ABUJA (AFP) – China has vowed to help Nigeria find more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants, President Goodluck Jonathan said on Wednesday after meeting visiting Premier Li Keqiang.
“China promised to assist Nigeria in our fight against terror, especially in our commitment and effort to rescue the girls that were taken away from a secondary school,” he said following talks in the capital, Abuja.
Li for his part noted only that greater cooperation between the two nations could also include efforts to “oppose and fight terrorism” but did not give any details.
Nigeria has been in the grip of a raging insurgency in the north since 2009 but international attention has been grabbed by the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from a remote northeastern town three weeks ago.
Several countries, including the United States, Britain and France, have offered to assist in the hunt for the missing girls.
The response of Jonathan’s government has been criticised as weak and ineffective while Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility — and threat to sell the 223 girls still being held as slave brides — has stoked global anger.
- Closer ties -
Both leaders’ comments came following a closed-door meeting at the State House in Abuja. Li also inspected a ceremonial honour guard and received a 19-gun salute.
The Chinese premier is on a four-country tour of Africa — his first since taking office last year — with the world’s second-biggest economy keen to boost its presence on the continent to find new markets and opportunities.
On Thursday, he was set to address the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, which the government had hoped would showcase Nigeria’s potential as a place to do business but has been overshadowed by security concerns.
Two car bombs that exploded in the same Abuja suburb have heightened fears about safety while the mass kidnap has sparked noisy street protests across Nigeria and around the world.
Li said the aim of his visit was to deepen ties and cooperation with Africa’s biggest economy and leading oil producer, which has been seen as a potential future economic powerhouse and destination for overseas investors.
“Nigeria is one of China’s biggest trading partners in Africa. Last year, trade between our two countries reached about $13.6 billion,” he said through an interpreter.
“We hope to see not just more trade with China but also stronger cooperation between the two countries in the development of infrastructure in Nigeria and we wish the Nigerian people even higher living standards and also greater achievement in terms of health and social progress.”
Li’s comments touched on a key issue of inequality in Nigeria where the growing numbers of dollar millionaires and billionaires live alongside a majority of the population that is still mired in poverty.
Despite churning out some two million barrels of crude oil a day, the country struggles to produce enough electricity to keep the lights on and scores low on developmental indicators in areas such as health and education.
Chinese firms are already involved in road and rail projects, including a monorail scheme in the financial capital, Lagos. Li promised more investment and technical expertise.
“The Chinese government will honour its words,” he told Jonathan.
Nigeria’s foreign ministry has said that six major agreements would be signed during Li’s visit, including economic and technical cooperation, aviation, banking and health projects to combat malaria.
Li flew to Nigeria from Ethiopia and is also scheduled to visit Angola and Kenya.