Nigeria Seeking Additional Attack Helicopters

Russian Mi-35M attack helicopter. Image

The Nigerian government will hold discussions with the Russian government over the procurement of additional attack helicopters.

This week, an aide to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told reporters in Abuja that President Buhari will raise the issue of the attack helicopters with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, during the Russia-Nigeria Summit that will take place from October 23 to October 25. The aide, Malam Garba Shehu, noted that the weapons procurement negotiations focus on strengthening Nigeria’s counterinsurgency capabilities, particularly to support efforts against Boko Haram in the northeast.

Shehu said, “I think that this visit presents a unique opportunity for our two presidents to sit down and discuss particularly weapon procurement – including, of course, helicopters which Russians can supply and would be useful to Nigeria towards ending the insurgency, particularly in the northeastern part of the country.”

He added, “So, I believe that arms procurement to which the Russians are favorably disposed of will form a big part of this conversation.”

Further details on procurement will be made available in the future, Shehu said.

The Nigerian government currently has  12 Mi-35M attack helicopters on order from Russia. Nigeria placed an order for the helicopters in 2015 and began taking delivery of them in December 2016. Earlier this month, Nigerian Ambassador to Russia Steve Davies Ugbah confirmed in an interview that six have been delivered to date.

The contract for the first 12 Mi-35Ms came before the U.S. put a new sanctions law into place. That law, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), places sanctions on the Russian defense industry, as well as customers of Russian defense firms. While the U.S. has offered some countries waivers to enable them to procure Russian military equipment, Abuja is leery of getting ensnared in the sanctions regime.

In the interview, Ambassador Ugbah emphasized that Russian assistance has been crucial in fighting terrorist groups in Nigeria. He said that “without Russian help, without Russian technology, the fight against terrorists in my country will face very big challenges.”

Besides Russian-made equipment, the Nigerian military is procuring AW109M helicopters from Italy. On Monday, Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar said  a pair of the helicopters should be delivered before the end of this year.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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