An Arms Deal Won’t Heal What Ails Muhammadu Buhari
Nigeria’s president is trying to prove he can get from Washington what his predecessor couldn’t, but it might not be enough to get him re-elected.
By Max Siollun
| May 11, 2018, 7:04 AM
U.S. President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrive for a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The septuagenarian presidents of Nigeria and the United States held a much-publicized meeting at the White House on April 30. The two countries are trying to patch things up after their biggest ever row. During the tenure of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, relations deteriorated to their lowest level ever, culminating with the U.S. refusal to sell Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria in 2015 to aid the country’s fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram. The spat, which arose due to U.S. concerns about alleged human rights abuses by the Nigerian army, prompted Nigerian accusations that the United States was a false friend that had failed to help Nigeria in its moment of crisis.
But personal priorities have driven the most recent round of diplomacy. For Nigeria’s embattled president, Muhammadu Buhari, it was an opportunity to escape domestic criticism and pressure and demonstrate to voters that he has kept Nigeria’s partnership with the United States intact. For U.S. President Donald Trump, meeting with the president of Africa’s most populous country was an excellent chance for him to contain the furor after his infamous comments referring to African nations as “shithole countries” and to counter accusations that he does not care about the continent.
Buhari defeated Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election based on his image as a military “ironman” who could simultaneously fight corruption and security threats. But Buhari’s claim in December 2015 that “technically we have won the war” against Boko Haram has repeatedly come back to haunt him.
Buhari’s claim in December 2015 that “technically we have won the war” against Boko Haram has repeatedly come back to haunt him.
Nearly two and a half years after Buhari’s “mission accomplished” moment, the Islamist terrorist group still carries out suicide bombings, ambushes army convoys, and kidnaps schoolgirls. The threat from Boko Haram and other sources of communal violence has become so widespread that the Nigerian chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, admitted that the army is deployed on various security operations in 32 of Nigeria’s 36 states.
Buhari’s popularity has plummeted, and his critics have gotten tougher. In January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a public letter in which he urged Buhari to “dismount from the horse” and retire from office. With Nigeria’s next presidential election less than a year away, the vultures are circling around Buhari. The biggest danger to Buhari’s re-election bid may ironically lie within his own party.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a key financier of Buhari’s 2015 campaign, has defected to the opposition People’s Democratic Party. Additionally, both Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara have bad blood with the leadership of Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Many APC members view Saraki and Dogara as a fifth column inside the party. Opponents have also questioned whether a man of Buhari’s age (he is 75) and with his poor health record is strong enough to be the president of a tumultuous country like Nigeria. On his way back from Washington, he made a “technical stopover” in London and met with his medical doctor there. Last year, Buhari spent three months abroad in London for treatment for an illness he has refused to disclose.
Buhari needs a political boost if he is going to have a shot at re-election. The meeting with Trump, and the United States’ recent decision to sell Super Tucano fighter jets to Nigeria, allows Buhari to show voters at home that he has repaired a broken relationship
The meeting with Trump, and the United States’ recent decision to sell Super Tucano fighter jets to Nigeria, allows Buhari to show voters at home that he has repaired a broken relationship
and that his own skills have achieved deals with Washington that his predecessor couldn’t produce.
Yet Buhari needs the Tucano deal more than his country does. This deal amounts to toys for the boys, bolstering Buhari’s image, rather than being a gamechanger in the war against Boko Haram. Indeed, Nigeria is getting the right equipment but at the wrong time.
Tucano jets would have had more impact four years ago, when Boko Haram was attacking and occupying Nigerian territory like a conventional army, rather than today, when its preferred method of attack is to send little girls into mosques and crowded markets on suicide bombing missions. The Tucanos will not stop suicide bombings, nor will they stop the clashes between farmers and herdsmen that are Nigeria’s next security headache.
Apart from the personal victories, the reset in U.S.-Nigerian relations also demonstrates how much the relationship between the two nations has changed over the past decade. Oil was the traditional sweetener of choice in Nigeria’s business deals. Nigeria used to export 1.31 million barrels of crude oil per day to the United States in 2006. By February of this year, its oil exports to the United States had plummeted by 71 percent to just 369,000 barrels per day as America has become reliant on its own oil production and less dependent on oil imports from abroad. Nigerian Oil Minister Ibe Kachikwu publicly admitted that the era when the United States was a primary export market for Nigeria “is gone.”
