The Trump administration will move forward with the sale of high-tech aircraft to Nigeria for its campaign against Boko Haram, The Washington Post has reported, citing U.S. officials.
Congress is expected to receive formal notification within weeks, setting in motion a deal with Nigeria that the Obama administration had planned to approve at the very end of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The arrangement will call for Nigeria to purchase up to 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft with sophisticated targeting gear for nearly $600 million, one of the officials said.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the terms of the sale publicly and requested anonymity to speak about internal diplomatic conversations.
Though President Donald Trump has made clear his intention to approve the sale of the aircraft, the National Security Council is still working on the issue. Military sales to several other countries are also expected to be approved but are caught up in an ongoing White House review. Nigeria has been trying to buy the aircraft since 2015.
The Nigerian air force has been accused of bombing civilian targets at least three times in recent years. In the worst incident, a fighter jet on Jan. 17 repeatedly bombed a camp at Rann, near the border with Cameroon, where civilians had fled from Boko Haram.
That bombing occurred on the same day the Obama administration intended to officially notify Congress the sale would go forward. Instead, it was abruptly put on hold, according to an individual who worked on the issue during Obama’s presidency. Days later, Trump was inaugurated.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said this past week that he supported the A-29 deal to Nigeria as well as the sale of U.S.-made fighter jets to Bahrain that had been stripped of human rights caveats imposed by the Obama administration.
Once Congress is officially notified of the sale, lawmakers who want to derail it have 30 days to pass veto-proof legislation. That’s a high hurdle given Corker’s support. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also said he backs the sale.
In Trump’s first phone call with Buhari in February, he “assured the Nigerian president of U.S. readiness to cut a new deal in helping Nigeria in terms of military weapons to combat terrorism,” according to Buhari’s office.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in mid-February he was “leery” of the sale because of the Nigerian military’s impunity. Cardin said this week he’s not trying to block the deal.
“Ultimately we hope that the sale goes forward,” he said. “But there is progress that needs to be made in protecting the civilian population.”