President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has made a passionate appeal to the United States government to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO), saying: "My people are dying every single day."
Oritsejafor's appeal came moments after Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, said the militant religious sect was out to disgrace, discredit and embarrass the Nigerian government.
A designation as an FTO would trigger a full US government response against Boko Haram, freezing any assets it holds in the United States and making support of the group a crime.
Making the appeal Tuesday evening while appearing at a hearing on Nigeria convened by the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Sub-committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, the CAN president said: "As Boko Haram increasingly turns towards genocide through the systematic targeting of Christians and Christian institutions in pursuit of its goals, history will not forget the actions or the inactions of your great nation."
He said as recently as last weekend, 58 people were killed in Christian villages in Jos, including a federal senator and a state lawmaker, adding that Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility for these attacks, also reaffirmed its position that "for Christians in Nigeria to know peace they must accept Islam as the only true religion".
Describing the attacks as outright terrorism and not legitimate political activity or the airing of grievances, Oritsejafor said: "It is hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality, when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted."
"We too, want to have freedom, freedom of religion, freedom to worship as we choose without fear, we want to have justice, based on equality and not driven by discriminatory religious practices," he said at the hearing with the theme, 'US Policy Towards Nigeria: West Africa's Troubled Titan', held in Room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building.
In a vague reference to the fact that the non-designation of the group might have been influenced by the economic relations between both countries, the CAN president said: "Let me remind us that this is not about economics but about an ideology that has a history of sponsoring genocide across the globe."
Noting that Boko Haram is not only a Northern problem, but a Nigerian problem with global implications, he also warned, "It is only a matter of time before the international terrorist links and anti-democratic Islamist agenda of Boko Haram turns its attention to the United States."
He said this may already be a reality because on April 2012, the New York Police Department learnt that a US resident living on the East Coast had sent surveillance, including maps and photographs of lower Manhattan and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels to a suspected member of Boko Haram based in Nigeria.
Noting that the State Department recently named three leaders of Boko Haram as specially designated global terrorists, leaving out the organisation itself, he said this was equivalent to designating Osama bin Laden a terrorist, but failing to designate Al Qaeda a terrorist organisation.
The CAN leader said he was not oblivious of the fact that the designation of Boko Haram as a FTO was not the final solution to all of Nigeria's problems, but stressed that it would be "an important first step towards restoring the confidence of those who support freedom and equality in the eyes of the law".
He also said that by refusing to designate Boko Haram an FTO, the US was sending a very clear message, not just to the Nigerian government, but to the world, "that the murder of innocent Christians and Muslims who reject Islamism, and I make a clear distinction here between Islam and Islamism, are acceptable losses".
Oritsejafor further argued that "the non-designation for the group only serves to hamper the cause of justice, and has emboldened Boko Haram to continue to strike at those who are denied equal protection under the law".
In his own presentation, Carson said only three leaders of the sect were designated global terrorists by the State Department because US believes that "the larger element of Boko Haram was not interested in doing anything but attempting to discredit, disgrace the Nigerian government".
Carson said the terrorist designation made sense for the three leaders -- Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi -- due to links to Al-Qaeda, but that it would be counterproductive to target the entire movement.
"It would serve to enhance their status, probably give them greater international notoriety amongst radical Islamic groups, probably lead to more recruiting and probably more assistance," Carson said.
He said Boko Haram had grown stronger and increasingly more sophisticated over the past three years, adding that, "defeating the sect would require a sophisticated and comprehensive domestic response."
He added that security efforts aimed at containing Boko Haram's violence must be targeted, tempered and humane.
"The Nigerian government must avoid excessive violence and human rights abuses, and make better use of police and intelligence services to identify, arrest and prosecute those responsible for Boko Haram's violent acts," he added.
He observed that the group thrives because of social and economic problems in the North which the government must also address.
According to him, "A coordinated government effort to provide responsible, accountable governance to all Nigerians, while creating opportunities for economic growth, will diminish the political space in which Boko Haram operates."
Noting how important the stability of Nigeria was to the US and the world, Carson said at 160 million people, Nigeria was home to one out of every five sub-Saharan Africans, the sixth largest Muslim population in the world, the world's largest country to have approximately equal number of Christians and Muslims, Africa's largest contributor to international peacekeeping operations, and the fifth largest in the world.
Earlier in his opening remarks at the hearing, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Rep. Christopher Smith, rejected the view that terrorism is caused by social and economic problems, warning that the State Department underestimates the threat of militant sects which seek to impose Sharia.
Smith said: "Ideology that is highly, highly radicalised may exploit poverty at times, but poor people do not necessarily become terrorists and killers. That is an insult, frankly, to poor people."
The congressman said: "Attacks by the Nigeria Islamic group Boko Haram on Christians, including attacks launched this past weekend, were absolutely unprovoked, and they were unconscionable.
"People of all faiths and all people of good will must demand immediate action against the terrorist organisation."
He said the hearing was aimed at helping Nigeria remain as the continent's most strategic nation, as it currently faces serious security challenges from armed groups.
Smith requested an explanation from Carson on why Boko Haram had not been designated despite the fact that the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and a congressional committee of the House and some senate members had called for the designation of the sect.
He also requested information on whether the activities of the three designated Boko Haram leaders were at variance with the activities of the sect.
In a related development, an international Christian-Muslim task force Wednesday warned that poverty, inequality and injustice are threatening to trigger a broad sectarian conflict in Nigeria.
In a Reuters report, the task force said clashes between Christians and Muslims have already killed hundreds of people this year alone. But although the violence is the worst between members of the two faiths since the Bosnian war of 1992-1995, the root causes go far beyond religion, the group's report said.
Corruption, mismanagement, land disputes and the lack of aid for victims or punishment for troublemakers have all fuelled tensions, especially in Nigeria's "Middle Belt", where the mostly Muslim North meets the largely Christian south, it said.
Attacks by radical Islamist groups such as Boko Haram that exploit these secular issues and revenge killings by Christian and Muslim gangs have reinforced the religious aspect of the violence.
The 12-member joint delegation was led by World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary Olav Fyske Tveit of Norway and Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, chairman of the board of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.
The Geneva-based WCC and the Jordanian institute announced they would jointly publish books for Nigerian schools explaining the theology of peace in both religions and draw up a manifesto on interfaith cooperation for Nigerians to sign.
They also said they would seek partners to launch a neutral centre to collect accurate information on the conflict to help find a settlement.
The joint delegation, which met government officials and faith leaders in the strife-torn Kaduna and Plateau States and in Abuja from May 22 to 25, said it wanted to show how Muslims and Christians could work together to foster peace.
"The crisis in Nigeria must no longer be seen as a localised issue," the report said in its conclusion.