NASS Plans To Meet US Congress Over $875m Weapons Deal Stoppage

The National Assembly is billed to hold talks with the United States Congress over the stoppage of weapons sale to Nigeria, Saturday PUNCH has reliably learnt.

The Senate and the House of Representatives may be sending different delegations to meet with their American counterparts on how to successfully procure attack helicopters and other arms and an munition in a deal valued at $875m (N360bn/)

Chairmen of different security committees in the National Assembly, in separate interviews with one of our correspondents between Wednesday and Friday, confirmed knowledge of the deal’s stoppage and their readiness to seek legislative and diplomatic interventions.

The US lawmakers are holding down a proposed sale of warplanes to Nigeria amid mounting concerns over the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd), human rights record as the country grapples with multiple security crises.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the Congress has reportedly delayed clearing a proposed sale of 12 AH-1 Cobra fighter jets and accompanying defence systems to the Nigerian military.

The proposed sale also includes 28 helicopter engines produced by GE Aviation, 14 military-grade aircraft navigation systems made by Honeywell, and 2,000 advanced precision kill weapon systems – laser-guided rocket munitions, according to information sent by the State Department to Congress and reviewed by Foreign Policy Magazine.

A report by the magazine on Tuesday said the behind-the-scenes controversy over the proposed arms sale illustrated a broader debate among Washington policymakers over how to balance national security with human rights objectives.

The hold on the sale also showcases how powerful US lawmakers want to push the Joe Biden administration to rethink US relations with Nigeria amid overarching concerns that Buhari is drifting toward authoritarianism as his government is besieged by multiple security challenges, including the Boko Haram insurgency.

Western governments and international human rights organisations have ramped up their criticisms of the Buhari regime, particularly in the wake of its ban on Twitter, systemic corruption issues, and the Nigerian military’s role in crackdowns on #EndSARS protesters last October.

The details on the proposed sale were first sent by the US State Department to Congress in January before then-former Vice President Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Asked if the National Assembly would engage the US Congress on the matter, the lawmaker said, “Yes, That is what is right. If it requires that, we would do it.”

Also, the Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, said the lawmakers would deploy diplomatic means to resolve the issue.

On how soon the Nigerian lawmakers would meet with their American counterparts, Benson said, “It is a top priority in our diplomatic shuttles. It was supposed to have been held but we are on recess. We hope that it would be done very soon. It is a matter that we would resolve. They just need assurances.”

A ranking member of the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, criticised the US for refusing to sell arms to Nigeria.

The lawmaker said, “We are having this challenge. You cannot move freely. This is a matter of Nigeria and Nigerians against insurgents and terrorists, and bandits who have graduated to an organisation that can be classified as a terrorist organisation. They are shooting down Air Force planes; they are killing people indiscriminately. This is why the Nigerian Government is looking for arms to fight them.

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