US Congress members seek halt to $1B Nigeria weapons deal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday called on President Joe Biden to rescind a nearly $1 billion arms sale to Nigeria following Reuters reports on an illegal abortion program and the targeted killing of children carried out by the Nigerian military.
Democrat Sara Jacobs of California and Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey, both members of the subcommittee on Africa, also called for a review of security assistance and cooperation programs in Nigeria, including a risk assessment of civilian casualties and abuses resulting from the arms assistance.
"We write to express our concern with current U.S. policy on and military support to Nigeria," the lawmakers said.
The United States has paired security assistance to Nigeria with training focused on compliance with international law. But the lawmakers said humanitarian workers have reported that Nigeria’s security forces “appear to have a limited understanding of humanitarian law and tools for effective engagement with local populations.”
The assistance provided by Washington so far has done little to quell the 14-year conflict between the Nigerian military and Islamist insurgents in the country’s northeast, and there are reports of weapons captured by insurgents, the Congress members added.
"Therefore, we believe continuing to move forward with the nearly $1 billion arms sale would be highly inappropriate and we urge the Administration to rescind it," the lawmakers said in the letter.
The White House did not immediately provide a comment.
In April, the U.S. State Department approved the weapons sale and other military support to Nigeria – the largest ever offered to the country – after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had paused the deal over concerns about other rights abuses.
The request for a review is the second to come from Congress in recent months. After the Reuters stories appeared in December, U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested a review of U.S. security assistance and cooperation programs in Nigeria and the potential use of sanctions for alleged abuses.
“I look forward to hearing more about the (State) Department’s planned response to the serious and abhorrent allegations levied against a long-standing beneficiary of U.S. security assistance and cooperation which, if deemed credible, have done irreparable harm to a generation of Nigerian citizens and to U.S. credibility in the region,” the Idaho senator said in the letter.
The Reuters investigation found that since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls. Many had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants. Resisters were beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance, witnesses said.
Nigerian military leaders denied the program has ever existed and said Reuters reporting was part of a foreign effort to undermine the country's fight against the insurgents.
Reuters also reported that the Nigerian Army and allied security forces have slaughtered children during their grueling 13-year war against Islamist extremists in the country’s northeast. Nigerian military leaders told Reuters the army has never targeted children for killing.
The Reuters series, “Nightmare in Nigeria,” sparked calls for the Nigerian government to investigate from the U.S. departments of state and defense, the German foreign ministry, the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Human rights experts said the army’s actions could constitute war crimes.
Amid international outcry, Nigeria’s defense ministry agreed to cooperate with an investigation by Nigeria’s Commission on Human Rights, which is underway.
(Editing by Julie Marquis)