By Andrew Quinn
ABUJA (Reuters) – The United States wants to help Nigeria fight Islamists it sees as a growing regional menace, but the country cannot rely on military might alone, an official travelling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
Clinton visited Africa’s most populous nation on Thursday and met with President Goodluck Jonathan. Washington is offering support in the fight against Boko Haram, a Taliban-like group that wants to create a strict Islamic state in Nigeria’s north.
She said Nigeria was “one of the most vitally important strategic partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa” in remarks at the U.S. embassy, shortly before leaving.
Africa’s top oil producer is a major exporter of light crude to the United States, whose refiners favour it because it is easy to refine into motor fuel. Its proven oil and gas reserves outweigh those of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa put together.
Boko Haram has launched bomb and gun attacks on churches this year that provoked Christians, leading to deadly reprisals against Muslims. Hundreds of people have died and Washington is concerned about insecurity spreading.
“Northern Nigeria also borders Chad, it borders Cameroon, it borders Niger and we are concerned this radicalism could undermine the security of neighbouring states,” the senior U.S. official said.
Jonathan’s critics say he relies too much on the military to defeat Boko Haram, rather than addressing northerners’ grievances, such as poverty and unemployment.
“A security strategy is not enough,” the official said.
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