The White House told Newsmax Monday that the Obama administration had no favorite in the internationally watched election in Nigeria on Saturday between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who was that country's military strongman in the 1970s.
At the regular briefing for reporters at the White House, Newsmax noted that Buhari had a highly controversial record on human rights during the two years he held power in Nigeria after leading a military coup in 1983. Buhari, according to The Economist, "expelled 700,000 migrants [and] banned political meetings and free speech. He detained thousands, used secret tribunals and executed people for crimes that were not capital offenses."
Would the administration have any problem recognizing a government in Nigeria, we asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest, if General Buhari is elected president on Saturday.
"I'm going to refrain from commenting on any of the candidates," Earnest replied without hesitation, "but I will note that the president just did today release a video message to the Nigerian people."
In the brief message posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, the president congratulated the Nigerian people on reaching this point in their history.
"Together, you won your independence, emerged from military rule, and strengthened democratic institutions," he said, adding that "you now have a historic opportunity to help write the next chapter of Nigeria's progress — by voting in the upcoming elections."
In urging Nigerians to vote, Obama denounced Boko Haram as a terrorist group that "wants to destroy Nigeria and all that you have worked to build. By casting your ballot, you can help secure your nation's progress."
The world's eyes have been increasingly on the race in Nigeria, which final polls have shown as a dead heat between Jonathan and Buhari. The international outrage over the kidnapping of the 200 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram last year has been enhanced by the militant Islamic group's efforts to seize control territory in northeast Nigeria.
Roughly 1 million Nigerians in the northeast have been driven from their homes since 2009 by Boko Haram, which recently pledged solidarity with its sister terrorists in the Islamic State.
In addition, the once robust Nigerian economy has been jolted by a drop in its oil prices and an increase in the cost of its rice and fabric.
"The naira [Nigerian currency] has been Africa's worst performer since September," reported Business Week, noting that the International Monetary Fund cut its 2015 forecast for Nigeria's economic growth to 4.8 percent from 7.3 percent.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.