By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA (Reuters) - The United States urged Nigeria to tackle an Islamist insurgency in the north by bringing jobs and development to the deprived region, and it pledged to support Abuja in the task.
U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said on Monday that the United States was looking to establish a consulate in Kano, Nigeria's biggest northern city and a recent target of attacks, as well as a number of other ways to help it fight radical Islamist sect Boko Haram.
The group, which styles itself on the Taliban, has been blamed for almost daily shootings and bombings that have killed hundreds of people in the past two years.
"Regarding the security concern, we agree with President Jonathan that this must be holistic approach. That it is about security, it is about development, it is about jobs," Sherman said during the first stop of an African tour that also takes in Zambia and Kenya.
"Together we will do whatever we can, from intelligence sharing, to assistance, to development, to security training."
Some have accused President Goodluck Jonathan of an over-reliance on security measures to defeat Boko Haram rather than addressing northerners' underlying grievances, such as unemployment, which provide the group with a well of eager recruits.
In an interview with Reuters in January, the president acknowledged that quelling the insurgency would have to involve addressing the north's economic concerns, including a perception that it has been excluded from an oil-fuelled boom centered in the south.
Analysts say the remote northeastern state of Borno, where the sect is based, is as poor as some of Africa's most impoverished countries.
Washington's plan to open a consulate in Kano comes as violent Islamist movements spread across West Africa and evidence is emerging of links between Boko Haram and al Qaeda's north African wing, which has several bases in the Sahara.
"We are working very hard in seeing if we can open a consulate in Kano," the State Department's no. 3 told journalists after meeting Junior Foreign Minister Viola Onwuliri.
The city, a trading hub for centuries, was the scene of Boko Haram's deadliest attack to date when it killed 186 people in coordinated gun and bomb attacks in January.
On Monday, suspected members of the sect riding motorbikes shot dead two policeman in Kano, local police commissioner Ibrahim Idris told Reuters.
"The hoodlums escaped with bullet wounds. They abandoned their motorcycle and took to their heels but we are chasing them."
Nigeria's military said it had killed five Boko Haram militants and arrested two others a day earlier, as they tried to burn down a secondary school in Borno State.
Suspected sect members have torched 10 schools in northeastern Nigeria the past few days, say authorities, in what would be a new twist in the insurgency.
Boko Haram's name means "Western education is sinful," after the anti-Western teachings of its early spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.
(Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza in Maiduguri and Bala Adamu in Kano; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Ben Harding)