Abuja — The Nigerian government yesterday protested its inclusion by its American counterpart among nations it considers as "countries of interest" - those that sponsor state terrorism.
In the wake of the protest, LEADERSHIP learnt that the National Security Adviser, Gen. Abdullahi Sarki Mukhtar (rtd.), will today hold a meeting of security chiefs in the country to review the new directive by the U.S. Transport Security Administration (TSA) that all air passengers from Nigeria entering the United States be screened specially.
The American government's directive came in the wake of the failed attempt on Christmas Day by a 23-year old Nigerian national, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a commercial airliner over Detroit, Michigan. The plane had taken off from Amsterdam with 273 passengers and 11 crew members.
The TSA had on Sunday directed that passengers from "countries of interest" and those from Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, and Syria, which Washington describes as "state sponsors of terrorism," be subjected to enhanced screening at the airports with techniques that include full-body pat-downs, carry-on bag searches, full-body scanning and explosive detection technology.
Nigerians are among 14 nations whose nationals face stiffer rules, including body searches and luggage checks.
Four other African countries - Algeria, Libya, Somalia and Sudan - are also subject to the new measures.
US President Barack Obama has been under pressure to install and ensure security improvements.
The new security directives came into effect yesterday.
Nigeria yesterday condemned in strong terms the tough screening imposed on Nigerian passengers wanting to fly to the US.
Minister of Information and Culture, Prof. Dora Akunyili, said the rules discriminated against 150 million Nigerians.
Abdulmutallab did not represent Nigeria, she said.
She said his act was a "one-off".
"Abdulmutallab's behaviour is not reflective of Nigeria and should therefore not be used as a yardstick to judge all Nigerians," she said.
"He was not influenced in Nigeria, he was not recruited or trained in Nigeria, he was not supported whatsoever in Nigeria.
"It is unfair to discriminate against 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person."
The House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora has also viewed the recent call by US Congressman Peter King (Republican Party, New York) and a member of US House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee, that Abdulmutallab should be tried in a secret military court as "unfair and unjustifiable".
The committee, which joined others to condemn the action of Abdulmutallab, also appealed to Nigerians in the Diaspora to exercise restraint and caution when being subjected to screening at various airports.
A statement from the chairman of the committee, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, advised the security agencies globally not to use the event of December 25, 2009 as an excuse to molest and harass innocent Nigerians in the Diaspora.
LEADERSHIP gathered that at today's meeting of security chiefs, the Federal Government would take a formal position on the decision taken by the US government.
A Presidency source said the NSA is of the opinion that there is no justification for including Nigeria in the list of countries regarded as sponsors of terrorism.
The source added, "The fact that the suspect is a Nigerian is no compelling reason for the inclusion. The National Security Adviser holds strongly that there are convicted terrorists who are American, British and Belgian citizens, and this fact has not made the TSA to regard either Britain or Belgium as a country of interest.
"Hamid Hyat, who was convicted in April 2007 of terrorism, is an American. Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for attempting on December 22, 2001 to bomb an American commercial plane flying from Paris to Miami, is a British citizen. His collaborator, Nizar Trabelsi, is Belgian.
"If the American authorities could not add Britain and Belgium to the list of countries of interest, then, there is no objective reason to include Nigeria. We may be deeply religious, but certainly we are no suicide bombers or terrorists. Both the Nigerian government and the people abhor fanaticism."