Lagos — Since the terrorist attempt on the Detroit-bound United States of America (U.S.A.)'s Delta Airliner, by a young Nigerian, Farouk Umar AbdulMutallab, on Christmas day, attention has been focused on Nigeria.
As a result of that suicide bombing attempt, Nigerians abroad have been bearing the brunt, as they go through grave ordeals in the hands of foreign security agents. Subjected to different forms of searches and indignity, the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, described the exercise as strenuous.
The young Nigerian, now being described as Underwear Bomber, had packed himself full of deadly explosives, detonated the bomb, which incidentally malfunctioned and did not explode, saving the lives of 290 people aboard the airplane.
Incidentally, the new treatment on Nigerians necessitated by this action came off a recent classification by the U.S. government, which listed Nigeria among 14 other countries branded as terrorist threat states. The other countries include Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
As a result of that classification, the U.S. government gave directives to its security agencies worldwide to make sure that Nigerian nationals travelling to the U.S. from anywhere in the world were given extra security screening.
Surprisingly, the directive did not stop there; Washington DC also listed former Nigerian governors, senators, businessmen and their relatives, among those to be barred from entering America. As a result, the American government tightened entry requirements into their country, as some suspected terrorists and terror groups sympathisers are barred from flights into the country.
But the question is whether Nigeria is, indeed, a terrorist nation, deserving of such categorisation by the U.S.
Nigeria's Information and Communications Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili, said AbdulMutallab's action was a one-off thing that was not in anyway reflective of Nigerians as a people with terrorist tendencies.
She said: "It is unfair to include Nigerians on the U.S. list for tighter screening because Nigerians do not have terrorist tendencies. AbdulMutallab's act was a one-off thing; it is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person. He was not influenced, recruited or trained in Nigeria; he was not supported whatsoever in Nigeria."
Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, also saw the inclusion of Nigeria in the list as an unacceptable treatment from a friendly country. He, therefore, charged that the American government should take another look on the matter. He said that Nigeria was neither training nor breeding ground for terrorism, a safe haven for Al-Qaeda, to be so listed because of the deviant behaviour of a single lad.
For Victor Umeh, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) chairman, "Nigeria is not a terrorist state. Nigeria can never be a terrorist country. The U.S. is just trying to intimidate us. It was clear that the young Mutallab was inducted into terrorism outside the shores of this country. He spent most of his life in the United Kingdom (UK); it was obvious that he got inducted in Yemen. And the idea of bombing the U.S. airliner was never conceived in Nigeria.
"In his mission to carry out the bombing, his journey did not even start in Nigeria. Investigation also showed that he spent only 23 minutes in the Nigerian airport before leaving for Amsterdam. His journey actually started from Ghana. So, there was no element of Nigeria in his evil act. It is regrettable that the U.S. is using it against us by giving us a blanket treatment."
This appears to be an issue in which all Nigerian political parties, irrespective of their ideological differences, agree that Nigeria should not be on the U.S. list. Nasarawa State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Yunana Iliya, for instance, believes that, "it is unfair for the U.S. to grade Nigeria as a terrorist country."
AbdulMutallab was not, according to investigations, made in Nigeria, but abroad. But one issue that appears to have aroused curiosity of Nigerians is how he was radicalised.
Being the last of the 16 children of his father, AbdulMutallab was born on December 22, 1986 in Lagos State, and attended one of the best schools, starting from his primary education at Essence International School in Kaduna State. He later moved to the Rabiatu Mutallib Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, which is named after his grandfather, where he was moulded.
He moved to the British International School (BIS) in Lome, the capital of Togo, thereafter, where only kids of the wealthy study. While there, AbdulMutallab, according to investigations, never exhibited traits of terrorism. His teacher, John McGuiness, described him then as incredibly polite and very hard-working young man. He was a devout Muslim.
Between 2004 and 2005, he studied at the Sana'a Institute for the Arabic Language in Sana'a, Yemen, where he also attended lectures at Iman University, notorious for suspected links to terrorism. At the end of his studies at Yemen, he was admitted to study Engineering and Business Finance at the University College, London, in September 2005, graduating in 2008, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
During his university years, he was the president of the school's Islamic society that holds political discussion and other activities such as martial arts training and paint-balling. In one of their paint-balling trips, a preacher once said: "Dying while fighting Jihad is one of the surest ways to paradise." AbdulMutallab was said to be more devoted to the group's activities than studies, which led to his graduating with a second class (lower) grade.
