Will Nigeria’s new president reset relations with the U.S.?

Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari has inherited a host of problems from outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan, including the fight against Boko Haram militants. Does Nigeria’s new leadership offer an opening for better relations with -- and more help from -- the U.S.? Judy Woodruff learns more from J. Peter Pham of The Atlantic Council.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Joining me now for more on all this is Peter Pham. He's director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.

    Welcome back to the program.

  • J. PETER PHAM, Atlantic Council:

    Thanks for having me, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So is the U.S. going to be providing more military aid to the Nigerian government?

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    I think what's under discussion is how to — and I hate to use the term, but I think it's appropriate here — reset the relationship.

    Certainly, in the last few years, with allegations of corruption, well-founded questions of human rights abuses on the part of the military, and the low morale, the U.S. pulled back from assisting in the fight with Boko Haram, saying that the government in power at the time and the military simply were not partners that we could work with in the way in which we like to work.

    Perhaps that was overdone, but now, with a new administration, one that was elected democratically, and with a handover power that was, I think, universally allotted for the smooth way in which it occurred, and where I think credit belongs to both the outgoing support and the new one, the U.S. is now ready to reset and re-partner with Africa's not only most populous country and largest economy, but really its largest Christian population, its largest Muslim population.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, what kinds of support are we talking about?

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    I think intelligence-sharing, logistics, training.

    Nigeria is not a poor country, despite the recent economic problems. It doesn't need handouts, but it does need capabilities and training. And certainly its neighbors require a bit of assistance. Its neighbors have been bearing a lot of the fight, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon in particular.

    But I think more important is the moral support of being — having a partner in the U.S. The fact that our economic relations with the energy boom at home, the fact that we really no longer purchase that much Nigerian petroleum, our economic relations are anemic. And that has really hurt our political and diplomatic relations.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And I want to ask you about the economic aspect of this in just a moment, but, Peter Pham, what does this — does this aid mean that they're more likely to make headway against Boko Haram or is that possible to project, to predict?

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    Well, ironically, in its last months and weeks in office, the Jonathan administration, together with the other regional states, made tremendous progress pushing back Boko Haram militarily.

    But now it's no longer a military force. It's increasingly insurgent terrorists. And that requires a different strategy, more of a counterinsurgency strategy. So, the Nigerian military is going to have to retool itself. And that's going to require a different set of investments, not only military capabilities, but economic, political and social programs of inclusion to inculcate people, support for the government, and to inoculate them, if you will, against extremism.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we again mentioned the fuel shortages. And you just again mentioned the economic problems. What are the challenges that Mr. Buhari faces as he takes over?

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    I think the biggest single challenge President Buhari faces is that he was elected on a great wave of enthusiasm.

    People vested a great deal of hope in him, that he could turn Nigeria around, fight not only Boko Haram, but fight the corruption, make this tired old man once again rise up as the African giant it should be.

    But that's going to take resources and investment. And that's the one thing he's short on right now because of the economic situation. The price of oil has declined 50 percent from what it was a year ago. Now, the Nigerian economy has diversified, but the government still relies on oil for 80 to 90 percent of its revenues, so he's got a lot of demands on his plate, but at the same time fewer resources to meet them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Peter Pham with the Atlantic Council, we thank you very much.

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    Thank you, as always.

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