The Nigerian government has been obliged to buy black-market weapons to fight Boko Haram because the West refused to give it any military help, a prominent member of Nigeria’s ruling party says.
Nuhu Ribadu, a former Nigerian anti-corruption czar who is now a star candidate for the ruling party in a northern state where the Islamist radical militia has wreaked havoc, said Nigeria was “desperate” for military supplies and had to turn to the black market because Western governments were unwilling to help.
“The world might regard this as illegal, but we were being stopped from getting help and our people were being slaughtered,” Mr. Ribadu told The Globe and Mail on Friday.
“We were being wiped out, and the world didn’t give a damn. Nigeria was forced into the black market.”
The United States and other countries, including Canada, had promised to provide surveillance equipment to help Nigeria search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year, but they broke their promises, Mr. Ribadu said.
“They did not give us anything,” he said. “It was just niceties.”
Suspicions of black-market weapons-buying have been floating around Nigeria since last September, when South Africa detained a mysterious Nigerian plane carrying $9.3-million (U.S.) in cash. Media reports at the time said the money was intended for illicit arms purchases.
Mr. Ribadu acknowledged that Nigerian authorities had “gotten into trouble” when they shopped for weapons on the black market, including in South Africa. “They were looking for tools of war from anywhere in the world.”
This week, South African media reported that 100 private “military experts” from South Africa are heading to Nigeria on a contract with the Nigerian government to train its soldiers to fight Boko Haram. The South African government responded by describing the former South African soldiers as “mercenaries” who would be arrested when they returned home.
Mr. Ribadu said he could not give details of Nigeria’s black-market arms purchases. “The world arms market is a very murky one,” he said. “The arms could come from anywhere in the world.”
He said the black-market weapons have helped Nigerian troops regain control of several towns Boko Haram had captured in Adamawa, the state where he is running for governor as the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
“They didn’t have enough bullets, and now they have enough,” he said. “There are some helicopter gunships that they have bought recently. I have heard them moving around.”
The United States and other Western countries have been reluctant to send military aid to Nigeria because of concerns about corruption and human-rights abuses by Nigeria’s army. Human rights groups have alleged that the Nigerian military routinely commits atrocities in the northeast of the country.
Last August, for example, Amnesty International said it had seen “gruesome footage” of Nigerian soldiers slitting the throats of detainees and dumping them in mass graves.
But these allegations of human rights violations have demoralized the army and indirectly helped Boko Haram, according to Mr. Ribadu.
On Friday, the African Union endorsed a plan to create a West African task force of 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram. Soldiers from Chad are already reported to be active in battling the Islamist militants near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.
In the past, Nigeria rejected the idea
that it needed foreign military help. But now it seems to have accepted
the military support from its West African neighbours. “It’s only fair
and right that others should come in and support us,” Mr. Ribadu said.
“We never got the assistance that Iraq and Afghanistan are getting.”