After President Barack Obama, among other top ranking United States officials lavished praise on President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria for three days during his US visit, the Nigerian president returned home this morning without securing an arms deal with America to help him prosecute the war against Boko Haram.
Since Buhari assumed office on May 29, Boko Haram has increased its attacks in the North-east and is reported to have occupied five local government councils in Yobe and Borno States, in addition to killing over 600 people.
The Nigerian military under former President Goodluck Jonathan, with the assistance of the armies of Chad, Niger and Cameroun, had successfully dislodged the terrorists from territories that they had previously occupied.
The US government told the Nigerian leader that its hands were tied by the Leahy Act, which prevents it from selling arms to countries with human rights abuse records.
Buhari “departs with little practical military assistance in his battle against the Islamist militants who have turned the North-east of his country into a bloody war zone”, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Wednesday.
A displeased Buhari told the US government that the refusal by America to arm Nigerian troops because of “so-called human rights violations” and “unproven allegations,” would only help Boko Haram.
“Regrettably, the blanket application of the Leahy Law by the United States on the grounds of unproven allegations of human rights violations levelled against our forces has denied us access to appropriate strategic weapons to prosecute the war,” Buhari said.
Addressing an audience of policy-makers, activists and academics in Washington, Buhari complained that Nigerian forces had been left “largely impotent” in the face of Boko Haram’s campaign of kidnapping and bombings.
“They do not possess the appropriate weapons and technology which we could have had if the so-called human rights violations had not been an obstacle,” he said.
“Unwittingly, and I dare say unintentionally, the application of the Leahy Law Amendment by the United States government has aided and abetted the Boko Haram terrorists.”
He appealed to both the White House and the US Congress to find a way around the law — introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in 1997 — and to supply Nigerian troops with high-tech weapons under a deal “with minimal strings”.
In June, rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) said there was sufficient evidence to launch an investigation into senior Nigerian officers for war crimes.
In a 133-page report, the group blamed the army for the extrajudicial execution of 1,200 people and the torture or arbitrary detention of thousands more.
Buhari has insisted that the charges are not proven, but he has replaced his senior military commanders and has promised to investigate the allegations.
The Leahy Law was the primary reason the US government refused to sell weapons to the Nigerian Army last year when Jonathan was in power, and even blocked attempts by Israel to sell Cobra helicopters to Nigeria.
Other than Nigeria, other countries that have been stopped from receiving assistance by the US under the Leahy Law are: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan.