President Muhammadu Buhari’s office on Friday denied that he favoured the north over other regions, after he was criticised for asking the World Bank to focus on the region.
The northeast in particular has been wracked by an eight-year Islamist militant insurgency that has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2 million to flee their homes, spawning what the United Nations says is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
That led to criticism from those who say Buhari has an anti-south agenda, highlighting the deep ethno-religious tensions in the country.
Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adesina said there had been a “deliberate twisting” of the president’s words to make it sound like he wanted to give the north an unfair advantage over other regions.
“President Buhari has a pan-Nigerian mandate, and he will discharge his duties and responsibilities in like manner,” Adesina said in an emailed statement.
“Any part of the country that requires special attention would receive it,” said Adesina.
The presidency said Buhari had made the comments to the World Bank president in July 2015 when the lender pledged financial support for Nigeria.
Buhari has in the last few weeks criticised secessionists in the country of 180 million, split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims and around 250 ethnic groups who mostly live peacefully side by side.
Some separatist critics of his administration, including those calling for the secession in the southeast, have also accused the president of focusing on his own part of the country.