Although their relationship is no longer about oil, the United States and Nigeria still need each other.
Although their relationship is no longer about oil, the United States and Nigeria still need each other.
Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy and population. Trump wants Nigeria to remove trade barriers and give U.S. companies greater access to Nigeria’s large, young population of almost 200 million, many of whom love foreign goods and more than half of whom are under 30. While the United States erected red tape around deals thanks to the Nigerian army’s alleged human rights abuses, Chinese companies — with no such scruples — have been busy investing and building roads and train lines in Nigeria.
Members of Buhari’s delegation met with large U.S. companies, including Boeing and General Electric, during the Washington trip. Boeing is interested in Nigeria’s plans to resuscitate its national airline, and GE is part of a consortium that agreed to a $2 billion railway development project in Nigeria. These meetings are a chance for U.S. companies to avoid ceding further ground to China.
But the relationship, always unsteady, is not out of the woods. And even Buhari’s much-touted arms deal is causing friction. Nigeria’s minister of defense, retired Army Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali, protested the stringent conditions that Washington attached to the sale of the Tucano jets. The jets will not be delivered until 2020, and Nigerian officers will be barred from maintaining them, examining their architecture, or from being trained by U.S. personnel.
Dan-Ali was so outraged by these conditions that he vowed not to pay for the jets unless the U.S. conditions are relaxed. The inexplicably high cost of the Tucano jets (almost $500 million), and the fact that Buhari agreed to their purchase without approval from the National Assembly, also led some senators to call for his impeachment. With the deal under such close scrutiny, what seemed like a much-needed Band-Aid for U.S.-Nigerian relations could prove painful if it gets torn off.
I often post abut the exploits of Nigeria’s military. Most of those posts are about military men. So today, I decided to give credit to some of the gallant women of the Nigerian military who have not received as much coverage.
Probably the most celebrated female officer in Nigerian military history is Major-General Aderonke “Ronke” Kale who in 1994, became the first woman to become a major-general (two star general ) in the history of the Nigerian military. She was promoted to major-general along with other officers that later came to prominence such as Ishaya and Musa Bamaiyi.
Kale was a psychiatrist by training who joined the army, became head of the army medical corps, and survived and rose up the ranks in the cut-throat era of 1990s military shenanigans during which the military consumed itself with politics and Machiavellian coup plots.
Major-General Abimbola Amusu
Recently Kale’s feat was equaled when Major-General Abimbola Amusu became only the second female major-general in the army (after Kale). Amusu is currently the commander of the Nigerian army medical corps, and is currently the only female major-general serving in the entire Nigerian army. In a nice emotive touch, the retired Kale attended the ceremony at which Amusu was appointed the medical corps commander.
Blessing Liman: Nigeria’s first female fighter pilot:
Captain Chinyere Kalu: Nigeria’s first female professional pilot:
Rear-Admiral Itunu Hotonu
Another record breaking female officer is Rear-Admiral Itunu Hotonu who in 2012, became the first female rear-admiral in the history of the navy.
Incidentally Kale, Amusu, and Hotonu are Yoruba.
Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai had a BBC Hardtalk interview this week with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. Sackur gave Buratai a very serious Jerexy Paxman style grilling on varied issues such as alleged human rights issues by the Nigerian army, corruption, the Nigerian army’s ongoing fight against Boko Haram, and allegations that Buratai owns properties in Dubai.
It was quite an uncomfortable interview and it got sticky and awkward for Buaratai and several points.
The inside story on the recent American sale of military aircraft to Nigeria for Nigeria’s ongoing war against Boko Haram. It seems that the sale is a gesture of goodwill (approved by the Obama administration, but being implemented by his successor Donald Trump). It seems to be “expensive toys” that probably should not be prioritised at this stage of the Boko Haram conflict.
Imagine if the Israeli Prime Minister hired a former PLO fighter as his personal pilot. Or if the president of the United States allowed a Russian to be his personal chauffeur at the height of the Cold War. Sounds surreal? Yet that is precisely what happened in Nigeria several decades ago when then head of state General Gowon hired an Igbo air force officer who formerly fought for Biafra as one of his presidential pilots.
