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Petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama and Members of Congress

We urge you not to support the formal designation of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO). Such a move would be a counterproductive mistake with far-reaching negative consequences for both Americans and Nigerians.

It is correct for the United States to join the vast majority of Nigerians in condemning the group for the brutal violence it has inflicted on innocent civilians in Nigeria and their threats to national unity and security in that country.

But U.S. government designation of the group as a FTO, as currently proposed by several Members of Congress and some officials in the the Department of Justice, would increase rather than diminish the threat from Boko Haram. It would give the group additional visibility and credibility among international terrorist networks. It would increase the chances that the group would direct its attacks against U.S. targets.

Most significantly, it would reinforce militarization of Nigerian government actions against the group. Repressive actions by Nigerian security forces in the past have already contributed to increasing support for Boko Haram among those affected. What is needed instead is a multifaceted strategy. Such a strategy must include not only security measures to protect civilians but also flexible diplomacy and serious attention to development issues, particularly in the disadvantaged North of Nigeria where Boko Haram finds support.

FTO designation would also cause enormous collateral damage, making it difficult for both the U.S. government and non-profit groups to address humanitarian and development issues, particularly in the North. It would hamper any efforts by third parties to encourage dialogue and it would introduce new tensions into U.S.-Nigerian relations. It would also pose serious bureaucratic obstacles to travel and family remittances for Nigerian Americans and other Nigerians resident in the United States.

The Nigerian government is well aware of the counterproductive effects of a FTO designation for Boko Haram and has expressed its opposition. So have more than 20 of the top U.S. scholars on Nigeria. We urge you to heed their informed advice.