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.


13 thoughts on “Letter to Secretary Clinton from Nigeria Scholars

  1. Carl LeVan

    The African Examiner, an excellent online magazine that broke some key stories during the 2011 election, carried the letter on May 21.

    AllAfrica.com also provided a link to the letter and this page.

    Reuters ran a completely one-sided story the day the scholars sent their letter to Clinton. The story, “Pressure grows to list Nigerian militants as terrorists,” omits any reference to critics of the designation, and quotes only US Government sources. A search for “Nigeria Boko Haram” on Google Scholar turns up 601 hits, which should give the authors some ideas for additional sources.

    Reps. Peter King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Patrick Meehan, Chair of the Subcommittee on Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence, continue to pressure Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They sent another letter to her last week, arguing that “Boko Haram’s evolution into an operationally mature al Qaeda affiliate must be stopped before it is too late.” This is precisely the kind of rhetoric that inspired the scholars — some of whom have been working in northern Nigeria since the 1960s — to write to Clinton in the first place.

    More coverage of the issue and related materials are forthcoming.

  2. ogbuefi

    May God have mercy on you all. You guys must be hired agents of BOko Harams paymasters.
    If all the havoc done by boko haram had been done in your country.
    you all would have enlisted in the marines to fight!

  3. Pingback: Why NOT to designate Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organisation –John Campbell - YNaija Blog - The Online Magazine for Nigerian Pop Culture

  4. Abu Danjuma Ikhenuma

    Dear Readers,

    As we read through this letter,many of us would have different thought going through our mind but caution should be exercised in any issue of security and domestic national interest.We as a people must know that violence or the involvement of foreign American troops never quell any violence rather it escalate world truobles.We should be careful not to give Boko Haram the name it does not deserve by designating it an FTO(Foreign terrorist organisation)

    For some of us who have followed this groups activities, it seems not to have any of the characteristics of terrorist which are:

    1.Well articulated demands for the fight.
    2.Not organised model as in other FTO
    3.Organized leadership as you find in FTO
    4.Involvement all forms of crime like robbery,rape,Car Snatching,arms dealings etc.
    5.Target all personality such as Muslims,Christians,Govt,Security agencies, media,etc
    6.They profess to be fighting for God & they kill mostly worshipper either in musque or churches & most especially people preparing to worship God who they say they are fighting for
    7.The origin of the group stem from poverty and deprivation which is evidently manifest in the northern part of nigeria Coupled with the bad leadership structure in nigeria particularly in the north due to lack of other means of livelihood.
    8.The slogan of the group is “Western Education is sin” this is Contrary to the tenents of the religion the claim to profess.
    9.They kill and maim.Life is sacred in all religion mostly in Islamic teaching compared to Boko Haram believes.
    10.Cause of the Crises also important as this is a common phenomenon in Nigeria where Human life is not given any respect.Also, the Niger Delta case should be a focal point in all this discus as was during the Time of Obasanjo,Yar Adua & Now Jonathan.We should take a cue from all this to avoid a situation of Nigeria be turned into a War experimental Zone.Let fight against such move to save our generation yet unborn.Like i believe soon Boko Haram will fizzle out by God’s Grace

    Mr Abu Danjuma Ikhenuma

    Accountant write from Benin City

    Edo State,Nigeria

  5. Carl LeVan

    Just two days after the letter was sent, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser apparently asked Secretary of State Clinton to not make the FTO designation. You can read about this important development in the article, “Azazi to U.S.- Don’t Put ‘Terror’ Label on Boko Haram,” which appeared in Daily Trust on May 24.

    Sahara Reporters also published an important article that day entitled, “U.S. Scholars Warn Against Designation Of Boko Haram As ‘Terrorist’.”

    The particular response from the Nigerian government raises new questions though. If and when Boko Haram is ever ready to talk, is there a role for international mediation? Credible third party mediators were essential to the resolution of Northern Ireland and many other conflicts. They are trusted by all sides, usually because they are “disinterested” parties, or they at least have some distance from the issues at hand. (I am not implying that American actors would be the most appropriate here.)

    International mediators were repeatedly requested by civil society groups across Nigeria’s Niger Delta as the amnesty process got under way in 2009. In March I interviewed the chair of the responsible subcommittee within the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, and he lamented how the Nigerian government ignored these pleas from militants and peace activists alike. Is there a message from civil society to the Nigerian government now?