Nigerians are an opinionated and self-critical bunch. Dinner and beer parlour conversations among Nigerians almost inevitably turn to the country’s underwhelming accomplishments and disastrous mismanagement. Self-flagellation is a national obsession. Despite our penchant for voicing our opinion when it comes to national failures, we suddenly become reticent when it comes to recognizing our national accomplishments. This is puzzling as one of our most impressive accomplishments is a reconciliation that is unprecedented in modern history.
THE BROTHERS’ WAR
Sunday January 15, 2017 marks the 47th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war. On that day in Dodan Barracks, a brutal 920-day civil war ended as former colleagues and combatants who had engaged each other in bitter warfare for over two and a half years embraced each other with unprecedented speech and warmth. They ended a war wracked by famine, starving children, one million corpses, and violence and suffering of such an intensely grotesque magnitude that the words “pogrom” and “Kwashiorkor” were introduced into the standard Nigerian vocabulary.
NO NUREMBERG TRIALS, NO MEDALS
When the war ended, the Igbos grimly expected that their defeat would be followed by their wholesale massacre. However the leader of the victorious army refused to proclaim victory as there is no “victor” in a conflict between brothers. He declared a general amnesty for all those who fought against him, invited members of the defeated side to join his administration, refused to conduct trials of, or execute the defeated, and refused to award medals to his own soldiers who had fought the war for years. He even allowed some members of the enemy’s army to join his own army. For their part, Igbos quietly accepted their new fate in a united Nigeria, went back to their farms and businesses, and rebuilt their destroyed homes without any thoughts of sabotage or guerilla warfare to continue their struggle. All this happened without a United Nations resolution or peacekeeping force, international peace plans and conferences, or the protracted years long negotiations that it normally takes to resolve modern conflicts. Nigerians decided for themselves that they had seen enough bloodshed and that they wanted a war free future for their children.
The war also ironically dissolved some of the negative stereotypes the combatants held about each other, and enhanced their mutual respect for each other. Igbos won admiration from the federal side for the tenacity, iron will, and incredible improvisation with which they fought the war. The federal side won the Igbos’ respect for their magnanimity in victory. Although pockets of bitterness remain (particularly over the emotional issue of properties abandoned by Igbos who fled for their safety, but which were illegally appropriated by other communities), it is undoubted that Nigeria’s remarkable reconciliation is rivaled in the modern era only by black South Africans’ forgiveness of their former oppressors.
AN ACHIEVEMENT MATCHED BY FEW OTHERS
Almost 50 years after United Nations resolutions called for them to cease hostilities, the Israelis and Arabs are still at each other’s throats. Over 22 years after the Rwandan civil war, the government is still carrying out war crimes trials. However, a remarkably sober pragmatism rose from the blood, fire and ashes of the Nigerian civil war. It taught the combatants an unforgettable lesson in the evils of ethnic rivalry. The bitter memory of the war means that Nigeria stumbles through and survives the sorts of crises that cause war and disintegration in other countries: such as June 12, Sharia, military coups, ethnic violence, and resource control.
When an election was annulled in Algeria in 1991, it plunged Algeria into a decade long civil war in which up to 200,000 people died and terrorism linked to the event was exported to France. When an election was annulled in Nigeria two years later, the winner of the election said he abhorred violence and urged the public to protest peacefully. A multi-ethnic federation in Yugoslavia was destroyed amidst ethnic cleansing and a brutal civil war in which NATO had to intervene with air strikes in order to convince the combatants to stop killing each other. A multi-ethnic federation in Nigeria is managed through a complex system of constitutional checks and balances, and a legally binding concept known as “federal character” which means that every single one of the 36 states in the federation has a minister in the government. The four most powerful people in the country are all from different ethnic groups, and there is an unwritten rule meaning that the President and Vice-President can never be from the same part of the country.
The former combatants now live, work, and intermarry with each other as if the war never happened. Yet the civil war literature rarely discusses this most remarkable and impressive aspect of the war: the humanity with which Nigerians and Biafrans forgave each other, laid down their arms and got on with their lives. Why was this remarkable reconciliation possible?