After graduation, he made regular visits to Kaduna, and between January and July 2009, he undertook a Master's degree programme in International Business at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, which he aborted half way.
In May 2009, his application for a visa to return to Britain for a coaching programme was refused on security ground and he reportedly sent his father a text in October that he was no longer interested in pursuing his Masters programme in Dubai.
"I would rather prefer a seven-year course in Sharia and Arabic from Yemeni alma mater," he was quoted to have said.
This request infuriated his father, who threatened to cut off his funding. Not bogged by the threat, the younger AbdulMutallab replied his father that he was already getting everything he needed for free and asked him not to bother to ask how, as, according to him, it was none of his father's business.
In later messages, he was reported to have written in one: "Please forgive me. I will no longer be in touch with you"; and "forgive for any wrongdoing; I am no longer your child".
According to a report by Yemeni officials, he was in Yemen from early August 2009, overstayed his student visa (which was valid through September 21), and left Yemen on December 7, flying to Ethiopia, and then, two days later, to Ghana. Ghanaian officials also said he was there from December 9 to 24, the day before his aborted attempt at blowing off the U.S.-bound plane.
Some people, who knew him in Kaduna back in the days, have tried to describe the kind of person he was. Umar Farouk, his namesake, who works at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, claims to have gone preaching sessions with Abdul Mutallab. He describes him as a quiet and reclusive young man that took his religion serious.
"He was always talking about discipline, devoted to Islamic principles and the importance of Muslim women to adhere to Islamic prescribed way of dressing. It is more difficult to rate him because whenever he was available, he would have very few friends and he is not the socialising type at all."
Sheikh Ahmad el-Tijjani, an Imam of Mutallab bin Mosque at GRA, Kaduna, told Sunday Independent that Abdul Mutallab was a devout Moslem, who is always among the first set of people that would come during calls for prayers.
"The last I saw him, sometime before last year's Ramadan fast, was when he delivered a talk at Little Scholar Nursery and Primary School, Rabah Road. His mother was even present then. If there was any element of extremism in him, we would have dictated it. But his preaching centred on self-discipline, devout Muslim and that women should strictly adhere to Islamic injunctions," he said.
Nigeria's former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has, however, lent his voice in condemnation of the U.S. action when he cautioned against victimisation and inhuman treatment to Nigerians anywhere in the world. In like manner, General Yakubu Gowon also called on America and her Western allies to drop the country's name from the terrorist list.
Incidentally, Nigerian Senate took the notch higher last Tuesday, January 5, when it gave the American government an ultimatum to remove Nigeria from the list or risk a diplomatic row. Not done with that threat, Akunyili followed up on Wednesday by promising that Nigeria would consider a severance of diplomatic relations with the U.S.
But the U.S. officials have remained adamant, claiming that there had been preponderance of evidence that Nigeria was becoming a likely haven for terror groups like Al-Qaeda, which Nigeria had shown no commitment in confronting head-long.
While bemoaning the fate of being blacklisted, there is feeling in certain quarters that Nigeria has actually been a victim of poor leadership and governance that has seen the country tilting towards the Middle-East and fraternising with countries of the left. Some of such nations considered as outright sponsors of terrorism include Sudan, Iran and Syria.
Before this terrible blow on the country's image by Abdul Mutallab, the integrity of Nigeria had actually been on consistent downward spiral. This was a major reason President Umaru Yar'Adua once lamented the exclusion of the country from a G-20 meeting in London last year.
Mr. President had said: "Today is a sad day for Nigeria as a country. This is because we are not invited to a meeting of the 20 world leaders. We have the population, we have the resources and we have the potential."
The current situation is also blamed on the absence of Yar'Adua, who is currently recuperating in a Saudi Arabian hospital, which has left a vacuum in governance. Some opinions have also blamed Nigeria's relations with Yemen, which is written boldly in the abhorred list of terrorist states. America has actually closed her embassy in that country, so also countries that have been partnering with her to fight terrorism.
Just as Nigeria does not have an outright leader, so also does it not have a substantive ambassador to the U.S. Oluwole Rotimi, a retired Brigadier-General, was relieved of his post since March, last year, following a disagreement with the Foreign Affairs Minister.
Tunde Adeniran, who replaced him, was rejected by the American government, on an allegation gang-rape by his son. The current ambassador-designate, Professor Ade Adefuye, is yet to fully take his post before the ugly incident.
