Monthly Archives: May 2012

Letter to Secretary Clinton from Nigeria Scholars

US Profs to Clinton: Respond to Boko Haram with Diplomacy, Development, and Demilitarization

Twenty-one scholars with expertise on Nigeria sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today on Boko Haram.  The letter begins by noting the “horrific violence” perpetrated against civilians and government officials, but argues that responding to Boko Haram ultimately requires a “diplomatic, developmental, and demilitarized framework.”  You can download the full text of the letter to Clinton.

Nigeria’s National Security Advisor is visiting Washington, D.C. this week, and Secretary Clinton has been under pressure from Republicans in the House of Representatives to formally designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  The Department of Justice’s National Security Division wrote a letter to Clinton in January, also urging her to make the designation.

The US-based academics, however, argue that formally labeling Boko Haram an FTO would “limit American policy options to those least likely to work.”  In particular, it would:

(1) Internationalize Boko Haram’s standing and enhance its status among radical organizations elsewhere.  A report by Homeland Security Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives in November was entitled, “Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland,” and John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 30 that Boko Haram “appears to be aligning itself with al-Qaida’s violent agenda and is increasingly looking to attack Western interests in Nigeria, in addition to Nigerian government targets.”  Many scholars however suggest that despite claims by members of the group, and some alleged contact with terrorist organizations outside Nigeria, Boko Haram overwhelmingly remains a domestic problem.

(2) Give disproportionate attention to counter-terrorism in bilateral relations at a time when economic ties are expanding and a robust multi-faceted relationship has emerged.  Last month the U.S. Special Operations Command organized a three day conference on Boko Haram, which entailed a detailed discussion about possible next steps.  Some government civilians saw this as an effort to make policy – rather than simply implement it.  This was a marked contrast with comments by AFRICOM four years ago, when it repeatedly reassured its critics that it would “stay in its lane.”  The signers of the letter argue, “The State Department and its civilian developmental partners must be in the lead” on Nigeria policy.

(3) Undermine Nigeria’s progress on the rule of law in two ways: First, by effectively legitimizing abuses by security services that Human Rights Watch and other organizations have drawn attention to as urgent, ongoing problems.  This issue is especially important because the extrajudicial killing of Boko Haram’s captured leader by the police in 2009 was immediately followed by an expansion of violence, radicalization, and fragmentation of Boko Haram. Second, President Goodluck Jonathan is pushing the National Assembly for Martial Law.  Historically, such measures have been followed by broader political instability.  It would give the military an expanded role in law enforcement in a country with a deep history of authoritarianism. Moreover, given the contentious nature of Jonathan’s ascent to power in 2010, and his election in 2011 despite the informal PDP understanding that it was the North’s “turn” to rule, additional executive latitude would likely be interpreted as a desperate attempt by a southerner to hold on to power.

(4) Impede humanitarian assistance and possibly independent academic research.  The scholars note that the national security list system has created a “cumbersome and arbitrary process” that has interfered with humanitarian work in Africa.  The Charity and Security Network has documented how provisions of the Patriot Act prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching hungry people during last summer’s famine in east Africa, for example.  In a new report entitled “Deadly Combination: Disaster Conflict and the U.S. Material Support Law,” CSN notes that once an organization is listed as an FTO, the US Treasury Department explicitly prohibits “any transactions” with listed groups or other entities described as their supporters.

For this reason, the academics in the letter raise the concern that the FTO’s broad legal regime could also impact their ability to conduct independent scholarly inquiry.

An excellent report from the Center for American Progress summarizes the legal consequences of an FTO designation, and points out how numerous terrorist organizations are not designated as such because of the cumbersome problems that it generates for humanitarianism and balanced inter-agency policy making.

The FTO designation would likely have devastating effects on remittances from Nigerian-Americans.  According to the World Bank, Nigeria was the highest recipient of remittance flows to Africa in 2011.  It received an estimated $10.6 billion, amounting to 4.5% of Nigeria’s GDP.  Thousands of Nigerian-Americans would therefore fear prosecution for sending money home.  And at a time when the US is trying to demonstrate its goodwill in the north, families there in particular would face additional burdens and hardships.  Click here to see a chart prepared by the Migration Policy Institute tracking Nigeria’s remittances over time.


I was one of the letter’s initiators, along with Peter Lewis from SAIS and Jean Herskovits from SUNY – Purchase.  I will be giving a brief talk on Boko Haram at a conference sponsored by the Jamestown Foundation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Tuesday, June 19, in Washington, DC.  I hope to see some of you there.