GENERAL GOWON: THE HEALER OF NIGERIAN WOUNDS
This reconciliation was possible due largely to one pivotal figure: the then Nigerian head of state Yakubu “Jack” Gowon. It was he who insisted that Igbos should be treated as prodigal sons, rather than defeated foes. He did so against the urgings of his own colleagues who wanted brutal punishment to be meted out to Igbos. Even as the war raged, Gowon repeatedly declared that “We do not take the Ibos as our enemies; they are our brothers.”
When he became head of state after the two bloody military coups of 1966, he initially seemed totally unsuitable for the job of ruling one of the most unruly populations on Earth. He did not have the oratorical gifts of Ojukwu, the erudition of Awolowo, the stature of the Sardauna, or the imposing physicality of Aguiyi-Ironsi. Yet he remained the only officer acceptable to the majority of the population and army. Why?
“JACK THE BOY SCOUT”
Gowon was a humble, soft-spoken infantry soldier who trained at the world’s most elite military academy, yet had an oxymoronic distaste for unnecessary bloodshed. It was Gowon who insisted that Igbos should be treated as prodigal sons, rather than defeated foes. It was as if his background and origin were deliberately woven from Nigeria’s intricate ethnic matrix to ensure balance between the north and south. Gowon was that rarest of Nigerians: acceptable to the north and south. Gowon was from the north, yet practised the religion of the south. He was a Nigerian PR man’s dream. His surname was even used as an acronym calling for Nigerian unity: “Go On With One Nigeria”. The bachelor son of a Methodist minister, he did not drink, smoke or curse. He seemed so impossibly innocent and naïve that some foreign correspondents nicknamed him “Jack the Boy Scout”. The name was not fanciful. On one occasion he apologised to reporters for using the word “hell”.
Former Biafran officer Ben Gbulie admitted that Gowon’s forgiveness would probably not have been reciprocated had Biafra won the war. Gbulie said “Probably if we had won the war, we would have shot him.” Scant attention has been paid to why Gowon chose this remarkable path of reconciliation. Many factors were at play. As a minister’s son, he was a genuine Christian, and his humane approach to Igbos may also have been borne of the fact that at the time the crisis erupted, Gowon had an Igbo girlfriend named Edith Ike, whom he expected to marry (he eventually married a nurse named Victoria Zakari).
However, Gowon was also pragmatic enough to realise that clemency was crucial to Igbo acceptance of reintegration. Had he sought to punish Igbos, there would have been an Igbo led armed insurrection in Nigeria till today. Gowon’s mistake was that at the war’s end, he did not realise that his job was done. Had he stepped down at the end of the war, he would have maintained his prestige as Nigeria’s Lincoln.
To understand the magnitude of what Nigeria achieved by fighting such a brutal war, then making such a remarkably rapid peace, I will turn to the words of a neutral foreign observer of the conflict. John de St Jorre’s The Brothers War is one of the most balanced accounts of the war. Commenting on the reconciliation that followed the war, St Jorre observed that:
“when history takes a longer view of Nigeria’s war it will be shown that while the black man has little to teach us about making war he has a real contribution to offer in making peace.”
*The official members of the Biafran and federal delegations who attended the formal war ending ceremony at Dodan Barracks on January 15, 1970 were:
Biafran Delegation –
- Major-General Phillip Effiong – Officer Administering the Republic of Biafra
- Sir Louis Mbanefo – Chief Justice of Biafra
- Matthew Mbu – Biafran Foreign Minister
- Brigadier Patrick Amadi – Biafran Army
- Colonel Patrick Anwunah – Chief of Logistics and Principal Staff Officer to Ojukwu
- Colonel David Ogunewe – Military Adviser to Ojukwu
- Patrick Okeke – Inspector-General of Biafran Police
Federal Military Government Delegation:
- Major-General Yakubu Gowon – Nigerian Head of State
- Obafemi Awolowo – Deputy Chairman, Supreme Military Council
- Brigadier Emmanuel Ekpo – Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters
- Brigadier Hassan Katsina – Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army
- Brigadier Emmanuel Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff
- Rear-Admiral Joseph Wey – Chief of Naval Staff
- Dr Taslim Elias – Attorney-General
- H.E.A. Ejueyitchie – Secretary to the Federal Military Government
- Anthony Enahoro – Commissioner for Information
- The Military Governors of the 12 states: , Ukpabi Asika, Audu Bako, David Bamigboye, Alfred Diete-Spiff, Jacob Esuene, Usman Faruk, Joseph Gomwalk, Mobolaji Johnson, Abba Kyari, Samuel Ogbemudia, Oluwole Rotimi, Musa Usman.
