The United States (U.S.) government says the terms of procurement means that Nigeria could only deploy the Super Tucano aircraft in the Northern part of the country against Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)/Boko Haram terrorists.
This, therefore, precludes the possibility of the Federal Government deploying the fighter jets from being deployed in the Southeast region despite Nigeria’s designation of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation and its setting up of the armed Eastern Security Network (ESN).
The South-East has been the epicentre of a secessionist agitation threatening to break up the country.
The US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor, Jonathan Finer, at a media parley attended by the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, as part of his visit to Nigeria, said the terms of the agreement during the sale of the 12 Tucano aircraft were explicit.
Reacting to a question on whether the Tucano fighter planes might be deployed against secessionists in the Southeast region, Finer said the planes were an important platform for security, particularly in the North, expressing pleasure over the conclusion of the deal.
Finer said, “We are pleased to deepen our security cooperation with the Nigerian government. I think we made it very clear our expectations about this platform where it would be used and in the right way and we are always raising concerns when we have them and that it’s true with all our security partners around the world.
“This is an important platform for security, particularly in the North and we are pleased the transaction is finally concluded.”
The PUNCH had reported on Wednesday that the military had not been able to deploy the Tucano planes to crush the bandits in the North-West because the agreement signed with the United States was that the aircraft, bought from the US, would be deployed against terrorists and not bandits. This implies that the fighter planes have only been deployed to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East.
It was gathered that the complaints by the Chief of Defence Staff and Service Chiefs led to the recent recommendation to President Muhammadu Buhari by the Senate and the House of Representatives that bandits should be designated as terrorists, so the planes could be deployed against the bandits.
The Federal Government had ordered 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to aid its war against Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East. The aircraft were said to have cost $423m.
On July 22, 2021, the Nigerian Air Force said in a statement by its spokesperson, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, that the first batch of six of the Tucano aircraft arrived at Kano at about 12:34pm.
Those who received the aircraft were the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi; Chief of Air Staff, Oladayo Amao and the Chief of Army Staff, Farouk Yahaya, among others.
Also, on October 18, 2021, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the remaining six had been received and had been deployed to the Northeast region.
Speaking on a TVC News programme, ‘This Morning’, the minister said, “All the 12 Super Tucano fighter jets have been received. As at this morning, all the 12 were here and they have been deployed to the North-East.
“We can see that the Tucano jets are actually game changers. Most of the successes we have recorded in recent times is because of the acquisition of new platforms, not limited to the super Tucano.”
While the jets were being awaited, some members of the National Assembly visited the United States in May to inspect the aircraft. The lawmakers include Senator Michael Nnachi, Representatives Abass Adigun, Babajimi Benson, Shehu Koko and Abubakar Maki.
They were received by United States officials from Embraer Defence Security Incorporated and the Nigerian Defence Attaché to the US, Air Commodore Jibrin Usman, the Lead Foreign Liaison Office on the A-29, Air Vice Marshal Sule Lawal, among others.
The US officials pointed out that the aircraft were designed in accordance with NAF’s specific operational configuration.
Also, a total of 64 pilots and maintainers from the Nigerian Air Force were trained to the US standards with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Base in Georgia, United States.
The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra says it fears the Federal Government will deploy the Tucano planes to attack Igbo youths agitating to secede from Nigeria.
It said the worry of its members was triggered by the killings and burning of houses in Igbo communities by the personnel of the Nigerian Army in Imo State in the name of reprisals.
The spokesperson for MASSOB, Samuel Edeson, told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview that many innocent Igbo youths had been killed by security agents.
He added, “The Fulani herdsmen have been terrorising the entire Southern and Middle Belt region but the Federal Government has not tagged them terrorists or send soldiers after them. Their agenda is to annihilate Ndigbo and take over our God-given land but one thing is sure, evil will never overcome good.”