Boko Haram is not a terrorist organisation and the United States should not categorise it as such, a top official of the Nigerian government said at the weekend.
Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, urged the US government not to classify the Nigerian militant group responsible for many killings and bombings as Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) or International Terrorist Organisation (ITO).
Uhomoibhi made the remarks during an appearance before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs in Abuja, arguing that branding Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation would be wrong.
He was apparently responding to a request by President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to US authorities to give the Islamic sect such tags.
A statement issued by the committee’s clerk, Alhaji Mohammed Zakari, yesterday quoted the permanent secretary as saying that Boko Haram was a security challenge which the country had not seen in its 52 years of independence but did not know what informed the US to classify them as terrorists as the government’s or the ministry’s opinion was not sought by the US authorities on the matter.
“US should have sought the opinion of Nigeria and not of CAN or its leader. Nigeria is a secular country, so seeking the opinion of a religious group is wrong,” he said.
President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, had on July 10 addressed the US House of Representatives Sub-committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, saying, “Boko Haram is not only a northern problem, but a Nigerian problem with global implications.
“Boko Haram has waged a systematic campaign of terror and violence. They seek an end to Western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria. This is outright terrorism, not legitimate political activity or the airing of grievances…”
Oritsejafor reminded the US government that designating Boko Haram’s current leader; Abubakar Shekau and two others as “specially designated terrorists”, but fell short of designating the organisation “would be the equivalent of designating Bin Laden as a terrorist, but failing to designate Al Qaeda as a terrorist organisation.
“Although I am aware that the designation of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation is not the final solution to all of Nigeria’s problems, yet it is an important first step towards restoring the confidence of those who support freedom and equality in the eyes of the law,” Oritsejafor said.
But the permanent secretary told the House committee that statements like this were capable of subjecting Nigerians all over the world to rough scrutiny by US agents and other international agencies.
“For us at the ministry, Boko Haram should not have been designated as ITO or FTO as Nigeria is a secular country and we are working with all other stakeholders to resolve this menace,” Uhomoibhi said.
Earlier, the chairperson of the committee, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, had said the committee wanted to know the official position of the government on the US designation of Boko Haram as either ITO or FTO.
She said that though Nigeria is a multi-diverse and multi-religious country, it was necessary for the ministry to let the committee know its thinking and that of the government on the proper designation of Boko Haram in the country.
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