The leader of Nigeria’s Christians called Tuesday on the United States to declare the Islamist group Boko Haram to be terrorists, but a US official said it was more important to address social inequalities.
In an unusually blunt appeal by a foreigner before the US Congress, the head of the main Christian body in religiously divided Nigeria said that a decision to blacklist three Boko Haram leaders as terrorists did not go far enough.
Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said that the US move on June 21 was “the equivalent of designating (Osama) bin Laden a terrorist but failing to designate Al-Qaeda a terrorist organization.”
Oritsejafor said that the reluctance to brand Boko Haram as terrorists had emboldened the group, which is estimated to have killed more than 1,000 people since mid-2009 in attacks on Christian and government sites.
“By refusing to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, the United States is sending a very clear message, not just to the federal government of Nigeria, 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 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,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Oritsejafor said Boko Haram sought “an end to Western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria,” telling the US lawmakers: “My people are dying every day.”