THE US President, Barack Obama, on Monday offered strong support for Nigeria’s new President, Muhammadu Buhari, saying he had a “clear agenda” for defeating the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, and was working to root out corruption.
Speaking as he greeted Buhari on his first visit to the White House since his election in March, Obama said the two leaders would discuss ways to cooperate against the group, which had wreaked havoc in parts of the West African country.
Obama told reporters in the Oval Office that Buhari had integrity and “a very clear agenda in defeating Boko Haram extremists of all sorts inside his country.”
Boko Haram has carried out multiple attacks in northern Nigeria, most notably the April 2014 kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who are still missing.
The specific tactics Buhari will use against the group are still unknown, say experts who study the region.
White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said the United States could offer intelligence to help the Nigerian efforts as well as support for communities hurt by the group.
Buhari’s election is the first democratic power transition in decades, which Obama called “an affirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy,” and the visit is meant to usher in a new chapter in relations between the two countries.
The US cooperation with Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, had virtually grounded to a halt over issues including his refusal to investigate corruption and human rights abuses by the Nigerian military.
Buhari’s move on July 13 to fire military chiefs appointed by Jonathan cleared the way for more military cooperation, the US officials have said.
Since Buhari’s election, Washington has committed $5m in new support for a multi-national task force set up to fight Boko Haram. Obama did not signal whether he might send the US troops to help train Nigerian forces.
The US is also looking at improving its economic ties with Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, especially as relations with two of Africa’s other big powers, Egypt and South Africa, have cooled.
Obama called Nigeria one of the most important countries on the African continent and in the world and he commended Buhari’s work in rooting out corruption that he said had held back Nigeria’s economic growth.
Buhari was also expected to meet with the US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, later on Monday to discuss countering violent extremism.
Meanwhile, Buhari on Monday said the sustained pressure mounted on the immediate past administration by the US and some European countries made the last general election in Nigeria to be free and fair.
A statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, quoted the President as speaking while responding to the welcome remarks by Obama before the start of the bilateral meeting between officials of both countries at the Oval Office of the White House, Washington DC, on the second day of Buhari’s four-day visit to the US.
“Without the external pressure, we would not be where we are today,” Adesina quoted the President as saying.
Buhari recalled that the pressure started from the visit of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to the past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega.
“Nigeria will be ever grateful to President Obama and the United States for making Nigeria to consolidate its gains on democracy,” the President added.