U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Terence P. McCulley (file photo)
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Terence P. McCulley (file photo)

The U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Terence McCulley says the United States is looking at expanding its outreach in the West African nation's Muslim north by opening a consulate in the restive northern city of Kano.

Nigeria, which is divided between a largely Christian south and a mostly Muslim north, has seen escalating sectarian violence in recent months. President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in many parts of the north in response to the unrest.  But the attacks have continued.

Speaking with journalists in Lagos on a teleconference Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Terence McCulley says opening a consulate in Kano will bring a better relationship with the Muslim north.

"We don't have enough of a presence in the north, said McCulley. "We need to open a consulate in Kano so that we can continue our public outreach, so we can organize programs to explain American policy to the populations in the north."

The United States once had a consulate in Kaduna, but closed it when it opened its Abuja Embassy.  McCulley says opening a consulate takes time but he hopes to have one open in the next few years.

Ambassador McCulley said the United States understands the importance of addressing Nigerians' underlying grievances in the north, such as under development in education, sanitation, clean water, infrastructure and power.  He said the U.S. recognizes that the extremist ideology propagated by militants groups like Boko Haram hurts hurting fellow Muslims along with all Nigerians.

Boko Haram, whose name means ?Western education is sacrilegious? in Hausa, the main language of the north, says it is working to implement Islamic law across Nigeria - Africa's most populous country.

In response to a question about U.S. security interests in the region, McCulley ruled out the idea of deploying U.S. security forces in northern Nigeria. But he says the United States is providing support to Nigeria in terms of better coordination and sharing of information in the security arena.