A former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd.), has taken a swipe at the United States on its refusal to sell arms to Nigeria to fight the insurgency by the Islamic group, Boko Haram.
Gowon, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, criticised the US for not selling military hardware to Nigeria, saying if the US was truly a diplomatic friend to Nigeria, it should do everything possible to keep the corporate existence of Nigeria.
This, according to him, includes assisting Nigeria to fight aggression from any quarter.
The US had on November 12, 2014, defended its refusal to sell cobra helicopters to Nigeria, saying the Federal Government was free to buy fighter jets from any other country.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said, “Nigeria has purchased helicopters that originated in countries other than the US and nothing in our decision prevents Nigeria from obtaining weapons and equipment from other sources,”
Psaki had reacted to the allegation by the Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, that Washington declined to sell arms to Nigeria.
Adefuye had told members of the Council on Foreign Relations on November 10 that Washington was not doing enough to assist Nigeria in combating the Boko Haram insurgency in North-East geopolitical zone of the country.
He said, “The U.S. government has up till today refused to grant Nigeria’s request to purchase lethal equipment that would have brought down the terrorists within a short time on the basis of the allegations that Nigeria’s defence forces have been violating human rights of Boko Haram suspects when captured or arrested.
“We find it difficult to understand how and why, in spite of the U.S. presence in Nigeria, with their sophisticated military technology, Boko Haram should be expanding and becoming more deadly.”
But Psaki had stated that the US refused to sell the helicopters to Nigeria due to concerns about the ability of the military to use and maintain them.
The cobra is a combat aircraft with the ability to climb at the rate of 8.2metres per second. It is equipped with a 20 mm M197 3-barrelled Gatling cannon in the A/A49E-7 turret (750 rounds ammo capacity).
The spokeswoman also said there were ongoing concerns about Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations, adding that these had been discussed with the Nigerian authorities.
Gowon, while speaking to one of our correspondents, however, alleged that the US did same to the Nigerian government during the Civil War, when it refused to sell fighter jets to Nigeria to stop Biafra’s bomber jets.
As the military Head of State, Gowon had prosecuted the Nigerian civil war, aka Biafran War, which began on July 6, 1967 and ended on January 15, 1970.
The war was declared after an attempted secession by the Eastern Region of the country, which declared itself the ‘Republic of Biafra.’
Gowon said, “The same thing happened during the Civil War. The Americas refused to sell arms to us. I wanted them to help me with some modest aircraft so that I could chase out Ojukwu’s (Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu) B52 or B56 as they called it. That was all I wanted; not to shoot it down but to chase it away so that it does not drop bombs and kill innocent people.
“But the Americans refused to help us and they even refused to sell arms and ammunitions and the spare parts of the equipment that we got from them. And at the same time, they (America) were shipping aircraft and loads of arms and ammunition to Zaire. What sort of friends are they?
“You call them your friends and they say that they are helping us to fight terror. We don’t want their people (Americans) to come and fight the war (against Boko Haram) for us but, at least, we need the equipment.
“During my time (as Head of State), I had to go to the Russians to get the equipment we wanted in order to prosecute that war. If they cannot help us, they should allow us to go elsewhere and get what we want to ensure that we deal with this particular problem.”
A former Military Governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Umar (retd.), corroborated Gowon, while decrying that Western allies, who were paying much attention to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, “have decided to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Nigeria.”
He pointed out that Boko Haram is to Nigeria what ISIS is to the Middle East, saying they both threaten global peace and security.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also backed Adefuye’s position on arms purchase from the US.
The Director, Public Communication Division, Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ahmedu Ogbole-Ode, said the Nigerian ambassador had said it all on the relationship between Nigeria and America.
“Our ambassador to the US has spoken. He did not send himself there, so there is nothing more for me to add,” he said.
The US, however, said despite its insistence on not selling arms to Nigeria, it was committed to helping the country address the threat posed by Boko Haram and other violent extremist organisations.
The Press Attache, US Embassy, Abuja, Sean McIntosh, in his response to SUNDAY PUNCH’s enquiry on why the US avoids supporting Nigeria internal wars, said his country had been working and continued to work with Nigerian authorities to provide assistance with humanitarian programmes, intelligence and strategic communications.
When asked to also explain the US policy that states America’s non-committal posture to Nigeria and to name other West African countries affected by the policy, McIntosh said the US had continued to advise the Federal Government to adopt a comprehensive approach to violent extremists.
He said such approach emphasises respect for human rights including the freedom of religion, prioritises civilian security, and responds to the needs of victimised communities.
McIntosh listed the assistance rendered to Nigeria by the US to include the provision of $19m for the vulnerable and conflict-affected households in Nigeria by the American government in 2014.
He said, “More than $7m from the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance supports health, water and sanitation services; the delivery of emergency relief supplies and protection activities for women and children in north-eastern Nigeria.
“USAID/Food for Peace has provided nearly $7m in emergency food assistance and the US Department of State has provided more than $5m to fund protection activities in affected areas.
“In addition, the US government provided more than $54m in humanitarian assistance in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, targeting refugee populations from neighbouring countries, including Nigeria.”
The American embassy spokesman explained that the USAID was also in the process of starting two new programmes that would address critical educational needs for both boys and girls in northern Nigeria.
These, according to McIntosh, include a ‘crisis response’ programme to be funded with about $20m to $30m. He said the programme would reach out with basic education to internally-displaced persons and others affected by the violence in the north-east, including Bauchi, Gombe, and Adamawa states.
“The programmes also include a ‘flagship’ five-year education programme that will strengthen systems to provide greater access and learning (increasing reading skills) for primary school children, principally in Sokoto and Bauchi, and other states of the North as conditions allow,” he explained.
McIntosh stated that two additional large USAID projects focused on maternal and child health and democracy and governance are geographically co-located in Bauchi and Sokoto states in an effort to maximise their developmental impact. He added that expansion into additional post-conflict states would be considered as conditions and resources allow. Punch