Nigerian leader: Forces ready soon to take on Boko Haram

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Kerry Meets Nigeria's Buhari, Pledges to Tackle Boko Haram

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday a multinational African force will be in place within 10 days to take the fight to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram that has killed thousands and was behind the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls.

Buhari predicted in an interview with The Associated Press that Boko Haram would be defeated in 18 months or less. But he conceded that Nigerian authorities lack intelligence about the girls still missing after the mass-kidnapping from the northern town of Chibok in April 2014 - an act that stirred international outrage and a campaign to "Bring Back Our Girls" that reached as far as the White House.

He said his government is open to freeing detained militants in exchange for the girls' freedom, but only if it finds credible Boko Haram leaders to negotiate with.

"I think Nigeria will make as much sacrifice as humanly possible to get the girls back. This is our main objective," Buhari said, a day after meeting with President Barack Obama.

Buhari spoke at the presidential guest house opposite the White House in a room decorated with murals of ceremonial Washington. He wore a traditional embroidered hat, popular among Muslims in northern Nigeria.

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Nigerian leader: Forces ready soon to take on Boko Haram
Nigerian police and civilians inspect the site of a suicide attack at a busy cattle market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on June 2, 2015. At least 13 people were killed in the attack, the Red Cross and civilian vigilantes battling Boko Haram said. The blast in the Borno state capital happened as traders were wrapping up business for the day. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A vigilante stands in front of a burnt mud house in Gubio in Borno State, northeast Nigeria, on May 26, 2015. A weekend attack by Boko Haram in the northeast Nigerian town of Gubio left 37 people dead, with more than 400 buildings destroyed by fire, local vigilantes said on May 26. Boko Haram, which wants to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has been pushed out of captured towns and territory since February by Nigerian troops with assistance from Niger, Chad and Cameroon. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigerien soldiers patrol along the Nigerian border, near the south-eastern city of Bosso, on May 25, 2015. Niger has extended for three months the state of emergency in its southeastern Diffa region where the army has been battling Boko Haram militants since February, authorities announced on May 27, 2015. The operation, nicknamed Barkhane, which succedeed to Serval one, is taking place across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad and involves a total 3,000 French troops. AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Girls rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Islamist militants Boko Haram at Sambisa Forest line up to collect donated clothes at the Malkohi refugee camp in Yola on May 5, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued by the Nigerian military last week and arrived at the camp on May 2. The Nigerian military said it has rescued some 700 women and children in the past weeks. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL AREWA (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL AREWA/AFP/Getty Images)
People from the Nigerian town of Malam Fatori an its area, close to the borders with Niger and Chad, pass by a car with Chadian Gendarmes (in uniform) as they flee Islamist Boko Haram attacks to take shelter in the Niger's town of Bosso secure by Niger and Chad armies, on May 25, 2015. Boko Haram, which wants to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has been pushed out of captured towns and territory since February by Nigerian troops with assistance from Niger, Chad and Cameroon. AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-riot policemen look at a burnt mud house in Gubio in Borno State, northeast Nigeria, on May 26, 2015. A weekend attack by Boko Haram in the northeast Nigerian town of Gubio left 37 people dead, with more than 400 buildings destroyed by fire, local vigilantes said on May 26. Boko Haram, which wants to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has been pushed out of captured towns and territory since February by Nigerian troops with assistance from Niger, Chad and Cameroon. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
An anti-riot policeman stands in front of a burnt house in Gubio in Borno State, northeast Nigeria, on May 26, 2015. A weekend attack by Boko Haram in the northeast Nigerian town of Gubio left 37 people dead, with more than 400 buildings destroyed by fire, local vigilantes said on May 26. Boko Haram, which wants to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has been pushed out of captured towns and territory since February by Nigerian troops with assistance from Niger, Chad and Cameroon. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Islamist militants Boko Haram at Sambisa Forest waits to receive treatment at the Federal Medical Centre in Yola on May 5, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued by the Nigerian military last week and arrived at the camp on May 2. The Nigerian military said it has rescued some 700 women and children in the past weeks. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL AREWA (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL AREWA/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Islamist militants Boko Haram at Sambisa Forest prays at the Malkohi refugee camp in Yola on May 5, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued by the Nigerian military last week and arrived at the camp on May 2. The Nigerian military said it has rescued some 700 women and children in the past weeks. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL AREWA (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL AREWA/AFP/Getty Images)
