Clinton to meet Nigerian leader as Islamist attacks worsen

AFP , Thursday 9 Aug 2012

US Secretary of State meets Nigeria President to discuss the Islamist insurgency and domestic turbulence in African's largest oil producer

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a clinic at Delft township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012. (Photo: AP)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Nigeria's president Thursday on her African tour as the continent's largest oil producer faces an Islamist insurgency raising deep concern among Western powers.

Clinton is due to arrive Thursday afternoon in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and a major supplier of US oil imports, for a brief stopover before travelling to Ghana for the funeral of president John Atta Mills.

Her visit comes as President Goodluck Jonathan is under growing pressure to stop the violence, with Islamist militant group Boko Haram having killed more than 1,400 people in northern and central Nigeria since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some US lawmakers have been pushing President Barack Obama's administration to label Boko Haram a terrorist organisation, but diplomats have resisted the designation, stressing the group 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.

"I think one of the key concerns is the insecurity around the country, especially arising around the activities around the Boko Haram sect," said Clement Nwankwo, head of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre civil society group.

He said Jonathan's administration "has not shown sufficient ability to understand how to tackle the problem."

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 of Boko Haram 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.

It 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 Boko Haram 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.

US diplomats and rights groups have repeatedly urged Nigeria's government to begin to address those underlying issues in order to resolve the crisis.

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.

US-based Human Rights Watch this week asked Clinton to urge Jonathan to address the violence as well as corruption.

"Despite Nigeria's tremendous oil wealth, endemic government corruption and poor governance have robbed many Nigerians of their rights to health and education," the group said.

"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."

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