With global arms sales surging, Canadian companies have joined the booming business by selling armoured vehicles to Nigeria and Cameroon for their fight against Boko Haram, a new study says.
Canada is among a growing group of countries selling arms to the West African nations for the military campaign to recapture territory from the radical Islamist militia, according to the report on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Most Western governments have been reluctant to sell weapons to Nigeria because of widespread concerns about well-documented atrocities by the Nigerian military, including the mass murder of civilians and detainees. The United States, for example, cancelled the proposed sale of Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria last year. But those restrictions don't seem to apply to private companies.
Nigeria and Cameroon, seeking weapons to fight Boko Haram, have in the past year purchased helicopters from China and Russia and armoured vehicles from China, South Africa, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, along with armoured vehicles from Canadian-owned production lines in Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, the report said.
With a close-fought election looming on March 28 and the Boko Haram rebellion becoming a huge election issue, Nigeria has spent large sums on major weapons purchases in recent months. Its political leaders say the government went to the black market to buy weapons because the United States and other countries would not sell to Nigeria. Hundreds of foreign mercenaries have also reportedly been hired to fight Boko Haram for $400 (U.S.) in cash per day.
The Nigerian deals are part of a worldwide boom in weapons sales. Global arms sales have jumped by 16 per cent over the past five years, compared with the previous five-year period, the SIPRI report said.
The report showed that China is now the world's third-biggest weapons exporter. China's arms exports have soared by a stunning 143 per cent over the past five years, allowing it to overtake Germany, France and Britain in global sales, although it still remains far behind the two biggest exporters, the United States and Russia, which together account for 58 per cent of arms exports. In the past five years, U.S. exports have increased by 23 per cent, while Russian exports have risen by 37 per cent, compared with the previous five-year period.
Canada was the world's 13th-biggest arms exporter over the past five years, according to the SIPRI report. In the previous five-year period, it was the 14th-biggest weapons exporter.
The SIPRI database identifies the sale of 40 armoured vehicles to Nigeria from Canadian companies in 2013 and 2014. Streit Group, founded in Canada in 1992, has publicly confirmed that it has recently sold its Spartan armoured vehicles to Nigeria. The company says it has sold 12,000 armoured vehicles worldwide since its foundation.
Peter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stcokholm institute, said another Canadian-based company, INKAS, has sold light armoured patrol vehicles to Nigeria from a production plant in Nigeria. Retired Canadian general David Fraser, who commanded Canadian troops in Afghanistan, is a director of INKAS.
In a press release last year, INKAS said one of its armoured vehicles came under attack in a bombing in July, 2014, in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna while it was transporting a former Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, who was unharmed in the attack. Mr. Buhari is now the main opposition candidate against President Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28 election.
Mr. Wezeman, in an e-mailed answer to questions from The Globe and Mail on Monday, said Canada should ensure it "understands the risks involved in arms exports" and should try to help Nigeria to deal with Boko Haram "in a way that involves the minimum amount of violence needed." He added: "Just allowing the supply of weapons is not enough." He said he was speaking in his personal capacity, not on behalf of the institute.