The Federal Government raised its objection to the plan ahead of yesterday’s meeting of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, with top White House and State Department officials in Washington DC.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to the U.S., Prof. Ade Adefuye, who confirmed Azazi’s meeting with the American officials, said the government was opposed to such a designation because it might subject Nigerian travellers to the kind of intensive search and scrutiny around the world, especially in western capitals and cities after the Farouk Abdulmutallab incident in December 2009.
Ambassador Adefuye in his defence of government’s action, said he feared the likelihood of Nigerians being opened to all kinds of harassments at international airports once such a designation comes from the U.S., including intensive and intrusive body searches.
The envoy said the government would on its own contain the Boko Haram menace as it did in quelling the militancy in the Niger Delta.
As at press time yesterday, Azazi, accompanied by Adefuye, was at a meeting with White House officials and was billed later in the day to attend another parley at the State Department, which has come under pressure both from the American Congress and the Justice Department to declare Boko Haram a global terror group.
As matters now stand, the State Department is in agreement with the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC and has refused to designate Boko Haram a “foreign terrorist organisation.”
Informed U.S. government sources hinted that the meetings would review the pressure from the American Congress calling for the formal designation of Boko Haram as a terror gang among other counter-terrorism issues.
Top officials of President Barack Obama’s National Security Council at the White House were believed to have met with Azazi yesterday morning, while his meeting at the State Department would be hosted by the country’s Ambassador-at-Large and Co-ordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Daniel Benjamin.
In the past few days, the U.S. media and western news wire had been reporting on plans by some American federal lawmakers to ensure that Boko Haram is designated as a terrorist organization.
The lawmakers argued that the U.S. and global interests had been attacked by the group, citing the suicide bombing of the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja as evidence of the armed group’s intent to harm American interests.
But while the Congressional leaders have been writing the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, demanding such a designation and also threatening to enforce it by way of legislation, some American scholars earlier this week openly opposed the plan.
The letter written by the scholars, numbering 20, included signatories of Dr. Jean Herskovitz, from the State University of New York, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, and a Nigerian-born don, Dr. Rita Edozien, from the Michigan State University.
The scholars said if the U.S. goes ahead to designate Boko Haram FTO, it would “internationalise the group’s standing and enhance its status among radical organisations elsewhere.”
Besides, the American intellectuals noted that “should Boko Haram be designated an FTO through this regime, it would be illegal for non-governmental organisations to interact with members of the terror gang – even if the purpose of such contact was to persuade them to renounce violence.”
But some prominent American Congressmen have insisted that the Obama administration must designate the insurgent gang a “foreign terrorist organisation.”
An agency report on Monday quoted Senator Scott Brown, a Republican from Massachusetts, as adding his voice in a letter to Clinton, urging her to designate the group as a terrorist body under U.S. law.
The argument from the lawmakers have been backed up with the reported facts that Boko Haram is linked to al-Qaeda, and also because the group had been linked to 700 killings in Nigeria over the last 18 months.
Last weekend, U.S. Representatives Peter King and Patrick Meehan, chairmen of the House Homeland Security Committee and its Counter-Terrorism Sub-committee in that order, both Republicans wrote to Clinton “suggesting that the administration was moving too slowly on the issue.”