Today is the 51st anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup. Rather than rehash it I have included video clips and audio interviews below with the key participants that will tell you all you need to know about it.
Various Articles, Interviews, and Resources on the First Coup: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/nigerias-january-15-1966-coup-50-years-later/
Video Series on the Nigerian civil war: https://www.facebook.com/Oil-Politics-and-Violence-Nigerias-Military-Coup-Culture-1966-1976-157457414278806/videos/
Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun (one of the victims of the first coup):
Brigadier Ademulegun and his wife:
My BBC article on the first coup: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35312370?ocid=socialflow_facebook#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa
Article on/photo of Major Wale Ademoyega by someone who knew him well: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/the-nzeogwu-and-ademoyega-i-knew/
The Life of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigerian Prime Minister who was killed during the coup):
Interview with Major Nzeogwu: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/interview-with-major-nzeogwu/
In January of this year the Nigerian army announced that is was going to create two new divisions. The two new divisions are 6 division which will be in the south-south region with its headquarters at Port Harcourt, and 8 division which will be based in the north-east (in northern Borno).
The army has already appointed a pioneer General Officer Commanding (GOC) for the 6 division; Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim. 6 division will have responsibility for 2 Brigade in Akwa Ibom State, 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State, and 63 Brigade in Delta State. Before this appointment, Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim had been the GOC of the 2 division in Ibadan.
6 division’s responsibility will be primarily to tackle the security and insurgency challenges in the Niger Delta region. According to Abdulkarim, 6 division “will help to curtail activities of militants, banditry, inter-communal clashes, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, robberies, Niger Delta Avengers and pipeline vandalism prevalent in the area”.
Great article here about the Nigerian air force’s use of Alpha Jets in its counter-insurgency war against Boko Haram, and in previous missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Nigerian military has been bashed in the media in the last couple of years. It has not been given due credit though for its successful use and adaptation of a military aircraft that was regarded as obsolete. The Alpha Jets are supposed to be training planes; used to train air force pilots, before they are allowed into the cockpit of a “real” fighter jet. However the Nigerian air force has instead adapted a training plane into a fighting and bombing plane that it has used against Boko Haram, and against rebels in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
One thing that stood out for me is the technical ingenuity that Nigeria has demonstrated with this plane:
The Nigerian air force set about jerry-rigging onto two of the jet trainers its own weapons hardpoints capable of holding bombs or rocket pods.
Reportedly, the modifications cost just four million Nigerian naira — roughly $13,000. Some reports state a sum as low as $2,000. Given typical military equipment costs, this stands as a remarkable achievement. Foreign companies had requested up to $30,000 just to assess the cost of doing the refit.
A Nigerian car manufacturer, Innoson, has also been contracted to produce spare parts for the NAF to keep the old aircraft flying.
You can read the full story at this link: https://warisboring.com/nigerias-tiny-low-tech-alpha-jets-have-flown-in-brutal-wars-across-africa-5d843265d1b8#.vip9bxsq0
Today is the 26th anniversary of the April 1990 coup attempt against General Babangida in Nigeria. Rather than rehash the events (which I have written about before) in this post, I have instead included links where you can read all about the coup in an account by one of its plotters, and another view of the coup by General Babangida’s former Chief Security Officer.
That coup was a watershed in Nigeria, and accelerated the turn of events that led to the insurgency in the Niger Delta, and indirectly to the controversy that followed the June 12, 1993 election annulment, and the “power shift” to the south in 1999.
If you want to read more about the Orkar coup and these tumultuous years, you can of course do so in my book “Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993)“.
Have a great weekend everyone.