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November 14, 2013

Nigerians Fear, Welcome US Naming Boko Haram as Terrorists

by Heather Murdock

The United States has designated Nigeria's Boko Haram and splinter group Ansaru terrorist organizations, and in Nigeria many people think the label will pressure the government to end the security crisis.  But in the shadowy circles of militant groups, the label may also make the groups more famous, and some Nigerians fear that will further damage their country.

Nigerian authorities have been calling Boko Haram a terrorist organization for years as relentless militant attacks have killed thousands of people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Modakai Ibrahim is a local politician in the northern city of Kaduna, where church bombs sparked sectarian violence that killed a hundred people last year. 

“They have not spared anybody.  They destroy the church.  Before we are thinking that their target was only Christians.  But now they have now come to show us that they do not want peace.  They do not want to live in harmony.  They attack pastors.  They attack Imams.  We have had imams slaughtered.  We have had people bombed in the mosque,” said Ibrahim.

For Nigerians, the U.S. decision means their country is now the home of two internationally recognized terrorist organizations, and some Nigerians said the U.S. move could do more harm than good.

Dauda Yakubu is the secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kaduna.  He said he feared the label would damage the reputation of the country and scare away developers.

“I believe any state or any country or any nation that is involved in terrorist issues has no development and there will never be peace in that country,” he said.

Abdullahi al-Hassan, a university student in Kaduna, said it would also make it harder for ordinary Nigerians to travel out.  He said international airport authorities would fear any Nigerian could be a terrorist.

“There are also citizens that are not happy to fly into other countries because they will [be] looking [for] terrorists, despite that they are not," he said.

Others said the label, which obligates the United States to freeze any financial dealings with Boko Haram and Ansaru that it can, would not really change anything in Nigeria.

Retired journalist Garba Iliasu in the northern city of Bauchi said the United States should have labeled the group as terrorists four years ago, when the insurgency began.

“We were expecting that if there is sincerity on the part of the United States about its so-called ‘war on terror,’ America should have reacted the way it is doing now,” he said.

Some analysts said the Boko Haram insurgency, which has kept three northern states under emergency rule for six months, was too large to fight without international support.  On the other hand, security experts waredn the label could give the group more prestige among Islamist militants, and potentially draw support.

Far to the south of Nigeria, where the group has never operated, Edward Oforomeh is a lawyer in the Niger Delta.  He said besides the carnage up north, the entire national economy was reeling as food prices soar with fewer northern meat and vegetable imports.  U.S. involvement, he said, could potentially be a good thing.

“They have recognized the Boko Haram as their enemy, so they will not wait until they come and do a serious havoc on them before they go after them,” he said.

But Oforomeh also said Nigerians should be “wary” of American involvement, pointing out that Nigeria does not want to suffer the fate of Pakistan, with the United States fighting militants from other countries on their soil.

(Ardo Hazzad contributed to this report from Bauchi; Ibrahim Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna; Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta.)