President Obama on Monday praised new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari for his "very clear agenda" of taking down Boko Haram, a sign that the two countries may be able to work more effectively together than the U.S. did with Nigeria's prior leader.
Buhari's visit was meant to show Obama's support for the new administration, after the recent U.S. decision to cut off military training amid a dispute over human rights violations by Nigeria's security forces under former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan complained that the U.S. wasn't doing enough to help him fight the terrorist group after the Obama administration rebuffed his request for heavy weaponry.
The Obama administration is again giving the capital city of Abuja security assistance, but with a more watchful eye on human rights. Still, Obama gave all indications on Monday that a more effective partnership can now be found.
"Recently we saw an election in which a peaceful transition to a new government took place and it was an affirmation of Nigeria's commitment to democracy," Obama said in the Oval Office with Buhari at his side.
"President Buhari comes into office with a reputation of integrity and a very clear agenda and that is to make sure that he is bringing safety and security and peace to" Nigeria, Obama said. "He is very concerned about the spread of Boko Haram and the violence that has taken place there and the atrocities that have taken place there and he has a very clear agenda of defeating Boko Haram and extremists of all sorts inside his country."
The U.S. has been "providing important security assistance to help professionalize the Nigerian military and to help their approach to Boko Haram," Grant Harris, the National Security Council's senior director for Africa, said on Friday. "And we've been encouraging them throughout to take a comprehensive and holistic approach that leverages development and economic growth alongside security tools, and that is conducted in a manner consistent with international human rights."
In addition to security assistance, the Obama administration is focusing on helping Nigeria battle corruption, shore up its economy and reform its energy sector.
During their joint meeting Monday, Obama stressed Buhari's willingness to fight Nigeria's endemic corruption.
Buhari "has a very clear agenda with respect to rooting out the corruption that has too often held back the economic growth and prosperity of his country," Obama said. "On both these issues, we're looking forward to hearing more about his plans and how the United States can partner with Nigeria so that Nigeria ends up being an anchor not only of prosperity and stability in the eastern core part of the continent, but can also be an outstanding role model for developing countries around the world."
Buhari said he was "very grateful" for the invitation to visit Washington, which Harris stressed came swiftly after his April victory.
"We've got an excellent chance to underscore the United States' longstanding friendship with Nigeria and our commitment to expanding the partnership with the new government and our support for the Nigerian people following these historic elections and this democratic and peaceful transfer of power," Harris said.
While in town, Buhari has a packed schedule. Besides meeting with Obama and Vice President Biden, the former general will meet with Kerry and other cabinet members, including Trade Rep. Michael Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.