Feeling ‘Snubbed’ By the US, Nigeria Turns to Russia

By John Campbell

October 30, 2014

The Vanguard, a Nigerian daily, carried a report on September 28, confirmed by the Ministry of Defense, that 1,200 Nigerian soldiers, police, and Department of State Services (DSS) are being trained by Russian special forces. The Vanguard says that Abuja has turned to Moscow following an “alleged snub or nonchalant attitude of the United States and the United Kingdom toward Nigeria in her fight against Boko Haram terrorists.”

According to the Vanguard, Russian instructors participated in the selection process of those to be trained. The training is to last four months.

South African news portal reports that the Nigerian Army is seeking the funds to purchase at least three advanced surveillance aircraft from the Czech Republic. It also reports that Belarus has agreed to provide twelve attack helicopters for which the Nigerian government will pay in installments over the next seven years.

In September, the National Assembly approved a special allocation of one billion dollars for the struggle against the northern insurgency. Presumably those funds will be used to pay Russia, the Czech Republic, and Belarus for the training and materiel.

(Read More: Why Nigeria Is Able To Beat Ebola, But Not Boko Haram)

Abuja has refused to acknowledge and investigate repeated and credible reports of security service human rights abuses and to prosecute alleged offenders. These abuses largely preclude the United States from providing military training or other assistance to Nigeria under U.S. law, specifically the Leahy amendment.

Nigeria turning elsewhere when the United States and the United Kingdom won’t play is an old song. During the 1993-1998 brutal dictatorship of Sani Abacha, western countries imposed sanctions on Nigeria because of pervasive human rights abuses. Abacha then turned to China and India for military training and materiel.

Russian military training of Nigerian security service personnel may improve their capacity. In theory, special forces should be “force multipliers”, and could make a difference tactically. But, given Russian military behavior in Chechnya, Georgia, and the Ukraine, the training is unlikely to contribute to a badly needed change in Nigeria’s military and police culture, which largely ignores human rights, and will likely fuel support or aquiescence for Boko Haram.

By John Campbell // John Campbell is the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York. Rowman & Littlefield published his book, Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink. The second edition was published in June 2013. He writes the blog "Africa in Transition" and edits the Nigeria Security Tracker. From 1975 to 2007, Ambassador Campbell served as a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service officer. He served twice in Nigeria, as political counselor from 1988 to 1990, and as ambassador from 2004 to 2007. Ambassador Campbell's additional overseas postings include Lyon, Paris, Geneva, and Pretoria. He also served as deputy assistant secretary for human resources, dean of the Foreign Service Institute's School of Language Studies, and director of the Office of UN Political Affairs. From 2007 to 2008, he was a visiting professor of international relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was also a Department of State mid-career fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. Prior to his career in the Foreign Service, he taught British and French history at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. Ambassador Campbell received a BA and MA from the University of Virginia and a PhD in seventeenth century English history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

October 30, 2014