Saying the right thing is easy; doing the right thing is hard.  Over the past month, we have seen the Nigeriangovernment’s PR machine creak into gear, assuring Americans that, after a period of corruption and instability, not-so-newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari is turning things around. Among the Nigerian government’s requests to the United States: 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft.

Nigeria has made considerable progress since Independence in 1960. After suffering under authoritarian rule and a civil war, democracy has brought with it increased civil rights, job opportunities and an improved educational system. And it’s working for every day Nigerians, with GDP per capita increasing tenfold under democracy. While the Nigerian government is saying all the right things to assure U.S. lawmakers it will continue this progress, the military is still riven with corruption.  

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As Congress considers selling warplanes and other arms to Nigeria, we should remember Americans are already heavily invested in the country, by way of greenbacks and green berets. The U.S. government has already provided $2.1 Billion  in taxpayer money to  Nigeria,  much of it to fight the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram. Same goes for the men and women of the United States Special Forces navigating the Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria at this very moment. Despite our material commitment, there is evidence that much is being squandered, misused, and harrowingly abused.

Human rights groups from Amnesty International to the Civil Liberties Organizations have widely documented torture, inhumane treatment, and extrajudicial killings of defenseless civilians throughout the country. Between August 2015 and February of this year, human rights groups documented at least 170 killings of unarmed civilians at the hands of the Nigeria Police Force or President Buhari’s elite police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). After Amnesty International found evidence of a range of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military, President Buhari promised to “leave no stone unturned” to promote the rule of law. Instead, he brushed it under the rug, even reinstating Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, who Amnesty revealed was in charge of the Nigerian military unit that in cold blood executed more than 640 unarmed, former detainees.

Make no mistake; Boko Haram continues to be a major threat to peace and prosperity in Nigeria and the region. Responsible for more deaths than ISIS, the militant group preys on the country’s least fortunate. Yet, with a President who one senior U.S. official described as “far more interested in settling scores with his political opponents that concentrating his energy on defeating terrorists,” how can we in good faith sell 12 combat ready warplanes to him?

President Buhari’s strong assurances are not enough. The past year has shown us that when it comes to holding his military accountable, the former Major General and head of a brutal military dictatorship in the 1980s, would rather turn a blind eye. Congress cannot allow the sale to go forward until President Buhari’s actions start reflecting his words. Until then, we should use whatever leverage we have to ensure democracy, rule of law, human rights and true accountability continue to progress in Nigeria.


James D. Durso supported Foreign Military Sales as a U.S. Navy Officer for over 20 years.  He also served on the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, an international supply chain consultancy.