Sokoto (AFP): US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday congratulated Nigeria on its recent military successes against Boko Haram, but warned the country will face a blowback if it “cracks down” on the Islamists with excessive force.
Speaking at a press conference in the northern city of Sokoto, Kerry praised Nigeria for reclaiming swathes of territory from Boko Haram and releasing thousands of hostages over the past year.
Nigeria has made “important progress”, Kerry said. “Nigeria and its neighbours are degrading Boko Haram’s capabilities.”
But Kerry cautioned against a heavy-handed response and emphasised respect for human rights.
“In the wake of terrorist activity, some are tempted to crack down on anyone and everyone,” Kerry said.
“But extremism can’t be defeated through repression or fear. Fear instilled through repression invites not confidence but contempt,” Kerry said, “it creates terrorists.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Nigerian troops of excessive force and extra-judicial killings of suspected Boko Haram insurgents, hundreds of Shiite Muslims and pro-Biafra protestors. The military has denied the charges.
On his third visit to Nigeria in less than two years, Kerry met with traditional and religious leaders, including Sokoto Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar.
Kerry appealed to Nigerians to practise equality and tolerance to “overcome deep-seated ethnic and religious divisions.”
His remarks come one day after police reported that a Muslim mob in northern Nigeria killed eight people after torching the house of a Muslim man who stood up for a Christian student accused of blasphemy.
Kerry is due to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari later on Tuesday in the Nigerian capital of Abuja as part of a three-nation tour focussed on counterterrorism.
The top US diplomat, who was in Kenya on Monday, is expected to discuss the Boko Haram insurgency, fighting corruption and boosting Nigeria’s moribund economy that has been pummelled by the drop in global oil prices.
In its quest to create a fundamentalist Islamic state Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.6 million from their homes.
With homes and businesses destroyed and farmland devastated, the United Nations has warned that some 50,000 children could starve to death this year in Borno state alone if nothing is done.
Earlier in August the US government pledged $37 million in aid for victims of Boko Haram as fears of a famine mounted in the ravaged Lake Chad region.