In June 2022, the United States under secretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, made a notable official visit to Nigeria. She met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and chief of staff to the President of Nigeria, Ibrahim Gambari, among others, to discuss a wide range of issues, including security.
According to the Congressional Research Service, “Successive US Administrations have described the US partnership with Nigeria as among the most important bilateral relationships on the continent.” The US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs values ties with Nigeria as it is Africa’s most populous country, largest economy, leading oil producer, and shares democratic values.
The US has consistently kept up robust security cooperation with Nigeria. Its close air support capabilities could be enhanced under a potential hefty $997 million sale of 12 AH-1Z ‘Viper’ attack helicopters (including training, munitions, related equipment and maintenance support).
“Under this sale, the Nigerian Armed Forces will spend $25 million of case funds to continue their Air to Ground Integration programme, which is building the capability of the Nigerian Armed forces to more accurately carry out air strikes and minimize the risk of civilian harm. This includes further developing and implementing professional targeting processes that are consistent with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Further, he highlighted that, “This potential sale fulfils the Nigerian Armed Forces’ requirement for a close air support and quick mobility capability to defeat terrorist forces, protect humanitarian convoys, secure vital roads, decrease troop losses, defend vulnerable communities, and reduce the risk of civilian harm. It provides an essential night operations capability to counter terrorists who previously operated after dark with impunity.”
This is an added complement to the prior purchase of A-29 Super Tucano aircraft, which were delivered in late 2021. It is said that that the Nigerian Air Force refers to the A-29 as a “game changer.” They use A-29s to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, as well as to directly engage terrorists.
The AH-1Z helicopters would reduce response times to support ground forces and bring a degree of durability and survivability that will allow the Nigerian Air Force to engage at low altitudes and slow airspeeds while maintaining a standoff distance outside of the enemy weapons engagement zone. Additionally, “US training and support will help ensure that Nigeria can effectively and responsibly use the capability and minimize risks of civilian harm,” said the spokesperson.
He noted that, “we work closely with the Nigerian government to address shared security challenges. Our long-standing partnership with the Nigerian security forces includes training and equipping, conducting joint exercises, military education, and supplying certain defence articles to the Nigerian military through Arms Export Control Act authorities.”
Still, Nigeria faces significant challenges on several fronts. In the last decade, northern Nigeria has been beset by Islamist extremist rebels spreading terror in collaboration with armed criminals.
The State Department spokesperson explained that US security cooperation “seeks to help Nigeria build more capable, professional, and accountable Nigerian security forces that respect human rights and protect civilians.” Adding that America’s, “longstanding partnership with the Nigerian military and the Nigerian police includes training, equipping, community policing, conducting joint exercises, military education, and establishing Gender Desks at police stations to aid survivors of gender-based violence.”
In the last three decades, the United States of America has administered more than $1.5 billion to the government of Nigeria and its military through the State Department and other US federal departments and agencies, including extensive security assistance administered by the Department of Defence.
Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and global affairs. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe