Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Humiliation Beyond Description: The Plight Of Nigeria In Distress

On December 25, 2009, Nigerians woke up to a bad news. A Nigerian that goes by the name Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was on the news for allegedly trying albeit unsuccessfully to blow up a US bound plane with 289 passengers and crew on board using high explosives concealed around his waist region. The extraordinary lucky Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam was heading to Detroit in the state of Michigan in the United States. Luckily for all us and the passengers and crew aboard the flight the explosive was not able to explode to the extent he had planned. That stroke of fate led to the saving of the lives of the 289 passengers and crew on board the flight and probably others on ground who would have been caught up in the fumbled fiasco.

According to eyewitnesses in the plane, the 23-year old Nigeria had high explosives moulded to his body and sewn into his underpants. As he was struggling to detonate the device, he was overwhelmed by the passengers and crew just minutes before the plane was due to land in Detroit from the Dutch capital Amsterdam. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab has since been charged with placing a destructive device on the Airbus 330 and attempting to destroy the jet.

The story was received with shock worldwide, particularly in Nigeria. Nigerians of every walk of life have been condemning the ugly incident. A facebook group called ‘Get us off that list: Nigerians are NOT Terrorists’ had at the time of writing this attracted 99, 287 fans. Another one called ‘150 Million Nigerians speaking up against Terrorism...Yes we can’ has 26, 501 fans not to talk of other similar groups with fans in their thousands. However as Nigerians were busy condemning the ugly incident, the United States of America came out with a bombshell. Nigeria in conjunction with other 13 countries viz Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan were placed in a list of countries of special interest. In fact countries that poses terrorist threat to the people and interest of the United States of America. The listing was accompanied with directives that passengers travelling from these countries to the United States must face extra security screening. This screening includes the thorough searching of body parts and hand luggage. A shame; in fact a humiliation beyond description which has since gone a long way to add to the already burdened plight of Nigeria in distress!

It was a blow not only to Nigerians but also to those who have the interest and welfare of Nigeria and Nigerians at heart. In fact words have been flying here and there and yonder that Nigeria is not a terrorist country and should not have been included in the list and as a matter of urgency should be removed from the list. I share same view but partially because the idea that Nigeria does not know anything about terrorism smacks of complete ignorance, naivety and denial of what has been happening in our backyard for over 50 years now. Nigerians cannot pretend not to know where am going to otherwise it would tantamount to ignorance and ignominy.

Before I go into the intricacies of this argument, it is pertinent to point out clearly and honestly that the call to remove Nigeria from the list is akin to pouring water on the stone. America is not ready to do that now because they have already reckoned that they can live and do without Nigeria before arriving at that decision. Recall that President Barack Obama in his maiden visit to Africa last year snubbed Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth to visit the neighbouring Ghana. That says a lot about how the United States thinks of Nigeria. In international diplomacy there is an acceptable modus operandi to follow when issues like this come up to ensure that it is resolved peacefully, amicably and diplomatically. But the bad news is that from the movement of things at the moment Nigeria is never going to resolve this issue so soon; Nigeria must continue to be in the list till she puts her house in order and I mean tackling corruption with all seriousness and honesty. America and the west hate and loathe the enormity of corruption in Nigeria and the fact that Nigeria is still stagnating developmentally despite her abundant natural and human resources. The reason for this my conclusion is that people address you the way you dress. As you make your bed so must you lie on it. Nigeria has a lot of question marks and therefore could not possibly resolve this issue with those question marks still revolving round her neck. Presently, Nigeria is dressed shabbily like a thug and America is addressing and treating her like one. If she decides to put on suit like a lady, America would obviously change her mind and treat her like a lady.

For over three months now, the People and the Federal Republic of Nigeria have been moving like a rudderless ship. The whereabouts of the President of Nigeria, Shehu Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has not been known since he left the country about three months. Some quarters says he is in Saudi Arabia receiving a medical treatment for an undisclosed cardiac and kidney problems. Another quarter said it is in Germany while the third quarter says that he’s been dead or brain dead or brain damaged since the last 6 weeks. Nigerians simply do not know the whereabouts of their President or what to believe and to compound the whole problem Nigerians are not being told the whereabouts or the health condition of the man they ‘elected’ couple of years ago. In fact one top diplomat rudely told Nigerians that they do not have the right to question or know the whereabouts of their President. I was told it was the Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. This allegation cannot be authoritatively confirmed at the time of writing this article.

Echoing similar sentiment the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria vehemently refused to take constitutional action to pressurise the ailing president-in-absentia to resign so that his vice could take over the mantle and continue with the journey that has been taking ages to get the country to the Promised Land. In fact the rumour mill is of the view that the reason the ailing president refused to hand over to his vice before absconding from his duty was because of his determination to ensure that a southerner and a Christian does not become a president too soon after the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Nigeria media is filled with many conspiracy theories of how the incumbent vice president, Jonathan Goodluck would either be forced by the northern cabals and extremists to resign or whatever to pave way for another northerner.

