Nigeria shifts to China arms

Dino Mahtani – The Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times
Nigeria has criticised Washington for failing to help protect the country’s oil assets from rebel attack, forcing it to turn to other military suppliers, including China, for support.
Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice-president, told the Financial Times the US had been too slow to help protect the oil-rich Niger Delta from a growing insurgency. He said talks with the US over security plans for the region did not “appear to be moving as fast as the situation is unfolding” and Nigeria was instead sourcing military equipment elsewhere.
Nigerian security sources said China was becoming one of Nigeria’s main suppliers of military hardware. They said new supplies would include dozens of patrol boats to secure the swamps and creeks that from the launching pad for rebel attacks.
Militant attacks on oil facilities and abductions of foreign oil workers this month have shut down a fifth of Nigeria’s oil production. Both the US and China see Nigeria, the eighth largest oil exporter, as an important future supplier.
The US government has offered the Nigerian military technical assistance and training, but has provided only four old coastal patrol boats. Nigeria has also ordered 35 smaller high-speed patrol boats from a US company but fewer than half have been received, said a security analyst.
Diplomats and analysts say that concerns over the level of corruption within the Nigerian security forces and human rights violations have made the US reluctant to supply more equipment. Nigeria accuses militants of funding themselves with stolen oil but many industry officials say military personnel are involved in cartels that sell stolen oil to criminal syndicates.
Walter Carrington, US ambassador to Nigeria between 1993 and 1997, said Chinese military sales to Nigeria would reflect Beijing’s desire to gain a greater economic foothold in Nigeria, and would not be a threat to the US.
“The Chinese moves in Nigeria are motivated more by their desire to have a secure source of oil than almost anything else,” said Mr Carrington.
Nigeria is one of nine African nations participating in the US-led Trans-Sahara Counter-terrorism Initiative. The $500m seven-year initiative is aimed at helping the African countries ensure that radical extremist groups do not take root in the expansive, uncontrolled areas of the Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa.
China insists it does not use arms sales for diplomatic or political ends, and analysts say Beijing has been willing to approve weapons shipments to almost any willing state buyer.
Nigeria last year signed an $800m deal to supply PetroChina with 30,000 barrels a day of oil. This year, CNOOC, China’s largest offshore oil producer, agreed to pay $2.3bn for a share in an oil block owned by a former defence minister. Oil industry officials say China is looking to increase its interest in future bidding rounds for potentially lucrative offshore oil acreage in Nigeria.
Additional reporting by Mure Dickie in Beijing and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

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