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Of military hardware and the Boko Haram campaign

REINING in Boko Haram terrorism and liberating all the territories that the radical Islamist group had seized was one of the main campaign promises of candidate Muhammadu Buhari. As President,  Buhari, to his credit, has had some success against Boko Haram. Not only has his administration scored some strategic victories, it has registered a few diplomatic ones as well, most recently by securing freedom for a handful of the hundreds of young girls that Boko Haram has held in captivity since 2014. This has no doubt raised hope that at least a substantial number of the girls will be reunited with their loved ones in no distant time.

One area in which the administration seems to be struggling is in procuring the hardware necessary for its military campaign, and recent media reports regarding its so far unsuccessful efforts to purchase a fleet of A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft from Brazil highlight its plight. As reported by several Nigerian dailies, the administration was close to sealing the deal for the purchase, which would have allowed it to retire its ailing Alpha jet platform, before it was scuttled by the United States government. The White House for its part seems to be concerned by accusations that the Nigerian military has been involved in several human rights violations, and had, for the same reason, blocked the efforts of the Goodluck Jonathan administration to buy CH-47 Chinook helicopters from Israel early last year.

Some analysts have suggested that the American blockage has nothing to do with human rights (after all the same America has a record of selling arms to rogue regimes around the world) and everything to do with the fact that America would prefer to be the one doing the selling. The cynicism underlying this view has been fuelled by other reports claiming that the US Department of Defense will soon inform Congress of its plan to sell a dozen A-29 Super Tucano light attack jets to the Nigerian Army. If that is true, then the Buhari administration will momentarily be in possession of these propeller-driven warplanes which, according to intelligence sources, are specifically “tailored for counterinsurgency operations.”

We think that the issues at stake here are bigger and more important than the source of procurement of these warplanes, or indeed other military hardware for the Boko Haram campaign. One issue is the current market price of 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack jets, a whopping $500 million, according to estimates by trusted military sources. While it is important that all the stops be pulled in the struggle to extirpate Boko Haram, we must ask whether the country is, all things considered, positioned to sanction such a purchase. Does Nigeria have the money in the bank, or is the country going to go a borrowing, yet again, in order to buy the warplanes?

To raise the question of affordability is to in fact gesture at other critical issues which have been swept under the carpet amidst a generally uncoordinated military campaign. The truth of the matter is that the campaign has been prosecuted with utmost secrecy by the Nigerian Army. The aforementioned reports of ongoing efforts to purchase warplanes are a perfect example of the government’s secretive approach.

The Federal Government needs to have the people behind it in its campaign against a dastardly group that has shown no respect for human life. Yet, it cannot secure that support if it continues to eschew the path of transparency.