U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped in Nigeria Thursday as part of her 11-day, nine-country Africa tour. The secretary of state reaffirmed what she called the "vital" strategic partnership between the two countries and offered U.S. assistance in marshaling Nigeria's security against the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram.
Nigeria is America's largest trading partner in Africa and one of the world's top 10 oil producers. But much of its population lives in poverty and rampant corruption undermines development efforts.
Clinton reiterated Washington's commitment to the bilateral relationship and support for Nigerian reforms, including anti-corruption efforts.
"We really believe that the future for Nigeria is limitless. But the most important task that you face is making sure that there are better opportunities for all Nigerians. We want to work with you and we will be by your side as you make the reforms and take the tough decisions that are necessary," Clinton said.
Clinton spoke following high-level meetings with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and his national security team and government ministers. A senior State Department official said the United States offered to help Nigeria "harmonize" the efforts of its police, military and other security forces. A lack of coordination and information sharing between the various branches is said to be hindering the fight against Islamist extremist sect Boko Haram.
Another senior State Department official in the meeting said the Nigerian government was "very interested" in the proposal and that the United States will be sending a team to follow up. The proposal includes helping Nigerian security forces set up an "intelligence fusion cell" to better share information, based on a model used by the United States that it has shared with several other nations.
The State Department says the U.S. also offered to assist in forensics and post-attack inspections, as well as improved methods of tracking and arresting suspected militants.
Boko Haram stages almost daily bombings and shootings in northern Nigeria that Human Rights Watch says have killed 1,400 people since the sect's reemergence in 2010.
Nigeria has not been able to stop the bloodshed. Critics say the government's military crackdown in the North has escalated the violence, which threatens to destabilize Africa's most populous country and its neighbors.
President Jonathan thanked the Obama administration for its "passion" and support for Nigeria, in particular during the turbulent political transition following the death of President Umar Yar'Adua in 2010.
"The support they gave us was one of the things that stabilized this country. And when we insisted that we must conduct elections that would be free and fair -- that is the only way we can stabilize democracy -- they gave us moral support, technical support and assisted us to make sure that we conducted elections that both national and international observers declared were quite free and fair," he said.
A senior State Department official said Secretary Clinton and President Jonathan extensively discussed a proposed regional intervention in Mali, where Islamist militants have seized control of the northern half of the country, while the south remains gripped in a post-coup political crisis.
Mali is expected to figure prominently in Clinton's informal discussions with regional leaders in Accra on Friday on the sidelines of the funeral for Ghanian President John Atta Mills.
Clinton will conclude her tour with a stop in Benin late Friday.