A senior US diplomat voiced concern Friday over reported abuses committed by Nigerian security forces in fighting Islamist extremists, saying troops who are guilty of wrongdoing must be held accountable.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael H. Posner said that growing economic opportunity in Nigeria's impoverished mainly Muslim north was key to containing the threat posed by Boko Haram Islamists, who are blamed for hundreds of deaths since 2009.
"We are seriously concerned about abuses by members of the Nigerian security forces," he told journalists in Lagos, citing reports of "mass arrests, extra-judicial killings (and) torture".
Such cases are frequently not investigated and those involved have often "not been held accountable", added the US envoy for democracy, human rights and labour.
He further said that this cycle of impunity may be fuelling support for Boko Haram, a group that has said it wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have accused Nigerian security forces of committing massive abuses in their campaign against the Islamists, with HRW saying some soldiers may be guilty of crimes against humanity.
The US envoy had earlier this week met with Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru in the capital Abuja.
In a statement released after that meeting, Ashiru "debunked" the flood of allegations levelled against Nigeria's security apparatus, insisting operations against Boko Haram "have conformed to the best international practices".
Posner said Nigeria should not view the Boko Haram threat "entirely as a security, military and police problem".
Many believe that crippling poverty in the north has created a group of dejected youths vulnerable to extremist recruitment.
Posner said that to restore peace, it was crucial to ensure impoverished communities had "hope of engaging economically and politically in the future of their country".
Nigeria has on several occasions said it is making progress against the Islamists who have targeted churches, universities and various symbols of authority, but Posner expressed concern over "the worsening security situation".
"Rather than diminishing there is a sense that the violence is geographically spreading," he said.