WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Barack Obama met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the White House Monday and offered U.S. support in the fight against Boko Haram militants.
Just eight weeks after taking office, Buhari sat beside Obama in the Oval Office and listened as the American leader praised the “historic” vote marking the first democratic transfer of power since the end of military rule in Nigeria in 1999.
“We saw an election in which a peaceful transition to a new government took place," Obama said. "It was an affirmation to Nigeria’s commitment to democracy.”
Buhari, dressed in traditional attire and speaking softly, thanked the president for U.S. support in making the hope of a peaceful transition a reality.
“The maintenance of pressure by the United States, mainly, and Europe to make sure that the elections were free, fair and credible - led us to where we are now,” Buhari said.
The former dictator took power in March after defeating then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Under Jonathan’s administration, U.S. relations with Nigeria plummeted, with officials raising concerns about the government’s ability to fight Boko Haram, particularly after the kidnapping of some 200 Nigerian schoolgirls.
Bronwyn Bruton, an analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said the new administration in Nigeria will help in the fight against Boko Haram.
“With the Goodluck Jonathan administration, I think that for many, many years the Boko Haram threat was allowed to fester and actually has been made considerably worse by the fact that the Nigerian military has been so brutal in its response to its insurgency,” Bruton said.
Buhari came to office promising change, and within days replaced the heads of Nigeria’s army, navy and air force.
In an op-ed published Monday in the Washington Post, the Nigerian leader pledged to take the fight directly to Boko Haram while “instilling good governance and tackling the scourge of corruption.”
“President Buhari comes into office with a reputation for integrity and a very clear agenda and that is to make sure that he is bringing safety and security and peace to his country,” Obama said.
Obama said Buhari has a “very clear agenda” to fight both Boko Haram and corruption and pledged U.S. cooperation on both fronts.
During Monday’s briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the leaders discussed Boko Haram and noted the U.S. commitment to working with Nigeria to help counter “disruptive terrorist activities.”
But Earnest said such cooperation includes the requirement the Nigerian government improve its human rights record.
“To make sure that even as they are carrying out counterterrorism raids and other security operations, that they are mindful of the basic human rights of their people," Earnest said. "And that was certainly an important part of the conversation that the president had today.”
Improving human rights, ushering in democratic reforms, and boosting Nigeria’s economy will likely come up again as Buhari continues his four-day Washington visit, that includes meetings with members of Congress, the Cabinet, and the World Bank. He will hold a town hall with Nigerians on Tuesday.