To add insult to injury, the National Assembly posited that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not specify a limitation on how long the President could be out of the office or the country. They even added that he could be absent for over a year and even till thy kingdom. This statement from the National Assembly summarised Nigeria to the rest of the world and it is apparently because of that stupid picture drawn by the National Assembly that a country like the United States could have the gut to place Nigeria along other 13 countries as a country that poses risk to the people and interest of the United States of America. A polite way of saying that Nigeria is now in the league of failed states. However looking at this impartially, one could begin to understand and appreciate why the United States had the gut to do what they did despite the fact that the young terrorist in question was never brainwashed in Nigeria but apparently in the United Kingdom and Yemen.

Every country relies on intelligence to carry out the day to day protection of their country. These intelligence reports are usually collected by individuals often called spies, contacts or agents stationed in various parts of the world including the embassies, high commissions and nunciatures of the spying countries. The information these spies collected are eventually collated by the central intelligence agency of the country seeking the information. In the United States of America it is called the Central Intelligence Agency or the CIA. In Israel it is the Mossad. In Nigeria it is known as the National Intelligence Agency while the United Kingdom calls hers the Secret Intelligence Service or the M16.

The American CIA spy in Nigeria who may even be a Nigerian and even your neighbour must have considered a lot of things before passing the intelligence that eventually led to the inclusion of Nigeria in that list and to be sincere and fair to impartial journalism, Nigerians cannot claim not to be aware of the volatile nature of the northern Nigeria which in the past few years has been a breeding ground for terrorist activities including indoctrination, brainwashing and religious intolerance. Same picture is also being replicated gradually in the south-south and south-east regions where terrorism takes the form of kidnapping and ransom for freedom. The terrorist activities in the south-south do not have any link with any religion unlike in the north where it is rooted in and linked to Islam. Every Nigerian is well aware of this; accepting the fact is another issue altogether!

In the northern part of Nigeria comprising mostly of about 50 percent of Nigerian Muslims, religious intolerance, intimidation and riots are the order of the day. On a very slightest provocation some unscrupulous elements there would go on rampage and begin to torch public buildings, churches, cars and killing people including women and children. Raping is also another cherished medium of intimidation for them.

Some few years ago, prior to a beauty pageant that was to be hosted by Nigeria, some Muslims in the north of Nigeria went on a rampage burning and killing everything on their way to protest holding the pageant during the Ramadan season and a publication in a Nigerian daily where a reporter called for calm and dialogue and suggested that if Prophet Mohammed had been alive, he would have been happy to sanction the beauty pageant and even be glad to pick one of them as a wife considering his teachings and penchant for women. The office of the media the writer was writing for in the north was razed to the ground while a Fatwa was placed on the head of the writer. She luckily escaped with her life intact to Europe where she is living at the moment.

Few years later it happened again when cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed were published in faraway Denmark by a Danish Newspaper. The Jyllands-Posten Mohammad cartoons controversy began after twelve editorial cartoons, most of which depicted Prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005. The newspaper announced that the publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. Despite the fact that the incident happened in faraway Denmark, the Muslims in the north of Nigeria picked up arms as usual raping, killing and burning everything on their way.

This type of incidents is never new in Nigeria. It has been part and parcel of the life in the north for quite a long time now but we kept ignoring and containing them as if any person, group of people or religion is automatically given the monopoly and right to violence while others are meant to be guinea pigs for their killing pleasure. This type of religious violence as a result of indoctrination and extremism also played a huge role in the Nigeria/Biafran civil war and recently, to be precise July 2009, it reared its ugly head again in the name of Boko Haram terrorist group. The most agonising part is that despite all these, the Nigeria government has not deemed it necessary to come out boldly and genuinely fight this evil. This evil has a direct link with the action of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab.

He came from the northern state of Katsina carved out from the former sate of Kaduna, an area notorious for being the melting point of the worst religious riots in Nigeria. Incidentally the present Nigerian president-in-absentia came from the same state as Umar. He grew up in that mess and obviously inculcated the culture of hatred and extremism from these experiences. What happened in the United Kingdom and Yemen was just the finalising of the culture of hatred and extremism that began from the north of Nigeria. Many others like him are still there and these likes of him are obviously inspired by his action. Many would be willing to join the bandwagon if given the slightest opportunity and that is the reason the Nigerian government as a matter of urgency should put a special searchlight on the north of Nigeria, no matter whose Ox is gored. Extremism is alive and thriving in the north just as the culture of retaliation to counter it is fast germinating and spreading in the south!

