The US is playing a dangerous game in Nigeria

Foreign Affairs & Security
Monday, July 21, 2014

It is 100 days since the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, by Boko Haram, the notorious islamic terrorist organistion. The Bow Group today publishes a damning report that casts new light on the role the US has played in the rise of Boko Haram in West Africa. Authored by Jacob Zenn, an internationally renowned commentator, the report casts a stark warning on the future of Africa’s largest economy, and the economic and poltiical stability of West Africa, as Nigeria’s Presidential elections approach in just seven month’s time (February 2015).

Bow Group Chairman Ben Harris-Quinney said: “"Very often, and particularly over the last decade, UK involvement in the affairs of foreign states has produced intangible or no benefit to Britain.

The war in Afghanistan and Iraq was a huge investment for our domestic security in financial, human and reputational terms. The UK will therefore naturally be keen to avoid such high stakes and high-risk major engagements in the future.

An early investigation into the backers of Boko Haram and their links to the APC, followed by potential sanctions designed to prevent Nigeria becoming a future safe-haven for terrorists, and threat to UK citizens at home and abroad, therefore seems an appropriate and important strategy to prevent future terrorist threats before they take hold."


·         Boko Haram operates as Al-Qaeda’s representative in Nigeria and must be challenged on a domestic, regional and international level 

·         The US government’s delay in designating Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) initially hampered international attempts to combat the terror group’s overseas financial transactions—there have been over 3,000 deaths this year alone in Nigeria and Cameroon

·         The US State Department should clarify the standards used to make the terror designation and explain why Boko Haram did not receive the label under the leadership of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, despite traceable evidence linking Boko Haram to Osama bin Laden

·         There are concerns in the international community and Nigeria that the U.S. Democratic Party or its advisers may be associating themselves with northern Nigerian politicians, despite reported links to Boko Haram

·         Any political pact between US officials and the APC carries risks – the US must adopt a neutral approach to the Nigerian elections and political landscape

·         An international investigation that can bring sanctions against political and business leaders in Nigeria and abroad who are financing Boko Haram should be commissioned immediately


1.    The U.S. government should clarify why it refused to label Boko Haram as an FTO before November 2013 and outline the criteria and  standards upon which it will be used in the future.

2.    Former Secretary of State, Hilary  Clinton, and the U.S. Democratic Party, including  its consultants,  should establish and maintain a position of neutrality in advance of the Nigerian Presidential elections.

3.    International support and cooperation with the Nigerian government should be enhanced. More support is needed to ensure early successes in the war on Boko Haram are taken advantage of, and any chance of the terror group re-taking strongholds in the country are avoided.

4.    An international investigation under the auspices and coordination of the US, UK, France, Nigeria and other leading states must be called to examine Boko Haram and its relationships with in-country political figures, businesses in West Africa and abroad and international terrorist groups.  The probe and its conclusions should be neutral and objective and delivered well before the presidential elections next year.

5.    The UK should take an active interest interest in the the situation by seeking to formulate its own coherent policy on the matter and influence US policy given Boko Haram’s links to Al Qaeda that could pose a potential bed for terrorism in the UK. The new Foreign Secretary should treat this as a matter of urgency.

 About the author:

Jacob Zenn, Analyst for Eurasian and African Affairs, The Jamestown Foundation


Jacob Zenn is the author of "Northern Nigeria's Boko Haram: The Prize in al-Qaeda's Africa Strategy," which was published by The Jamestown Foundation in 2012, andis a frequent contributor on Boko Haram for the West Point CTC Sentinel. In November 2013, Mr. Zenn provided testimony to U.S. Congress on "The Continuing Threat of Boko Haram and Ansaru" on the day both groups were designated foreign terrorist organizations, and in February 2013 he testified before U.S. Congress on "Islamist Militant Threats to Eurasia." 
Mr. Zenn consults on countering violent extremism in Nigeria and Central Asia and on the international law and best practices related to freedom of association and provides expert testimony on Nigeria in terrorism-related court trials. Mr. Zenn received a J.D. from Georgetown Law, with the commendation of a Global Law Scholar, and earned a graduate certificate in international relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS campus in Nanjing, China. Mr. Zenn speaks Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, French, Spanish, and Russian.