Chadian newspapers with headlines pertaining to Chad's military intervention against Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram reading ' Look out Deby is coming!' (L), 'Chadian army combs through Gambaru' (R) are displayed on February 2, 2015 in N'Djamena. Chadian aircraft struck Boko Haram positions in the Nigerian border town of Gamboru for a second straight day on february 1, an AFP journalist in a neighbouring town said. Three Chadian soldiers and 123 Boko Haram fighters were killed in two days of clashes in northern Cameroon earlier this week, according to Chad's military. AFP PHOTO / SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on January 27, 2015 shows Chadian soldiers watching as a UN vehicle from a United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) convoy crosses a branch of lake Chad, heading to the UNHCR camp in N'Gouboua, in Chad's Lake Chad region. Since the beginning of January more than 14,000 people have fled over the Nigerian border into Chad to escape the bloody attacks by Islamist group Boko Haram around Baga, according to Mamadou Dian Balde, of the UN's refugee agency. AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on January 27, 2015 shows a man pulling a transport platform made of metal barrels carrying a UN vehicle from a United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) to cross a branch of lake Chad, on their way to the UNHCR camp in N'Gouboua, in Chad's Lake Chad region. Since the beginning of January more than 14,000 people have fled over the Nigerian border into Chad to escape the bloody attacks by Islamist group Boko Haram around Baga, according to Mamadou Dian Balde, of the UN's refugee agency. AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on January 27, 2015 shows Nigerians from the northeast town of Baga sitting in a United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) camp in N'Gouboua, in Chad's Lake Chad region, during a meeting with the camp's personnel. Since the beginning of January more than 14,000 people have fled over the Nigerian border into Chad to escape the bloody attacks by Islamist group Boko Haram around Baga, according to Mamadou Dian Balde, of the UN's refugee agency. AFP PHOTO / SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on January 27, 2015 shows Nigerian men sitting in the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) camp in N'Gouboua, in Chad's Lake Chad region, during a meeting with the camp's personnel. Since the beginning of January more than 14,000 people have fled over the Nigerian border into Chad to escape the bloody attacks by Islamist group Boko Haram around Baga, according to Mamadou Dian Balde, of the UN's refugee agency. AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
ADAMAWA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 6: Nigerians fled their homes in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa States due to the clashes between Nigeria's militant group Boko Haram and Nigerian Army, hold on life under tough conditions at a camp set up by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Damari, Adamawa State, Nigeria on December 6, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY AMINU A BUBAKAR A signbaord bearing the name of one of the missing Chibok schoolgirls, Naomi Zakaria, is palced close to Christmas decorations on December 17, 2014, at Ikoyi, in Lagos, by civil society campaigning for the release of the abducted girls. The northeast Nigeria town of Chibok used to fill up before Christmas as people returned home to visit their families, but with the 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram still missing, few feel like celebrating this year. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
An ecavuated fish stand is seen as Nigerian security inspect the site of a bomb blast at the Jos Terminus Market, on December 12, 2014. A double bomb attack that killed 31 people in a crowded market in the central Nigerian city of Jos was likely to have been carried out by Boko Haram, the state government said. 'It's an extension of the terrorist acts that have been penetrating all states and cities,' Pam Ayuba, spokesman for the Plateau state governor Jonah Jang, told AFP by telephone. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunter known as Vigilante armed with locally made gun is seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before he moves to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns are seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ADAMAWA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 6: Nigerians fled their homes in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa States due to the clashes between Nigeria's militant group Boko Haram and Nigerian Army, hold on life under tough conditions at a camp set up by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Damari, Adamawa State, Nigeria on December 6, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ADAMAWA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 6: Nigerians fled their homes in Yobe, Borno states due to the clashes between Nigeria's militant group Boko Haram and army forces, hold on life at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps in Damari, Adamawa state of Nigeria on December 6,2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ADAMAWA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 6: Nigerians fled their homes in Yobe, Borno states due to the clashes between Nigeria's militant group Boko Haram and army forces, hold on life at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps in Damari, Adamawa state of Nigeria on December 6,2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A young boy injured in the twin suicide blast at Kano central mosque arrives at the accident and emergency ward of the Nassarawa Specilist Hospital on November 28, 2014. At least 120 people were killed and 270 others wounded when two suicide bombers blew themselves up and gunmen opened fire during weekly prayers at the mosque, a week after the emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, of one of Nigeria's top Islamic leaders called on northerners to defend themselves against Boko Haram Islamists tha have been carrying deadly attacks and seizure of territory in the northeast. AFP PHOTO / Aminu ABUBAKAR (Photo credit should read AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns are seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA DECEMBER 06: Local hunter known as Vigilante is seen with bullet shots hanging over his neck on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns are seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA DECEMBER 06: Local hunter known as Vigilante armed with locally made gun and knife is seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns are seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns are seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns perform prayer on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
