How can Boko Haram be terrorists to the U.S., but not Nigeria?

The State Department "terrorist" label will only cause us problems, says Nigerian ambassador

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

Confiscated ammunitions are displayed after a military raid on a hideout of suspected Boko Haram members in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, August 11, 2012. (Reuters)

The U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) is an alphabet soup of insurgents; the official list includes 51 groups from al Qaeda to the Continuity Irish Republican Army.

Know who’s not on that list yet? Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Know who wants to keep it that way? The Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S.

It’s not that the Nigerian government does not call Boko Haram a terrorist group – the issue, says the Ambassador, is that with the American label comes a host of problems.

Boko Haram is a domestic terrorist organization—with power concentrated in northeast Nigeria—which aims to create an Islamist state in Nigeria. As Latitude News has reported, Boko Haram’s rise is the result of complex social, political and economic factors.

But the result is clear: Boko Haram has killed over 1,000 people since 2009. In the first week of August, militants killed 19 people in a shooting spree. And just this week, Nigerian police uncovered two bomb factories.

No labels, please

In an interview with Nigeria’s Leadership, Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye gave five reasons why the Nigerian government is opposed to an FTO label. Basically, Adefuye says the U.S. would mettle with the government’s ability to fight the group, giving an inadvertent boost to the militants while slowing economic growth.

To declare Boko Haram as an FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organisation] will mean that Nigeria is not able to deal with Boko Haram and that is not right.…

And to designate Boko Haram as a FTO would mean that it will give such psychological boost to Boko Haram among other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, which can be tempted to embrace them and support them.

He goes on to say that the label would discourage foreign investment “because nobody wants to go to an area where a terrorist resides.” Fueled by oil exports, Nigeria was the fifth fastest growing economy in sub-Saharan African in 2011, according to the World Bank’s most recent Global Economic Prospects Report.

The Ambassador’s fourth and fifth points directly challenge the American perspective on what and who constitutes a danger to national security. The Ambassador deflects the notion that Boko Haram is a threat to U.S. interests, and he claims the label would subject Nigerians to “horrendous search” if they travel to the U.S., “and we don’t want that.”

The irony is that the U.S. government already refers to Boko Haram as a terrorist group, sort of. While Boko Haram is not on the State Department list, the National Counterterrorism Center describes the group under the headline “Terrorist Groups” on its website. The NCTC “serves as the primary organization in the United States Government…for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to counterterrorism….”

The label obviously has different meanings to different parties. We’d like to know what it means to you….