeria, Arms Procurement And Its Diplomatic Implications


By Joe Onwukeme

In recent weeks, it has been a kind of “Jaw Jaw diplomacy” between Nigeria and the United States government over alleged refusal of the United States to sell lethal weapons to Nigeria’s armed forces.

The United States government has come out to deny the accusation, insisting they have learnt their lessons the hard way in the past regarding the sale of arms to other nations to combat terrorism.

Nigerian government was disenchanted over US government’s refusal to sell arms and has decided to purchase of the lethal arms from Europe.

The United States and Russia over the years have been stuck in a clash of very different beliefs and ideology- the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction formed the basis for an international power struggle with both sides vying for dominance and exploiting every opportunity for expansion anywhere in the world.

There was a time the United States government and Russia signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Prague, a pact to cut nuclear arsenals and it was a significant change in the right direction. The pact didn’t last and for the past two decades, disputes between the United States and Russia were handled on a practical level, they had to do with clashes of interest, dealings with Russia’s neighbours, the use of force, conflicts over trade and sometimes for pride.

The United States and Russia have always been in the habit of misreading each other’s actions, and with mutual trust all gone between the two powerful and opposing nuclear giants of the world, there is no hope of both countries resolving their diplomatic brawl anytime soon. Any ally of any of the opposing bipolar nations that goes to do a deal as powerful as arms procurement with their perceived enemy may as well be assumed to be an enemy.

Nigeria’s decision to go to the far East to purchase lethal arms for its armed forces may worsen the strained diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the U.S. government.

Before now, we have long been close allies with the US. Our colonial heritage, nature of our politics and economy shaped our foreign policy to be that of pro-West. The United States is no doubt Nigeria’s greatest trading partner and undeniably its most important diplomatic partner over the years.

Many may argue that as a sovereign nation we owe no nation any explanation on where to go and purchase lethal weapons for our armed forces but the question is, have we thought of the “diplomatic implications” of such action?

Nigerians that are in tune with foreign affairs are divided over our government’s decision to go to the far East to procure arms for our armed forces. Some are asking how is Russia and its allies perceived in international affairs? Have we had a good diplomatic rapport with Russia and its allies in the past?

If Nigeria succeeds in procuring arms from Russia, between East or West bloc, which one are we going to belong to?

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A nation with a “dependent economy” should be careful with its foreign policies. It is not a hidden fact that we depend on the West for almost everything we need in Nigeria, from financial aids to food, businesses, energy, health, education, entertainment, automobiles, etc.

A dependent and depleted economy like ours cannot in all ramifications be able to justify its decision to purchase lethal arms from perceived enemies of the West. Have we thought of what will happen to us as a nation if other Western allies decide to support U.S. government and cut off  their diplomatic ties with Nigeria in this imbroglio we are instigating against the U.S?

The non patronage of our crude oil by the U.S. since July this year has already depleted our economy and it has led to the devaluation of the naira, with our government calling for austerity measures as an interim remedy. This is the first time since 1973 that U.S. government did not export a single barrel of crude oil from Nigeria, though the non patronage of our crude oil has nothing to do with the assumed diplomatic brawl between these two nations. If lack of patronage of our crude oil by U.S. alone could lead to this economic crisis facing our nation, what if the U.S. government decides to place an economic embargo on Nigeria?

The United States government has been vocal in their positive but dissenting disposition in defending their actions.

According to the U.S. envoy to Nigeria, Ambassador James Entwistle in a recent chat, “Over the past decade, the U.S. has learned that defeating terrorism requires more than just military power. It requires protecting civilian populations despite the fact that terrorists don’t. It requires working to develop impoverished areas where extremism takes root. It requires ensuring that education is accessible to all. It requires empowering a free and fair press to report openly and without fear of reprisal. And, perhaps, most importantly, it requires engaging the growing youth populations that are being swayed towards extremism due to lack of economic opportunities, education, and distrust of government. In other words, it requires a comprehensive, whole of government approach.”

The United States government, over the years has been supportive in different capacities in the war against terror in Nigeria until recently when Nigerian government cancelled further trainings. The Nigerian government has played down talks of strained diplomatic ties, saying the recent cancellation of further trainings of our armed forces was logistical and not political and it does not affect both country’s existing military co-operation.

From U.S. body language so far, its posturing and scepticism over the issue of arms deal with Nigeria to end insurgency ravaging the north eastern part of the country is as a result of the political undertone in the Boko Haram insurgency. They are yet to be convinced if the procurement of these lethal weapons will be strictly to fight the war against terrorism or for other reasons especially now that elections are approaching.

Until Nigerian government adopts practical measures cited by the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and intensify its efforts in the fight against insurgency, the U.S. government and other Western allies may never take our fight against terrorism seriously.

Nigerian government should be careful in its decision to avoid small arms proliferation in Nigeria, going to far East or black market as suggested may do us no good.

The proliferation of light weapons and illicit arms trafficking in some parts of Africa have been a major threat to peace, security and development in the continent and Nigeria is not left out in this quagmire.

The United States government may be saving us from a whole lot of troubles which our desperate politicians may be planning to inflict on the already tottering country by not acquiescing to the sale of arms to us at this crucial hour. This adage is a food for thought: “What an old man sees sitting down, a young man cannot see standing up”.

•Onwukeme, an idealist, is a social & political affairs analyst, writes from Enugu. Email: [email protected]; twitter: @unjoeratedjoe

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