Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have raised concerns about the possible sale of Super Tucano aircraft to the Nigerian government in a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The letter, dated June 8, 2017 and released by Senator Booker’s office, sought to highlight the human rights conditions in Nigeria. The Nigerian military is currently engaged in a campaign against the terror group Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Rights agencies have accused the Nigerian forces of committing human rights abuses in their military operations; Abuja denies these accusations.
The Senators noted, “We are writing to convey our concerns regarding reports that you intend to proceed with plans to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircrafts, with mounted machine guns and related parts and logistical support, to help the Nigerian government combat Boko Haram.”
The new U.S. administration under President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to approve the sale of 12 Super Tucanos to the Nigerian government, at a cost of $600 million. In April 2017, the Associated Press reported that the administration would soon be providing informal notification to the Congress regarding its approval of the sale.
They continued, “We request that before you approve this sale, you brief us on the steps Nigeria has taken to investigate and hold accountable those that have committed human rights abuses. We believe the security threats Nigeria is facing are very real but that a sale of this nature, and at this time, is ill-advised.”
The Senators noted they “see no rush to complete the sale” and urged the Secretary of State to set benchmarks for the Nigerian government to meet in order for the sale to be completed.
Specifically, the Senators want to see “[p]rogress from the authorities in Abuja on the Kaduna government’s investigation into the December 2015 alleged massacre on Shiite Muslims in the northeastern town of Zaria, where at least 347 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a Shia Muslim group, were killed by army soldiers.” Moreover they want the completion of an investigation into the attack on a displaced persons camp in Rann in January 2017 that killed over 200 people. The Nigerian military has apologized for that attack and said it was an accident.
Furthermore, the Senators highlighted alleged extradjudicial killings that occurred in 2014 and noted they would like to see a “fair investigation” into the matter.
It is unclear if the Senators will have enough support in the Congress to block the sale of Super Tucanos to Nigeria. President Trump has previously expressed “support for the sale of aircraft from the United States to support Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram” in a phone call with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Once the formal notification to the Congress occurs, Congressmen have 30 days to pass legislation blocking the sale.