Buhari In US, Holds Bilateral Talks With Obama

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James F. Entwistle, US Ambassador to Nigeria receiving President Buhari at the Joint Base Andrews Airport in Washington, DC, United States

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President Muhammadu Buhari is on a four-day official visit in which he is expected to hold bilateral talks on a number of issues to benefit both countries

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari arrived in Washington DC, United States, on Sunday night, July 19, to begin his four-day official visit to the country. During his stay, Buahri will hold bilateral talks with President Barack Obama and the US officials on many issues including helping Nigeria to track down billions of dollars in stolen assets and increase US military assistance to fight Boko Haram.

The visit by the Nigerian president is viewed by the US administration as a chance to set the seal on improving ties with both countries. This is in view of the fact that the US cooperation with former President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari’s predecessor, had virtually ground to a halt over issues including his refusal to investigate corruption and human rights abuses by the Nigerian military.

“President (Obama) has long seen Nigeria as arguably the most important strategic country in sub-Saharan Africa,” Tony Blinken, US deputy secretary of State, told Reuters in an interview, adding: “The question is would there be an opportunity to deepen our engagement and that opportunity is now.”

Improving ties with Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, come as US relations have gone cold in recent time with Egypt and South Africa, its former strong allies in Africa.

The US officials have said they were willing to send military trainers to help Nigeria counter a six-year-old northern insurgency by the Boko Haram Islamist movement.

Since Buhari’s election, the US has committed $5 million in new support for a multi-national task force set up to fight the group by Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroun. This is in addition to at least $34 million it is providing to the countries for equipment and logistics.

Buhari’s move on Monday, July 13, to fire service chiefs appointed by Jonathan was also said to have cleared the way for more military cooperation with the US. “We’ve made clear there are additional things that can be done especially now that there is a new military leadership in place,” a senior US official said.

Another senior US official said Washington was urging Buhari to step up regional cooperation against the militants and to provide more aid to afflicted communities to reduce the group’s recruiting power.

Buhari has said his priorities are strengthening Nigeria’s economy, hard-hit by the fall in oil prices, boosting investment, and tackling the biggest monster of all – corruption.

“Here too he is looking to deepen collaboration and one of the things he is focused on is asset recovery,” the official said. “He is hopeful we can help them recover some of that.”

In 2014, the US took control of more than $480 million siphoned away by the late General Sani Abacha, former Nigerian head of state and his associates into banks around the world. The US has broad powers to track suspicious funds and enforce sanctions against individuals.

—  Jul 20, 2015 @ 12:55 GMT

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