Accra: Saudi Arabian authorities have refused to grant over-flight permits to Nigerian cargo planes carrying military equipment including armoured tanks from Pakistan which Nigerian authorities have procured in order to fight the Boko Haram rebel group, media reported Monday.
It may be recalled that IANS, quoting Pakistani officials in Abuja early this year, reported that Pakistan has pledged to support Nigeria in its fight against the Boko Haram.
ThisDay newspaper reported Monday it had been informed by the country's intelligence sources that the decision by the Saudi authorities was certain to cause a diplomatic row at a time when President Goodluck Jonathan was eager to end the insurgency in the country's northeast before the 2015 general election due to be held in February.
President Jonathan, the newspaper said, has "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".
It said this was because of 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," ThisDay said.
"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," the newspaper claimed it had been told by intelligence sources in the country, adding 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".
Unfortunately, intelligence sources told the paper, "if we resort to shipping the arms via the high seas, they would reach us well after the election which may be too late for the desired impact, especially now that we have the insurgents on the run".
ThisDay claimed that when its reporters drew religious undertones in the Saudi authorities' refusal to grant the flight permits, their sources said they were not certain "but would not rule it out."
"Nigeria has always had close ties with 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," the paper quoted intelligence sources as saying.