Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Nigerian media that President Goodluck Jonathan and President Barack Obama would meet in Washington, DC in September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
The Nigerian media quotes her as saying “Nigeria cannot fully achieve its potential as a stable regional leader until Nigeria successfully overcomes the challenge of Boko Haram and secures peace and protection for all of its citizens in all regions.” She said that Boko Haram “offers no practical solutions to the problems confronting the northern part of the country” and that “security efforts are necessary to protect innocent Nigerians.” However, she also said that the “Nigerian government and military must also win over the hearts and minds of northern populations by protecting them and providing timely and commensurate justice to both insurgents and the victims.” She called for a “comprehensive approach that addresses socio-economic problems.” She also called for accountability for those who perpetrate violence, both Boko Haram and security forces.
Assuming the media reports are accurate, the undersecretary is taking a hard line on the Islamist insurrection called “Boko Haram,” but also acknowledging abuses by the security forces. She also highlights the social and economic roots of the insurrection by calling for a comprehensive approach to address them.
Nigeria is in a pre-election season; voting will take place in late 2014, with a new president sworn-in in May 2015. Opposition groups are working to put together a united political party that will challenge Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, which has governed Nigeria since the restoration of civilian government in 1999. Jonathan is coy about whether he will run again for the presidency, though most Nigeria observers expect he will do so. Jonathan is likely to use a meeting with President Obama to enhance his own credibility with an electorate that appears increasingly disaffected.
Under these circumstances, it is to be hoped that the Obama administration will also reach out to credible opposition leaders. Two of the best known are Muhammadu Buhari, a former military chief of state who is popular with northern Muslims, and Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos state who remains a political force. They are two of the architects of the emerging opposition party.