LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria's president said he has given his backing to the creation of an African rapid reaction force, adding that it could help tackle the Boko Haram insurgency, in comments published Monday.
"We fully support this rapid reaction force," Goodluck Jonathan told French radio station RFI in an interview on the sidelines of the recent France-Africa summit in Paris.
Jonathan's French counterpart Francois Hollande called for an African force to be set up, and said France was prepared to train 20,000 soldiers a year if the project goes ahead.
Hollande said France was offering to provide equipment, logistical support and advice on coordination for the force, and was seeking wider European Union funding for it to be operational by 2015.
Jonathan said he envisaged that the force could be deployed to hotspots across the continent, including in northern Nigeria, which has been in the grip of Islamist-linked violence since 2009.
Sustained attacks blamed on Boko Haram prompted the government in Abuja to impose a state of emergency in three northern states — Borno, Yobe and Adamawa — to try to stop the bloodshed.
The military has claimed that the banned militant group has been pushed into more remote, rural areas, yet violence has continued.
Last week, Boko Haram launched a daring raid on military targets in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, leading to a city-wide curfew.
Jonathan said the state of emergency, which was extended for another six months in November, had been effective, particularly in Adamawa state.
But he said the Maiduguri attack demonstrated that Boko Haram should not be underestimated — and raised the possibility that the group was getting outside support, particularly in the supply of weapons.
Jonathan meanwhile dismissed repeated claims from human-rights groups about abuses against Boko Haram suspects held at military detention facilities in the north.
He said those claims had been exaggerated but he had nevertheless sanctioned the release of one billion naira ($6.2 million, 4.5 million euros) to improve conditions.
Arrested Boko Haram militants were held in "satisfactory" conditions, he added, reiterating that the government was open to dialogue with the militant group.