LAGOS - Corruption and security will top the agenda as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Nigeria this week.
Kerry also is expected to discuss the state of the economy with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari during his trip to the capital, Abuja, and the northern city of Sokoto.
The visit, likely the last by a major American official during the Obama administration, comes as the two countries have gradually been stepping up their cooperation after a period of strained relations.
“The relationship remains, sort of, near or at… a high water mark in recent history,” said Matthew Page, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
A rift opened between the two countries during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Nigerian officials complained the U.S. wasn’t supplying them with weapons they needed to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s northeast, while American officials said they worried the military would use U.S. arms to carry out human rights abuses.
Boko Haram remains one of Nigeria’s top security challenges. The Islamist group has killed about 20,000 people and displaced as many as 2.7 million.
Since Buhari took office, the U.S. has increased its security commitments to Nigeria, despite continued allegations by rights groups of human rights abuses by Nigerian soldiers.
The U.S. has deployed drones to neighboring Cameroon to hunt for Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria, and also has stationed a small group of troops in Maiduguri, according to a senior military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. That Nigerian city has been repeatedly attacked by Boko Haram and is at the center of the fight against it.
During his campaign for president, Buhari promised to fight the corruption that is seen as one of the reasons that two-thirds of Nigerians live in poverty, even though the country is among Africa’s top economies.
Cooperation between the U.S. and Nigeria to track down looted funds has been stop-and-start in the past, but has grown better coordinated in recent months, Page said.
“They haven’t really developed a deep, investigative cooperation or information sharing relationship,” Page said. “I think what we’re seeing, or what we have started seeing over the last year, is that relationship… pick up.”
Kerry could use the visit to highlight steps the U.S. has taken against suspected fraudsters, Page said.
“He may announce that the U.S. has levied a handful of visa sanctions on individuals that were involved in corruption and vote rigging during the 2015 elections,” he said.
Another issue of concern is the state of Nigeria’s economy. It’s poised to enter a recession, due to a decline in the price of oil as well as a series of militant attacks on Nigeria’s infrastructure that have dropped the country’s oil production substantially.
It’s unlikely the U.S. will offer the types of infrastructural assistance — such as building stadiums, railways or bridges — European countries and China are known for, Page said.
The U.S. likely will offer only technical assistance, Page said, or help with getting money from international lenders.