2.1 The Issue
Since 2009, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, has waged an insurgency against the secular government of Nigeria. In summer 2014, then President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan asked the United States to authorize his country’s purchase of U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters from Israel, as required by U.S. law. President Barack Obama declined to approve; U.S. law prohibited the transfer of heavy military equipment to Nigeria, in part because of the Nigerian government’s lack of response to human rights abuses by its security services.
The legislation in question, commonly called the Leahy Amendment, forbids U.S. military assistance to foreign militaries and security services credibly accused of human rights abuses unless or until the government of the accused party investigates the charges and takes appropriate action. International humanitarian organizations and the international press have reported extensive abuses by Nigerian forces, especially the military. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these abuses drive public support for Boko Haram. Observers estimate that during certain periods the security services have killed as many civilians as Boko Haram has. Even so, successive Nigerian governments have largely dismissed the charges and conducted few credible investigations.
However, the current Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, has said that he is restoring discipline within the military and, in September 2015, promised to issue new rules of engagement designed to protect civilians. Thus far, those steps appear to have had little practical consequence. In December 2015, the army killed several hundred members of a Shiite sect known as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), alleging that they had attacked the motorcade of the chief of army staff. The Kaduna State government responded by forming a Commission for Judicial Inquiry to investigate the massacre. The commission found the Nigerian army responsible for the killings and condemned the IMN for provoking the attack. The August 2016 report called for all involved parties to be prosecuted, but Nigeria’s justice system has taken no further legal action. Since then, additional bloody clashes have broken out between the security services and the IMN, most recently in July 2019. Government spokespeople continue to deny security service wrongdoing.
Since the election of President Donald J. Trump in 2016, U.S. policy toward Africa has shifted somewhat. Although prioritizing great power competition over of the fight against terrorism, the Trump administration has shown more willingness to provide security assistance to the Nigerian government, including the provision of light military matériel, despite humanitarian concerns. Most recently, the Trump administration approved the sale of twelve A-29 Super Tucano light aircraft.