Call it a swipe and you may be right or left with your own opinion, but the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.), has taken a bold stand in condemning the United States on its refusal to sell arms to Nigeria to fight the insurgency by the Islamic group, Boko Haram.
In an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH he criticized the US, for not selling military hardware to Nigeria, saying: “if the US was truly a diplomatic friend to Nigeria, it should do everything possible to keep the corporate existence of Nigeria.”
This, according to him, includes assisting Nigeria to fight aggression from any quarter.
The US had on November 12, 2014, defended its refusal to sell cobra helicopters to Nigeria, saying the Federal Government was free to buy fighter jets from any other country.
He cited various past examples when same treatments were gotten from the US, like during the Biafran war which began on July 6,1969 and ended on Jan.15,1970.
“The same thing happened during the Civil War. The Americas refused to sell arms to us. I wanted them to help me with some modest aircraft so that I could chase out Ojukwu’s (Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu) B52 or B56 as they called it. That was all I wanted; not to shoot it down but to chase it away so that it does not drop bombs and kill innocent people.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said, “Nigeria has purchased helicopters that originated in countries other than the US and nothing in our decision prevents Nigeria from obtaining weapons and equipment from other sources,”
Psaki had reacted to the allegation by the Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, that Washington declined to sell arms to Nigeria.
Adefuye had told members of the Council on Foreign Relations on November 10 that Washington was not doing enough to assist Nigeria in combating the Boko Haram insurgency in North-East geopolitical zone of the country.
He said, “The U.S. government has up till today refused to grant Nigeria’s request to purchase lethal equipment that would have brought down the terrorists within a short time on the basis of the allegations that Nigeria’s defence forces have been violating human rights of Boko Haram suspects when captured or arrested.
“We find it difficult to understand how and why, in spite of the U.S. presence in Nigeria, with their sophisticated military technology, Boko Haram should be expanding and becoming more deadly.”
But Psaki had stated that the US refused to sell the helicopters to Nigeria due to concerns about the ability of the military to use and maintain them.
The cobra is a combat aircraft with the ability to climb at the rate of 8.2metres per second. It is equipped with a 20 mm M197 3-barrelled Gatling cannon in the A/A49E-7 turret (750 rounds ammo capacity).
The spokeswoman also said there were ongoing concerns about Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations, adding that these had been discussed with the Nigerian authorities.
Gowon went back to the story of Biafran war, telling how the Americans turned him down when he needed arms from them.
“But the Americans refused to help us and they even refused to sell arms and ammunition and the spare parts of the equipment that we got from them. And at the same time, they (America) were shipping aircraft and loads of arms and ammunition to Zaire. What sort of friends are they?
“You call them your friends and they say that they are helping us to fight terror. We don’t want their people (Americans) to come and fight the war (against Boko Haram) for us but, at least, we need the equipment.
“During my time (as Head of State), I had to go to the Russians to get the equipment we wanted in order to prosecute that war. If they cannot help us, they should allow us to go elsewhere and get what we want to ensure that we deal with this particular problem.”
A former Military Governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Umar (retd.), corroborated Gowon, while decrying that Western allies, who were paying much attention to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, “have decided to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Nigeria.”
He pointed out that Boko Haram is to Nigeria what ISIS is to the Middle East, saying they both threaten global peace and security.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also backed Adefuye’s position on arms purchase from the US.
The Director, Public Communication Division, Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ahmedu Ogbole-Ode, said the Nigerian ambassador had said it all on the relationship between Nigeria and America.
“Our ambassador to the US has spoken. He did not send himself there, so there is nothing more for me to add,” he said.
The US, however, said despite its insistence on not selling arms to Nigeria, it was committed to helping the country address the threat posed by Boko Haram and other violent extremist organisations.