YOLA, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 06: Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns perform prayer on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants on December 06, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Some of 59 Nigerian soldiers facing trial on charges of mutiny and conspiracy to commit mutiny over claims that they refused to fight Boko Haram militants sit handcuffed on October 15, 2014 in the military courtroom in Abuja. The soldiers, all members of the 111th Special Forces Battalion, all pleaded not guilty in court. They are also accused of refusing to deploy in August to recapture the towns of Yelwa, Bellabulini and Dambo in Borno state from Boko Haram, according to the charge sheet. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Mother of a missing Chibok schoolgirl, Rebecca Samuel, sits during a #BringBackOurGirls rally in the Nigerian capital Abuja on October 14, 2014. Nigerian police on Tuesday blocked supporters of 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants from marching on the president's official residence on the six-month anniversary of the abduction. A wall of female officers in full riot gear formed the first line of a barricade in front of less than 100 members of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, preventing them from setting out.AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Muslim faithfuls take part in Eid Al-Adha prayer at the Syrian Mosque in Lagos on October 4, 2014. Nigeria's embattled northeast Yobe and Borno states the day before imposed a travel ban through the Muslim holiday weekend to guard against Boko Haram attacks, barring motorists from reaching their families for the Eid celebration. The Eid al-Adha, or Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca and is celebrated in remembrance of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to God. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Schoolgirls who have escaped from Boko Haram kidnappers in the village of Chibok, sit at the Government house to speak with State Governor Kashim Shettima in Maiduguri on June 2, 2014. Governor Shettima met with twenty-eight schoolgirls that escaped from Islamist abductors, their parents and also parents of more then 200 missing girls to seek ways of assisting them. Protests by supporters the schoolgirls have been banned in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, by the police on June 2. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed Cameroonian men of the rapid intervention battalion (BIR) patrol on May 29, 2014 in Waza, northern Cameroon. Boko Haram gunmen killed 35 people in attacks on three villages in Nigeria's restive northeast Borno state near the border with Cameroon, a military source and residents said today. Violence blamed on the Islamist group, whose name means 'Western education is forbidden', has killed thousands since 2009. AFP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE (Photo credit should read Reinnier KAZE/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman with a sticker on her head bearing the slogan 'Bring back our girls' marches for the release of the more than 200 abducted Chibok school girls in Lagos on May 29, 2014, during a demonstration by civil society groups and celebrities of the film and entertainment industries to press for the girls' release, seven weeks after their abduction by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, and on the occasion of Nigeria's Democracy Day. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan vowed on May 29 total war against terrorism as the country's security forces stepped up efforts to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists 45 days ago. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Nollywood celebrity Patience Ozokwor, aka Mama G, pleads for the release of the more than 200 abducted Chibok school girls in Lagos on May 29, 2014, during a demonstration by civil society groups and celebrities of the film and entertainment industries to press for the girls' release, seven weeks after their abduction by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, and on the occasion of Nigeria's Democracy Day. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan vowed on May 29 total war against terrorism as the country's security forces stepped up efforts to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists 45 days ago. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman writes the slogan 'Bring Back Our Girls' on the face of another as they prepare to march in Lagos on May 29, 2014, in a demonstration by civil society groups and celebrities of the film and entertainment industries to press for the quick release of more than 200 abducted Chibok school girls, seven weeks after their abduction by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, and on the occasion of Nigeria's Democracy Day. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan vowed on May 29 total war against terrorism as the country's security forces stepped up efforts to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists 45 days ago. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28: Students from Midreshet Shalhevet High School for Girls protest outside the Nigerian consulate for more action to be taken to rescue the school girls kidnapped by the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram In Nigeria on May 28, 2014 in New York City. More than 300 teenage girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok, Nigeria on April 15, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ABUJA, NIGERIA - MAY 25: Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'adu Abubakar (not seen) makes a speech on Boko Haram militants at the National Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria on May 25, 2014. (Photo by Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ABUJA, NIGERIA - MAY 25: Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'adu Abubakar (C) makes a speech on Boko Haram militants at the National Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria on May 25, 2014. (Photo by Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People march holding placards as hundreds of Soweto residents gather at the YMCA in Soweto, Johannesbourg, on May 22, 2014, to demonstrate for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. The United States has deployed 80 military personnel to Chad to help findthe 223 girls still missing since their abduction on April 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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The visit by the 72-year old former dictator comes two months after taking office. Both Nigeria and the United States look to improve relations that soured because of government and military failures under Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who was defeated in March elections. Obama said Monday the U.S. wants to cooperate on counter-terrorism and in combating corruption in Africa's largest economy and oil producer.