The Nigerian President had on some occasions been accused of fraternising with pariah leaders such as Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, and Bashar Assad of Syria. By October 25, 2009, it was reported that Nigerian government had permitted the visit of Al-Bashir to attend the African Union (AU)'s Peace and Security Council meeting in the country.
This was greeted with gale of criticisms from both individuals and groups, which forced the establishment to deny him entry. International Criminal Court (ICC), to which Nigerian is signatory, had, on March 4, issued an arrest warrant on Al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yar'Adua had, on several occasions, been seen in photographs with Al-Bashir and Assad, suggestive of defiance to the warrant.
There is also the fear in some circles that the U.S. listing will have an adverse effect on various sectors of the Nigerian economy. Before now, fraud and insecurity had always dented the country's image, causing Western countries, especially the U.S., to caution their citizens against coming to Nigeria with travel advisories. But with Abdul Mutallab's Christmas Day bomb attempt, there are opinions that even the obstinate ones will begin to think twice about visiting the country for any reason.
For instance, the U.S. issued a travel advisory to her citizens in May 14, 2008, following threats and 24-day ultimatum by Niger Delta militants, after several clashes with the military, to oil companies in the region to quit or face attacks.
Tourism, the new burgeoning sector, is also expected to be affected by the recent development.
Many Nigerians in the industry have argued that the sector has the potential to equate with oil as the nation's foreign exchange earner; but there is little doubt, especially now, as the recent classification, according to informed minds, will hurt the sector in no small way.
Ikechi Uko, publisher of Apapa Travel Market, is of the opinion that the listing is not good news for the travel industry in the country. Uko is full of regret that all the efforts made in the past one year to promote tourism in the country was about to be washed down the train. He sees the current situation as more dangerous than the travel advisories the U.S. was giving to its citizens.
"The blacklist is worse than travel advisories because it means that Nigerians are the problem," Uko lamented.
It is the opinion of majority of respondents, who spoke on the issue that the Christmas Day attempted bombing would definitely impact negatively on not only the tourism industry, but the country as a whole. "From the way things are going, tourism will take a large fall for Abdul Mutallab's action, except our government goes the extra mile to remedy the country's image," said one respondent.
The 2009 Calabar Carnival in December, for instance, was described as a huge success, as many foreigners thronged the Canaanland to savour the beauty and the performances as well as Nigeria's rich cultural heritage. But there is fear today that the classification of the country by the U.S. as a terrorist threat would scare such foreigners or others contemplating visiting other such tourist attractions across the country.
Another area many believe the terrorist list would affect Nigeria is in its quest to become a permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. Nigeria formally kick-started her campaign in May 2005, aimed at securing a seat on the UN Security Council with a high-level meeting at the presidential Villa in Abuja at the instance of Obasanjo.
Present at the conference were the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, governors, Chief Justice of Nigeria and top government officials. Also in attendance were erstwhile Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar; former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku; Nigeria's envoys to the U.S., UK, Japan, China, Brazil, India, Russia, Switzerland and its permanent representative to the UN.
In his opening speech at the meeting, Obasanjo had maintained that the purpose was to discuss Nigeria's quest for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council under a reformed UN. At the end of the summit, a national awareness committee of the UN reform was constituted. Since then, Nigeria has continued to make frantic moves towards ensuring that it clinched one of the two possible seats for Africa alongside countries like Egypt, Senegal and South Africa.
Security Council is the most powerful organ of the UN, and it is made up of five permanent members and 10 elected (non-permanent) members. Countries with permanent membership in the council include China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States. These countries possess the veto powers.
Currently, the elected (non-permanent members) are Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others include Brazil, Gabon, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and Uganda. Consideration for the new (permanent) membership proposal in the council is for Brazil, Germany, India, Japan and Nigeria. The body is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.
There is, however, the belief by many that Nigeria's quest for a permanent seat at the Security Council is a legitimate demand that deserves international support. In June last year, the Senate president, David Mark, renewed the campaign before President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain in Abuja. According to the number-three citizen, Nigeria occupies a pivotal position in Africa and desires to be accorded as such. He specifically appealed to the Spanish president to help take Nigeria's campaign for a permanent seat at the UN to other European countries.
Similarly, in September last year, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, solicited the support of the French Parliament for Nigeria's quest for a seat in the Council.
Another area is Direct Foreign Investment (DFI), which many are of the opinion that it would suffer adversely.
"Who would want to invest in a place where he could easily get killed?" says one analyst.
But national chairman of Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), Damian Ogbonna, believes "there is no reason to link the growth and viability of foreign investment and Nigeria's bid for a seat in the Security Council on this matter. These endeavours will suffer only in the event that our country fails to take pro-active measures to counter the menace of terrorism and terror activities.
