A former State Department official is warning against a drive by President Barack Obama to sell “as many as 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria,” a move that would pull the U.S. into more dangerous excursions on the continent.
U.S. officials call the sale “a vote of confidence in Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to reform the country’s corruption-tainted military,” commented Matthew T. Page, the ex-official, now advisor to Transparency International’s Defense and Security Program.
The possible sale is favored within the U.S. administration and underscores the deepening U.S. involvement in fighting extremist groups, according to an exclusive report on the Reuters news wire.
Last week, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken, deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, told a Washington Forum that there are now 6,200 U.S. troops—most of them special operations forces—operating from 26 locations in Africa.
The Tucanos can be used for training, surveillance or attack. They can be armed with two wing-mounted machine guns and can carry up to 1,550 kilograms (3,417 pounds) of weapons. One production line for the Super Tucano is in Florida, where it is built by the U.S. firm Sierra Nevada Corp.
For Nigeria, the cost of the planes is staggering, given that its economy is in deep recession and its currency, the naira, lost 50 percent of its value against the dollar over the past year. Based on a similar deal with Lebanon, the sale, which probably includes munitions, spare parts and a maintenance package, may total more than $500 million, roughly half of Nigeria’s 2016 defense budget and more than twice as much as the Nigerian Army’s entire annual salary.
Washington’s other partner in the deal, Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, just last month agreed to pay $205 million in fines to resolve criminal violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Embraer admitted that it bribed officials to sell Super Tucanos to the Dominican Republic and other aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Mozambique and India. Brazilian authorities, meanwhile, have charged several former top executives at Embraer with corruption and money laundering in connection with the sale of Super Tucanos to the Dominican Republic. w/pix of U.S. Africa Command