The elections heralded the first democratic change of power in the West African nation that has suffered decades of military rule, but Buhari faces formidable challenges - not least the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.

Buhari, a former general, last week fired the service chiefs of the once-mighty Nigerian military, which he has accused of corruption. But he expressed confidence that the Islamists that have launched suicide bombings and village attacks since his inauguration, killing hundreds, would be surrounded and eliminated with the help of neighboring Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. He said the multinational force would be ready by the end of the month.

"We are going to deny them recruitment. We are going to deny them free movement across borders. We are going to deny them training. We are going to deny them receiving reinforcement in terms of equipment," said Buhari, who studied 35 years ago at the U.S. Army War College.

Boko Haram in March declared an affiliation with the Islamic State group, and Buhari said it has links with Islamist militants in northern Mali. But he predicted that the multinational force could break the back of Boko Haram within 18 months.

Despite the fighting talk, the Nigerian leader said he remained open to negotiations over the kidnapped girls but said it was first necessary to establish that those claiming to negotiate on behalf of the insurgents were really Boko Haram leaders who know the girls' location and condition.

Dozens of the schoolgirls escaped in the days after the abduction, but 219 remain missing.

A human rights activist told AP this month that the extremists are offering to free the girls in exchange for the release of captured militant leaders. Buhari said: "We just can't say yes or no in a sort of an impulsive manner. We have to establish the facts before we agree" to negotiations.

Buhari's early visit to Washington is a sign of the importance the U.S. attaches to good relations with Nigeria, the world's seventh-most populous nation at 170 million and America's top trading partner in Africa. Top U.S. trade and finance officials have met the Nigerian delegation, and Buhari was meeting Tuesday with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan, where he would be urging more American help against Boko Haram.

"The United States is very clear of the situation. What we need is intelligence, we need training facilities, we need some equipment," he said.

Buhari acknowledged U.S. concerns over human rights abuses by Nigeria's military. Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian army's leadership of complicity in the death of 8,000 detainees in the battle against Boko Haram. Such concerns prompted Washington last year to block the sale of U.S. attack helicopters. Buhari said that new military chiefs were retraining forces and would adhere to internationally acceptable rules of engagement.

Nigeria also wants U.S. help in recovering government funds and the proceeds of crude oil exports that have been illegally diverted from the nation's coffers, also hit by the decline in world oil prices.

In a Washington Post opinion commentary on Monday, Buhari wrote that $150 billion in funds have been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials.

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Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.

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