Up to now, President Barack Obama has never visited Nigeria. That has been appropriate given the country’s history of rigged elections and the government’s refusal to investigate credible reports of human rights abuses by the security services in the struggle with Boko Haram. The Obama administration did engage with the Jonathan administration, with meetings between the two presidents in Washington and New York, and visits by Secretary of State John Kerry to Abuja.
Now, in the aftermath of the March 28 elections, it would be appropriate for the president to visit Nigeria, perhaps in conjunction with his July visit to Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi.
While far from perfect, the March 28 elections were the best since Nigeria’s restoration of civilian government in 1999. The elections resulted in the first democratic transfer of power in Nigeria’s post-1999 history from an incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, to the opposition presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. Most Nigerians, including President Jonathan, have accepted the credibility of the election results.
The Obama administration was heavily invested in the success of the elections. Senior administration officials repeatedly denounced potential election related violence, which Nigeria has historically experienced. The administration also supported the efforts by Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, to conduct elections that were free, fair, and credible. The Department of State has made it clear that those who promoted violence or interfered with the elections could expect to have their U.S. visas revoked. On March 23, President Obama directly appealed to the Nigerian people to insist on credible elections. On April 1, after the elections, he congratulated the country on “the strength of Nigeria’s commitment to democratic principles."
Under these circumstances, a presidential visit to Nigeria would be a continuation of U.S. support for Nigeria’s developing democracy.
Muhammadu Buhari will be inaugurated as president of Nigeria on May 29. He already has a functioning transition team. By July, his government should be in place. President-elect Buhari has already said publicly he would like to restore a military relationship with the United States. A July visit by President Obama would provide an opportunity to open a dialogue with the new president on Boko Haram and jihadist radicalism, the necessary steps to end human rights abuses by security forces, and a host of other bilateral and multilateral issues.