  6. Pingback: US, Nigeria At Odds Over Designation of Boko Haram As Terrorist Organization - New World Magazine

  7. Chavuka

    Boko Haram meets all the criteria for designation as an FTO.

    Either discard the FTO classification scheme entirely, change the criteria to exempt Boko Haram or classify Boko Haram as such using already existing criteria.

    Do not grant a special exemption to Boko Haram.

    If that is not done, the US will soon discover that it requires two different foreign policies – one for Northern Nigeria and another for the rest of the country.

    Anyway, I am not too bothered, an attack on American interests is probably going to occur in the not too distant future. When that happens, the designation will be automatic, but the damage would have been done.

  8. Sandra T. Barnes

    Please add my name to the list of scholars who feel that
    the FTO designation for Boko Haram would be a grievous mistake.

    Sandra T. Barnes
    Department of Anthropology
    University of Pennsylvania

  9. steve

    America has intrest in nigeria about $15 billion worth of existing and intended investment plus the fact that nigeria is the fifth largest oil exporter to the usa also politically Nigerian immigrants have the highest education attainment level in the United States, surpassing every other ethnic group in the country, according to U.S Bureau Census data. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_American. Currently Nigerians are purported to be the most educated in America surpassing Chinese and White Americans with the highest amount of percent of people with advanced degrees and college graduates.The USA has the world’s second largest Nigerian community, only behind Nigeria itself. Like other successful immigrant populations in the United States, Nigerian Americans reside in virtually all 50 states so there is an interest in nigeria . The problem with the FTO designation is that its open to abuse by any administration to intrude on nigerian affairs and intervention down the road . Is boko haram a direct threat to the usa ? the answer is no they are a local nigerian problem are they a threat to the financial intrest not in the short or medium as the boko haram is located geographicaly far away from usa intrests . There is a spurious and oft repeated claim that poverty is the main cause of the problem but northern leaders have ruled the country directly or indirectly for thirty out of the countries fifty years of independence they have looted the treasury and done nothing for their people the south enjoys a higer level of development and investment inspite of the government . The south has enbraced education and development. The is a lot of poverty in the south but the southern christians are not blowing up mosques to make their point. its worth noting that academia tends to shy away from certain unsavoury aspects of society like the propensity for muslims (even if i begrudginly say a minority )to commit acts of terror .The is somthing to be said about a culture that rejects all form of western education attacking( both educated/ non educated ) christians that runs contrary to the academics who have signed this letter. I can see that the argument against the fto designation as it might have unintended consequences when it comes to travel to the US , the cost of borrowing or investment might go up as the security risk is added to borrowing cost . Restrictions to remmiting money to nigeria might be threatened ($10 billion which strangely 65% goes to the south ) . so the approach has to be balanced . The alarmist in me say in a couple of years time whe might see us navy ships in nigerian territorial waters guarding off shore oil rigs which is the fear i think the professors have .

  10. Carl LeVan Post author

    What do Americans fear more? What radical groups say — or what they do?
    The Supreme Court has gone to great lengths over the decades to protect free speech, for example by defending the rights of neo-Nazis to march through Illinois in the case National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie.

    Nick Bilton in the New York Times wrote a thoughtful article today describing how the Patriot Act’s “material support” provisions might be used to shutter Twitter accounts. This of course is ironic since the US has repeatedly criticized authoritarian governments for blocking internet accounts, and Twitter and Facebook were praised as essential engines of democratization during the Arab spring (and during Nigeria’s 2011 elections).

    Comparatively speaking, the First Amendment protects some heinous and offensive speech that is not permitted in other democracies. I don’t necessarily think the American standard is right for every country, but here at home it deserves a robust defense.

  11. Pingback: Here’s Why Hillary Clinton Resisted Designating Boko Haram As A Terrorist Organization

  12. Carl LeVan

    MSNBC ran a story about the surveillance missions to locate the school girls, and discussing some of the factors influencing whether to negotiate with Boko Haram. It also touched upon the accusations that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State in 2012, did not designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization soon enough (and the kidnapping of the girls is therefore somehow her fault). Several excellent articles provide background and respond. Kay Guinane from the Charity and Security Network responded in the Huffington Post, and outlined efforts in Congress to reform relevant US law. An article in World Politics Review called the describes how the FTO designation has been problematic in a variety of conflicts. And a CNN.com story that interviewed me provided an overview and timeline.

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