President Buhari to talk terrorism, trade with Obama
Facing an uptick in violence from the jihadist group Boko Haram, Buhari — who came to power in late May — is expected to push for US help to tackle the insurgency and also improve trade, particularly in oil.
Top of the agenda “will be measures to strengthen and intensify bilateral and international cooperation against terrorism in Nigeria and west Africa”, said a statement from the Nigerian presidency.
Relations between the two countries dipped late last year, under the regime of former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, after Abuja considered US aid to fight Boko Haram insufficient.
The west African nation decided to halt a US training programme for an army battalion which would have developed into a unit to take on the militants.
The US State Department reacted swiftly, assuring that it would do what was needed to assist Nigeria.
But it also expressed concern over respect for human rights and protection of civilians during military operations.
Jiti Ogunye, a Lagos-based human rights lawyer, said he expected Buhari’s US visit to bring a “salutary rapprochement” between the two countries.
“Relations between Nigeria and US, which had not been too rosy before, should be reset by the visit. We expect a new tone in bilateral relations both in form and in content,” he said.
“Nigeria has a mono-economy that is dependent largely on oil. It needs to fire the interest of America to resume oil importation from Nigeria.”
US imports from Nigeria, mostly crude oil and other petroleum products, rose from more than 24 billion dollars in 2005 to over 38 billion in 2008, but dropped sharply to less than four billion last year owing to America’s shale energy revolution.
– Heightened violence –
Buhari, a former military head of state, has made the fight against Boko Haram one of the main planks of his administration — but more than 660 people have been killed in its attacks since he came to office.
The Islamist militants have taken advantage of a period of transition between Buhari’s installation and the deployment of a regional force of 8,700 troops, scheduled for late July, launching deadly attacks on nearly a daily basis.
The group has also carried out recent suicide bombings in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.
Washington, which has consistently condemned Boko Haram attacks, has said it can provide material aid to the Nigerian forces and encourage countries in the region to fight against the group.
The United States already shares intelligence on Boko Haram with Nigeria, and last year sent military and civilian advisers with a view to finding the more than 200 school girls abducted from their school in Chibok in the northeast, who remain missing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria in January in the run-up to the presidential elections and issued a clear warning that the strength of future US cooperation would be tied to the success of the polls.
The country has a history of elections tainted by violence and allegations of fraud, but Washington commended Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat after the March vote.
Buhari’s four-day visit will mark “our support for the Nigerian people following their historic democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power”, the White House said in a statement last month.
While Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and premier oil producer, the majority of its 173 million population live on less that two dollars a day.
Obama and Buhari will discuss economic and political reforms to “unlock its full potential as a regional and global leader”, the White House added.
Buhari, who ruled Nigeria with an iron hand from January 1984 to August 1985, has made the fight against corruption another priority as president, and he is expected to discuss this during his first visit to Washington.
“Nigeria needs US help to fight insurgency, terrorism, corruption and to improve its economy,” Dapo Thomas, a lecturer in history and international relations at Lagos State University, told AFP.
Nigerians expect discussions on “how the US can help Nigeria in tracing where millions of dollars stolen from the country are being kept in foreign banks, as well as the owners of such accounts”, Thomas said.