ABUJA (AFP) – Boko Haram's brutal Islamist insurgency has stalled Nigeria's development, inflamed ethnic tensions and raised concern among its neighbours, a senior US diplomat said Thursday at the start of bilateral security talks.
Wendy Sherman, US under-secretary of state for political affairs, said the United States was ready to help Nigeria "develop a multi-faceted strategy" to contain the violence, but warned that a military crackdown alone would not work.
The Boko Haram conflict has "increased tensions between various ethnic communities, interrupted development activities, frightened off investors and generated concerns among Nigeria's northern neighbours," Sherman said.
The extremist group has said it is fighting to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria and has carried out waves of attacks across the region.
Some of the violence has occurred along the northern borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger amid fears that Boko Haram fighters could spill into neighbouring states.
The Islamist group claimed the kidnapping of a French family, including four children, in Cameroon in February. They were released in April.
A state of emergency declared in May remains in place across the northeast, Boko Haram's stronghold, as the Nigerian military pursues a campaign aimed at crushing the group.
Stemming the bloodshed "may require a new social compact with Nigerian citizens," said Sherman, who is leading the US diplomatic and military delegation for the talks.
She added that it was crucial to have "an economic recovery strategy as a complement to the government's security strategy."
Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, where American energy giants ExxonMobil and Chevron have a strong presence.
Despite the vast energy wealth, most of the country's roughly 160 million people live on less than $2 a day, with much of the oil revenue squandered over decades through graft.
Poverty in the mainly Muslim north is more acute than in the mostly Christian south. The divide between north and south remains a combustible fault line.
Sherman said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, must "garner the support of northern governors and local officials" as it pursues a plan to lift the north out of conflict and poverty.
The Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have claimed more than 3,600 lives since 2009, including killings by the security forces who have been accused of widespread atrocities.
Sherman restated previous calls by US officials for Nigeria's military to abide by rules of engagement and punish soldiers responsible for civilian deaths.