Nigeria should take the north serious and of special interest to the government and intelligence agencies in that region should be Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and Abubakar Mujahid. Both are firebrand clerics. Zakzaky may have mellowed down in his firebrand hate speeches especially against Israel and the west but Mujahid who broke away from him should be of major concern to the Nigeria authorities. He is today leading the more radical Ja'amutu Tajidmul Islami-The Movement for Islamic Revival. There are still many more out there and the government is implicated in shielding them in order not to provoke their followers. These people preach hatred and therefore should be treated as hate preachers. We cannot continue to tolerate the pointing of accusing finger on the whole population due to some unscrupulous elements. The bad news however is that Nigeria has got no law against hate speech and inciting hatred meaning that these people would always be free to continue with their radicalisation of the young people. On the other side it is very consoling to know that we still have millions of young Nigerians living exemplary life worthy of emulation.

Against this backdrop, the United States should therefore reconsider the dilemma they have put about 145 million Nigerians into. The United States cannot morally justify her action based only on a few unscrupulous people. It is akin to branding the whole United States an extremist state due to unscrupulous behaviour of few. Citizens of the United States cannot all morally be seen as a replica of Bernard Madoff due to his Ponzi scheme. Why then did the United States throw caution to the wind to deal with Nigerian in this manner? The United States obviously went to the extreme. The fact is that the decision was taken hastily in a rage and without regard for other good and well meaning Nigerians. But come to think of it, the father of this Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab did something very worthy of emulation. He betrayed his increasingly fanatical son to the authorities to take suitable actions; but they ignored the ticking bomb. That action in itself warrants US apology to Nigeria but instead it warranted our inclusion into a terrorist list or whatever it is called.

When he began to notice negative ideological transformations and political views in his son, he immediately alerted the authorities. This is a heroic act which many parents can never think of doing; not even most Americans. This kind gesture was rewarded by placing Nigeria alongside 13 others as a country of interest. His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, is a prominent banker and well-connected in Nigeria's political arena. Mr. Mutallab alerted the US embassy in Abuja for the first time in November 2009 to voice concerns and to report that he has lost contact with his son since he moved to live in Yemen.

He would eventually leave Yemen for Ethiopia and then went to Ghana and finally Nigeria before boarding a flight in Lagos to Amsterdam. This is despite being on a database known as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide) which lists individuals of concern to the authorities. According to the US authorities, his case was not strong enough to have his name included in the smaller Terrorist Screening Data Base, which includes a no-fly list. This raises a very vital question; how was Umar allowed to board a US flight despite being on Tide list. The fault therefore becomes obviously that of the US authorities. The reprimand given to Nigeria is therefore uncalled for and the inclusion of Nigeria in the list is immoral, detestable, disgusting, disturbing and in fact a clear show of ungratefulness. It is obvious that Nigeria in this case especially the father of the bomber cooperated with the authorities by alerting them of the changes in his son. He told the Nigeria authorities as well as the US authorities and yet the blame was shifted to Nigeria.

Nigeria therefore has a strong case against Washington DC. She deserves to have her name removed from that list. And I mean it. Our cooperation is unprecedented in the ongoing fight against terror. But the question now is who would bell the cat. Nigeria at present does not have an active president. We do not know exactly where he has been since the last three months. In fact rumour says that he is sick and in a hospital in either Saudi Arabia or Germany; no Nigerian knows exactly where or what to believe. In our type of democracy the president and elected officials are above the law. They are not accountable to the people. They are accountable to themselves and that is the reason why the president of a country as big as Nigeria could just wake up one day and gallivant away out of his duty and country like a Mary-go-around without bothering to tell those who ‘elected’ him where he is going to or how long he is going to stay. On top of that disrespect, Nigerians are being prodded to pray for a man they do not know his problem or whereabouts. Meanwhile calls for the president who was finally revealed to be seriously ill to resign have been falling on deaf ears.

The president despite his ill health vehemently refused to resign; preferring to be a boil in the arse and ruling Nigeria in comatose from either Saudi Arabia, Germany or God knows where and as a result holding the future of the nation to ransom. By this singular action and a stupid act of irresponsibility, personal aggrandisement, lust for power, selfishness and myopism, he ended up hanging the fate of over 145 million Nigerians on the balance. It is in this vegetative situation that Nigeria woke up to find herself in the international news on that fateful December 25 of 2009. Unfortunately we are still there and America is still tossing us about like a ball because we do not know the whereabouts of our president. Is that not a shame? I mean the greatest shame on earth!

In addition to that when things like this happen, the Ambassador of Nigeria to the United States should be the first link between Nigeria and the United States. But the agonising part of the whole saga is that prior to the incident, during the incident, after the incident and even up till now Nigeria has no Ambassador to the United States of America. Does that not tell us how serious Nigeria is in pushing this case? When a country does not have an active president who refuses to delegate power to his vice and no ambassador, how and who do we expect to resolve the problem? Your guess is as good as mine!

Therefore in as much as we do not want our name to be on that list and not want to be branded terrorists, available evidences revolves around the reality that Nigeria is getting what they bargained for and that is why the United States has the courage to be tossing us around like a ball. As you make your bed so must you lie on it. Hope that adage is making more sense to you now!

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