Nigeria’s effort at ending the Boko Haram insurgency has run into another hitch with the refusal by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to grant over-flight permits to cargo planes conveying military equipment and armoured tanks procured by the Nigerian government from Pakistan.
THISDAY gathered authoritatively from intelligence sources that the decision by the Saudi authorities is certain to cause a diplomatic row at a time the Jonathan administration is eager to end the insurgency in the North-east before the 2015 general election.
President Goodluck Jonathan is seeking re-election in less than two months time and had given the green light to the military authorities to procure arms from alternative sources such as Pakistan and Russia other than Nigeria’s traditional allies led by the United States of America, United Kingdom and France.
The decision, THISDAY gathered, was premised on Nigeria’s displeasure with the US after the country blocked the sale of American-manufactured Cobra attack helicopters from Israel.
With the position of the West, Nigeria decided to turn to the East, chiefly Pakistan, from which the federal government was able to procure a huge cache of military hardware needed to prosecute the war against Boko Haram.
However, an intelligence source said: “Getting the equipment into Nigeria immediately has run into a hitch owing to Saudi Arabia’s refusal to grant the cargo planes that will convey the arms over-flight permits through its airspace.
“We got permission to fly through Sudan and other countries but have been blocked by Saudi Arabia, which has impeded the urgency of the operation.”
He added that owing to Saudi Arabia’s refusal, the only alternative is for Nigeria to ship the armament by sea, but using this as an option would take much longer.
“If we resort to shipping the arms via the high seas, they would reach us well after the elections which may be too late for the desired impact, especially now that we have the insurgents on the run,” he explained.
Flight permits are required by all aircraft to overfly, land or make a technical stop in any country’s airspace. All countries have their own regulations regarding the issuance of flight permits, as there are generally a number of considerations including payment involved.
When asked if there might have been religious undertones in Saudi Arabia’s decision to withhold the flight permit, the intelligence source said he was not certain but would not rule it out.
“Nigeria has always had close ties to Saudi Arabia, but with a war that has a religious slant, we may not be able to rule it out. But what I can say for certain is that this would lead to diplomatic tensions between both countries,” he said.