Biden approves sale of Bell Viper helicopters to Nigeria, which Lai once denied

Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopter ordered by Nigeria

Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopter ordered by Nigeria

The Biden administration has given the green light for Nigeria to buy advanced attack Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters worth nearly $1 billion.

This was despite concerns about Nigeria’s human rights record as it battles threats from criminal gangs and extremists in the north.

The State Department on Thursday announced the approval of the $997 million sale of 24 Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters and related equipment to Nigeria.

The related equipment includes guidance, night vision and targeting systems as well as engines and training support, the department said in a notice to Congress.

In July, U.S. lawmakers in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they would hold down a proposed sale of attack helicopters to Nigeria, citing poor human rights record of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.

The arms deal then was estimated at $875 million. It involved a proposed sale of 12 AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and accompanying defence systems to the Nigerian military.

The US lawmakers also stood against the proposed sale of 28 helicopter engines produced by GE Aviation, 14 military-grade aircraft navigation systems made by Honeywell, and 2,000 advanced precision kill weapon systems — laser-guided rocket munitions, according to information sent by the State Department to Congress.

Information minister, Lai Mohammed in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria on 30 July, 2021 described the news as fake.

He said there was no arms contract of such nature and sum between Nigeria and the US

“There is no contract of arms between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the United States of America today apart from the 12 Super Tucano Attack Helicopters of which six had been delivered.

“We are quite satisfied with the progress and cooperation that we received from the government of the US on this issue.

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“We are not aware of the so called 875million USD arms contract or some helicopters which they said some lawmakers in the US are trying to persuade the president of the US not to honour”, he said.

It is now clear that Mohammed’s office was not briefed about the purchase.

The sale went ahead after a November visit to Abuja by Secretary of State Antony Blinken during which he raised concerns about Nigeria´s rights record.

At the time, though, Blinken also made clear that the United States regards Nigeria as a partner in combating terrorism and Islamic extremism in West Africa and the Sahel, a region along the Sahara Desert stretching across North Africa, and is looking to increase cooperation with it in those areas.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a strategic partner in Sub-Saharan Africa,” the department told Congress.

The deal will also “better equip Nigeria to contribute to shared security objectives, promote regional stability and build interoperability with the U.S. and other Western partners” and “will be a major contribution to U.S. and Nigerian security goals,” the notice said.

Nigeria´s security forces have long been accused of human rights violations in their operations, with personnel involved often escaping justice.

In October 2020, the army opened fire at a demonstration in the country´s economic hub where hundreds were protesting against police brutality, killing 11 people and injuring many others, according to a government-backed panel.

During Blinken’s visit on November, he said the U.S. was looking forward to seeing the full results of the investigation and would make a decision on arms sales to Nigeria based in part on the findings and whether those responsible were held accountable.

Nigeria is also facing a growing threat from armed gangs and extremist rebels who are now working together in the country’s troubled northwest and threaten to further destabilize an already volatile region.

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