President Muhammadu Buhari said Wednesday he is seeking re-election because Nigerians “appreciate” his government, while blaming an escalating security crisis on “armed gunmen” trained in Libya.
Buhari made the comments at a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in London, where he is scheduled for talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May later this month.
“I felt I should break the ice,” said Buhari in a statement released by the presidency on Wednesday, “the majority of Nigerians appreciate what we are doing, and that is why I am re-contesting.”
Buhari, a 75-year-old former general who rarely speaks publicly at length, then turned to the issue of security.
Along with fighting Boko Haram jihadists in the northeast, Nigeria is battling to contain bloody clashes between nomadic pastoralists and farmers that have led to scores of deaths this year.
The problem has been “made worse by the influx of armed gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region,” claimed Buhari in the statement.
“These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gadaffi (Moamer Kadhafi) of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram,” according to Buhari.
In February, Boko Haram Islamists kidnapped over 100 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Dapchi.
Of the 111 who were kidnapped, 105 were returned by the jihadists following a ceasefire agreement with the government.
Five others are believed to have been killed in the initial stages of the kidnapping, while one other, Leah Sharibu, is still being held for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
“We are managing the matter quietly. Making noise would not help,” said Buhari on the rescue operation.
Buhari made history in 2015 when he became the first Nigerian to defeat an incumbent candidate, amid anger over the Boko Haram jihadist insurgency and rampant corruption in West Africa’s largest economy.
But his administration has been criticised for being too slow to address Nigeria’s worst recession in decades, resurgent Islamist attacks and increasing violence between farmers and herdsmen.
In seeking re-election next year, Buhari is defying calls from political heavyweights to step aside for a younger, more dynamic candidate.