Lagos (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in Nigeria Sunday, just weeks away from closely fought elections overshadowed by fears about mounting Boko Haram violence and poll-related unrest.
Kerry was due to meet President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking a second four-year term, and his main rival, former military ruler Muham-madu Buhari, in the financial capital, Lagos.
Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party are seen as having their best chance of winning and dumping Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of power for the first time in 16 years.
Some analysts believe the real prospect of defeat is behind the PDP’s highly personal campaign against Buhari, who has had to fend off questions about his eligibility to stand, his health and religious views. That comes despite calls from former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, among others, for an issues-based election.
The International Crisis Group warned in November last year that an “increasingly violent” political climate in Nigeria and rhetoric from parties must be checked to avoid widespread unrest.
Jonathan, Buhari and the 12 other presidential candidates have signed a pledge of non-violence but there have still been sporadic outbreaks and clashes. On Saturday, unknown gunmen stormed and bombed the site of a planned APC rally outside the southern oil city of Port Harcourt, in a sign of rising tensions. The APC has previously blamed the PDP for a string of violent attacks on its supporters, facilities and offices since the start of campaigning last month.
National police chief Suleiman Abba on Saturday warned politicians against using “thugs and miscreants… to disrupt and truncate the political campaigns of their opponents”.
Kerry’s visit comes after a high-profile spat last November when Nigeria’s ambassador to Washington accused the United States of failing to provide the weapons required to deliver a “killer punch” to Boko Haram.
The United States said it was constrained by domestic laws that prevented it from providing arms to militaries with dubious human rights records. Nigeria then pulled a US programme to train soldiers to fight Boko Haram.
Washington, which sees the West African giant as a strategic partner and is alarmed by the regional threat posed by Boko Haram, has been repeatedly outspoken on Nigeria’s response to the insurgency.
Assistant-Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield last September accused Nigeria’s military of being in denial over the threat to sovereignty posed by Boko Haram.