He said the problem was in the inability of government to gain confidence-building initiatives to attract meaningful foreign investment.
"On the contrary, there is capital and investment flight to more favourable climates like Ghana. This cannot be blamed on Abdul Mutallab. It is a systemic failure of the Nigerian experiment. Until we get that right, we lie to ourselves. The attempt to now tie such failure to this sad affair in our national life is misconstrued. It is probably a kite being flown and positioned to take the blame in the event of the day of reckoning for the failure of this government and the PDP," Ogbonna said.
General David Jemibewon, former Military Governor of Oyo State and one-time Minister of Police Affairs, said the isolated case of Mutallab should not in any way scare off foreign investors.
His words: "I am not too sure that it will have terrible impact on our foreign investment. This is an isolated case, and as such there is no reason for it to scare off foreign investors. I don't think serious-minded investors would allow it to scare them off at all. They know how the situation came about, and so, that cannot be a problem."
Yet, Deputy Senate Minority Leader, Olorunnimbe Mamora, said Nigerians will have to face reality and look for remedies.
"Whether we like it or not, this disgraceful act of the young man will definitely affect investment from the foreign circle and tourism. It will likewise affect the confidence of the international community in our ability to ensure a secure environment," he said.
However, though the U.S. has not been forthcoming in determining what qualifies a country to be on the watch list, experts have looked at several criteria to find possible reasons.
The article in the Washington Post of January 6 suggests some criteria used to determine whether a country falls within that list or not. It mentioned the issue of 'failed state' status, which has "swaths of territory that lie beyond government control". It also mentioned a place where the idea of private citizens getting their hands on plastic explosives, or terrorist weapons of any kind, was simply laughable. It then concluded that, by argument, some countries on the list did not merit being there.
Other qualifications advanced from other sources include proximity to the Gulf region and Islamic North African states. Terrorism has always been seen as coming from the Middle-East and North African countries such as Iran, Iraq and Libya. Only on few occasions has countries outside this region been regarded as terrorist nations, as the recent list, which includes Cuba and Nigeria, has shown.
There is also the argument that the presence of Moslem religious extremism leading to violence in a country is sure sign that terrorism would soon ensue. But Akunyili thinks Nigeria is not qualified to be on the list, if the suggested criteria are anything to go by. "Abdul Mutallab's behaviour is not reflective of Nigerians and should, therefore, not be a yardstick to judge all Nigerians. It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million," she maintained.
Akunyili is not alone. Other Nigerians have rejected what they call attempts by the West to brand the country as a terrorist state out of malice. Last year, the Sultan of Sokoto and president of Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA), Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, while on a visit to the U.S., stated unequivocally that there were no terrorists in Nigeria. He rather affirmed that those being branded as terrorists were bunch of young Muslim zealots, who admired the activities of the al-Qaeda network because of their youthful exuberance.
In 2001, some Moslem groups in Nigeria under the aegis of Network of Islamic Organisations (NIO) criticised the military for trying to label Nigeria a terrorist country. Spokesman of the group, Nafiu Baba-Ahmed, described the allegation as a mischievous attempt at the wholesale stereotyping and slander of Islam and Muslims, typical of Western governments and their media since September 11, 2001.
"We are not bothered by the repeated American and Western lies and propaganda, which are obviously informed by their neocolonial 'crusaders' instincts. We are, however, deeply disturbed by the penchant of our security agencies and other Federal Government parastatals for blindly accepting and parroting the American script by demonising and slandering Nigerian Muslims and their faith. We believe there is more to such unpatriotic tendencies than meets the eye," Baba-Ahmed, who was angry for such insinuations, affirmed.
Findings have, however, revealed that the U.S. is actually so touchy about terrorist attacks because it had been attacked more than any other country in the world. The country has been attacked 45 times beginning from the 1920s to the present time, on her interests within and outside the country.
The first recorded attack was in September 16, 1920, when TNT, regarded then as a powerful explosive, planted in an unattended horse-drawn wagon, exploded on Wall Street in New York City. There was also the attack in 2000, when its Navy destroyer (USS Cole) was heavily damaged when a small boat packed with explosives blew up alongside it, killing I7 sailors. The attack was linked to Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.
•Additional reports by Sukuji Bakoji (Bureau Chief, Kaduna), Michael Jegede, Nkasiobi Oluikpe and Ovwe Medeme (Lagos).