Separatists in Nigeria have sued two of the Biden administration’s top officials for clearing the sale of warplanes to Africa’s most populous country, asserting the military aircraft will harm civilians supporting a decades-long push to form a new nation.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) lodged the complaint against Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week in a Washington court, alleging the Cabinet members violated U.S. law by sending weapons to a foreign military with a history of human rights abuses.
The lawsuit reflects rising tensions between the Nigerian government and those pushing to revive the short-lived state of Biafra. Half a century after Nigeria’s civil war — a three-year conflict that claimed up to a million lives — some in the southeast are still vying for independence, citing discriminatory treatment of the region’s predominant ethnic group and bloody encounters with Nigeria’s military.
“Selling the fighter jets to Nigeria means the U.S. is complicit in killings,” said Ugochukwu Onyejiaka, a spokesman for the separatists.
The group is asking a federal judge to compel Blinken and Austin to halt a shipment of six A-29 Super Tucano planes to Nigeria, which is expected to arrive by the end of the year, as well as reverse the sale of six that already landed there in July.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on pending litigation.
The Nigerian Air Force denied targeting civilians.
“The NAF has not and will never single out any movement, group, organization or association for attack,” said a spokesman, Air Commodore Edward Gabwet. “Ours is to ensure, along with other security agencies, that the lives and properties of all Nigerians are secured.”
Gabwet said the attack planes would be used against extremists in the northeast, where Boko Haram and an offshoot loyal to the Islamic State have killed more than 30,000 people over the past 12 years. Other targets include gangs that have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren in recent months.
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