Leahy’s Law Presents Opportunities for Buhari’s Administration By Ambassador Bukun-Olu Onemola
Two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari’s May 29th, 2015 inauguration, the United States (US) announced that it would be committing $5 million to assist the regional military force set up by the governments of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and the Benin Republic against the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Many believe that this announcement by the United States was not unconnected with the prior efforts of the United Kingdom (UK), which had pledged £5 million in UK support before the 2015 general elections. This pledge from the UK, came amidst widespread criticisms that the Western powers had neglected Nigeria and its affected neighbours in the fight against Boko Haram.
Fast forward to Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015. While speaking at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in Washington D.C, President Muhammadu Buhari stated that the United States of America’s blanket designation of Nigeria as a human rights violator under Leahy’s Law has aided and abetted the activities of Boko Haram in West Africa. This assertion by President Buhari, as clarified in a statement by the Presidency, was aimed at highlighting the negative impact of Leahy’s Law on Nigeria’s efforts to contain the Boko Haram insurgency. This is as a result of the United States’ claim that under the law in question – which is primarily aimed at restricting military assistance to foreign military units that are perceived to violate human rights – the United States cannot directly come to a bilateral military agreement with Nigeria. This is why the US, as an alternative to directly funding Nigeria’s military, has chosen instead to fund the regional military exercise against Boko Haram through the African Union.
At a first glance, one would think that the US has played its part as the world’s hegemonic power in contributing funds to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) in the fight against Boko Haram. However, when the implications of this funding scheme are measured against the United States’ foreign policy, with specific regard to the exceptions that it continues to make for countries like Israel, we can clearly see that the US invokes the use of Leahy’s Law in an inconsistent manner.
To start with, Israel has received over $100 billion in aid from the United States over the past 50 years. Since Leahy’s Law has been in place, this same Israel – that has also been accused on numerous occasions of perpetuating human rights abuses against Palestinians situated in the Gaza strip – continues to be one of the highest beneficiaries of US Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Additionally, recent United States congressional figures point to the fact that this year alone, the Obama administration will provide up to $3.7 billion in military aid to Israel. This translates to roughly $10.2 million a day. To paint this picture in clearer terms, the US is giving Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin – 5 countries, 50% of the amount that it gives to Israel everyday to execute an entire military campaign against the most dangerous terrorist group on the continent.
Another inconsistency that careful observers can find in the US government’s application of Leahy’s Law is in the example of the Kingdom of Bahrain. In 2011, following the Arab Spring, Bahrain’s police and armed forces began a systematic crackdown on protestors that were seen as anti-government. Because of this, petitions were sent to the US State Department, which prompted the Obama administration to reduce (not stop, reduce) Bahrain’s FMF from about $15 million in 2012, to $12.6 million in 2013, $10 million in 2014, and ultimately, $7.5 million in 2015.
In spite of the aforementioned, recent statements credited to US State Department officials suggest that the US is ready to restore full security aid to Bahrain. This is coming in spite of many of the lingering human rights accusations leveled against the government and armed forces of Bahrain. Many foreign policy experts have argued that the US is willing to make an exception for Bahrain because the country “houses key U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations in the Middle East.”
What the Bahrain argument above implies is that the US is not as interested in curbing human rights abuses as it is in protecting its interests around the world. Consequently, in our bid to quickly put an end to the Boko Haram insurgency and improve our global image, Nigeria must move to adopt new measures of our own to protect our own interests.
First and foremost, the Buhari administration must harp on the fact that Nigeria’s recent democratic credentials – the smooth transition from one ruling party to another – recommend it for US FMF assistance. Fortunately, the issue of assisting our military was one of the key engagements during President Buhari’s recent visit to the US. In light of this, Nigeria must push the United States for a more robust assistance in the supply of strategic equipment to our military.
Additionally, as the allegations of human rights violations against our military are unsubstantiated, the Buhari administration must emphasize that these alleged violations that have been leveled against our armed forces were committed in the former administration. As it stands, the Buhari has reiterated its commitment commitment to fully investigate these claims and ensure that they do not reoccur.
Secondly, in the event that receiving FMF from the US is unattainable, Nigeria should continue its non-aligned foreign policy by seeking the support of other countries, and not tying itself to any. What this means is that if the US is unwilling to seriously aid our war against Boko Haram, we must turn to other foreign powers that are capable of supplying us with the technical and monetary assistance required to achieve our short-term counter-terrorism objectives.
Third, in the long run, given that the fundamental role of any government is to guarantee the security of its citizens and territory, the Buhari administration must begin to look into ways to make Nigeria more self-reliant by focusing on developing our military-industrial complex. This can be achieved through increased funding and legislations aimed at increasing our domestic research and development proficiency, to strengthen our national capacity to protect ourselves from any enemy – foreign or domestic. Ultimately, this push can only be attained when there is a comprehensive security policy, and a synergy between our legislators, our armed forces, and our arms industry.
Finally, one of the lessons learned from the accusations of human rights violations leveled against our armed forces, is that Nigeria must realign the management of its external relations with its security policy and operations more than ever before. This is because the sort of comprehensive foreign policy agenda that will make Nigeria self-reliant in the long run must balance our diplomatic dexterity with the strength of our military. The carrot must always know what the stick is doing, and the stick must always be there as a backup to the carrot.
Consequently, the international debate generated about Leahy’s Law must teach us that as a nation, when push ultimately comes to shove, we are on our own when it comes to solving our problems. Therefore, even as we engage with other countries, we must also work on being as self-reliant as we can possibly be. That, in and of itself, will be our true litmus test of greatness.
– Ambassador Onemola is a former Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations. –