- Published on Thursday, 09 August 2012 16:13
- Written by Admin
(AFP) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Nigeria's president Thursday as the continent's largest oil producer faces an Islamist insurgency raising deep concern among Western powers. Her visit to Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and a major supplier of US oil imports, comes with President Goodluck Jonathan under growing
pressure to stop the violence in the northern and central regions of the country.
Islamist militant group Boko Haram has killed more than 1,400 people since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch. Clinton was to offer help to Nigeria in boosting the country's investigative and intelligence capabilities.
"(Clinton) will be renewing our offers of assistance and help to the Nigerians," a senior State Department official said ahead of her meeting with Jonathan on the latest stage of an Africa tour.
"This is a problem for Nigeria, but also, northern Nigeria borders Cameroon, it borders Niger," he said, expressing concern that a radical network could undermine the security of neighbouring states.
The US offer of assistance is to include helping to develop Nigeria's forensics and investigative procedures, according to the official.
"We can help them develop mechanisms for tracking and determining individuals who are likely to be engaged in supporting Boko Haram actively," the official said.
Washington would also be willing to help Nigeria develop an intelligence coordination centre that would assist the country in integrating information, the official said.
Some US lawmakers have been pushing President Barack Obama's administration to label Boko Haram a terrorist group, but diplomats have resisted the designation, stressing it remains domestically focused.
In June, the United States labeled suspected Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and two other Nigerian militants "global terrorists," allowing any US assets they may have to be blocked.
Shekau appeared in a video posted to YouTube last weekend dismissing the designation and criticising Jonathan.
Nigeria has provided some eight percent of US oil imports, and crude production, based in the country's south, has not been affected by the insurgency.
Boko Haram's targets have continually widened, with the group having moved from assassinations to increasingly sophisticated bombings, including suicide attacks.
Members are believed to have sought training in northern Mali from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda's north African branch, and Western nations have been monitoring closely for signs of further links.
Boko Haram has attacked UN headquarters in the capital Abuja and one of the country's most prominent newspapers, in addition to frequent bombings and shootings in the country's northeast, where the sect is based.
While Muslims have often been its victims, it has recently specifically targeted churches, and Jonathan has accused the group of seeking to provoke a religious crisis in a country roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
On Monday night, gunmen stormed a church in central Nigeria, shutting off the electricity and gunning down 19 people. There has not yet been any claim for the attack, though it resembled others blamed on Boko Haram.
The group is believed to include a number of factions with varying interests, and many analysts say deep poverty and a lack of development in Nigeria's north have been key factors in creating the insurgency.
A senior US official said Thursday that Washington wants to encourage Nigeria to set up a "comprehensive programme in the north" that combined a security strategy with a socio-economic plan.
The country and its enormous economic potential have long been held back by deeply rooted corruption, with infrastructure sorely lacking and electricity blackouts occurring daily despite its oil wealth.
"Despite Nigeria's tremendous oil wealth, endemic government corruption and poor governance have robbed many Nigerians of their rights to health and education," US-based Human Rights Watch said this week.
"These problems are most acute in the north -- the country's poorest region -- where widespread poverty and unemployment, sustained by corruption, and state-sponsored abuses have created an environment in which militant groups thrive."
Clinton will spend several hours in the Nigerian capital Abuja before travelling to Ghana for the funeral of president John Atta Mills, who died on July 24.