However, much disagreement among experts remains about Boko Haram’s ties to the other terrorist groups. Unlike the other groups, Boko Haram’s rhetoric is focused on Nigeria, not the United States, said John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. Slapping it with the designation might limit the ability of nongovernmental organizations and the State Department to work in Nigeria, Campbell said.
“Designation makes you feel good, but it’s an extremely blunt instrument,” he said.
The designation is exactly what groups such as Boko Haram want, argued William Minter, an activist on African and other international issues, adding that it could help the group raise its profile and aid in recruiting members.
But it also might prod the Nigerian government to improve its security efforts, Meehan and others say. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has followed a strategy of diplomacy toward the group but his attempts at engaging it in a dialogue have failed, Roach said. Jonathan last month fired his national security adviser, Patrick Owoeye Azazi, and replaced him with Sambo Dasuki, the cousin of Nigeria’s most prominent Muslim leader, in an attempt to build bridges between the mostly Christian southern half of the country and the mostly Muslim north.
Designating Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization “would put pressure on the Nigerian government to say, ‘We take this threat seriously,’ ” Roach said.
Meehan said the United States also needed to take this potential security threat seriously, to avoid domestic disaster down the line.
“We don’t get to choose those who are making threats against the country, nor do we get the luxury of choosing how we might characterize them,” Meehan said.