Friday, May 16, 2008

After the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the U.S., Nigeria was added to an American list of countries with ties to terrorism. This, despite the fact that then-president Olusegun Obasanjo spent a significant amount of time visiting the US and proclaiming Nigeria's staunch support of the American counter-terrorism efforts.

As a Nigerian abroad, I was frequently asked questions, such as "Is it true that Nigeria harbors terrorists?" or "Is it safe in Nigeria, what with Al Qaeda and stuff...". With each question, I got protective about Nigeria and explained that Nigerians are not interested in Al Qaeda or terrorism. I would have to point out that Nigerians are considered some of the happiest people on the planet and that our love of 'owambe' (all night) parties, 'awoof' (I will have to rely on my readers for a detailed definition of this Nigerian concept), weddings and the overall good life would overcome any slight risk of even dabbling in terrorism.

Then MEND began to mete out their demands for justice, while its less-ideologically inclined imitators simply demanded money and Johnny Walker. Before I knew it, the uncomfortable questions started again. I would receive phone calls from long lost friends, "Is your mother okay? FOX News says they just bombed an oil rig" or "Some Americans got kidnapped over there. Is your family okay?" All I can say in response is, "My family is fine. The kidnappers will release the victims in no time, don't worry. That's how they do things..." And, with every new kidnapping incident, I paid less and less attention because I trusted that the kidnappers would release their victims and all would end well.

Things started to get better. America's economic recession grabbed headlines and people focused on other things like the battle for the American presidency and the continuing process to pick a Democratic nominee. I started to breathe easier. I even managed to read a widely circulated US government report that the Nigerian Taliban, a small group operating mainly in Kano, has no ties to Al Qaeda or other Islamist militant groups in Algeria, Afghanistan or anywhere else. Hence, all that talk tying Nigeria to terrorists was all a big bad mistake. I poured myself a glass of Riesling and made a mental note to write about it and remind Nigerians and the world of the retraction.

But then it happened. I saw the following attention grabbing headline in my Google Reader - 'R-E-D-A-L-E-R-T: IG Warns over Al- Qaeda Plot to Bomb Nigeria' and my mouth became sour. I went on to read that Nigeria's inspector General (IG) of Police, Mike Okiro, told a group of senior officials that,

"The al Qaeda network has threatened to send time bombs to Nigeria . . . CPs (commissioners of police) of all the commands should be on the alert and ensure that these items (bombs) do not pass through their end,"
Why would Okiro say this? And, why would he and the Yar'Adua Administration not do everything within their power to discourage the publication of such a glaringly disadvantageous headline? The IG's statements go completely against any progress that Nigeria is attempting to make in rebranding itself and preparing for the development it proclaims to strive for. Nigeria cannot market itself as a tourist haven if its own IG contradicts the hardwork and collaboration between Nigerian and American authorities in retracting previous claims that Nigeria has terrorist ties. Nigeria cannot calm the fears of needed global investors who are hesitant to invest capital in the economy when our own IG is telling the world that the nation is an immediate terror target. But, even more important than any of that is the fact that in a country where citizens have hardly any light, are spending more and more of their hard-earned income on ever rising food, gas and other necessities, is it really wise to make such statements publicly? It is never wise to create fear in the heart of the populace by telling them that a world-renowned terrorist group plans to set off bombs in Nigeria whether that is true or not. Nigerians do not need this, in addition to all the other 'wahala' (problems) they deal with on a daily basis.

Despite this, I am glad that the IG has started his damage control and is now downplaying his quoted statement by asking Nigerians to ignore published accounts of a bomb plot. The Public Relations Officer of Nigeria Police Force, Agberebi Akpoebi, even went as far as declaring that the published reports were completely false and were done simply to serve "a selfish and private interest". I am not quite sure what that means or whether this is effective damage control, especially as these responses from the IG were delayed by almost a week, but I can only hope that in Nigeria's journey towards a more stable and secure nation, that we take the right steps to prevent the ambitions of those that seek to cause chaos while protecting the interests of the Nigerian citizen. And by interest, I am talking about the right to a peaceful nights sleep without adding terrorism fears to the many headaches Nigerians have to deal with. We cannot continue to give ammunition to those who clearly do not have our interests at heart. Let us try to not shoot ourselves in the foot by tying our lot to the aims of terrorism either intentionally or unintentionally.

May the souls of all those lost in the recent Lagos pipeline explosion, rest in peace. I hope that the IG, the seemingly hardworking Lagos state government and the federal government have an effective plan to prevent these explosions, which are beginning to occur too frequently.

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Dinka said...

Like I said on Nairaland. Al Qaeda should carry go. We don't want to be involved in their crap.


@ Barcelagos: I concur wholeheartedly. I don't want anyone to lump a country of almost 150 million in the same boat with that or anyother group that is not reflective of my people. We have to be very protective of Nigeria and its image. Thanks so much for stopping by and joining in the conversation.

Dojaa said...

please can you pay jinta a visit? I am serving as self appointed mediator for whatever has gone wrong with your friendship!!!!!!

Sherri said...

are u saying that, if there is a real threat it should not be made public?

the sad reality is naija is a sitting duck shud al qaeda wish to act.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this writeup. Our leaders seems not to have learnt anything from history.
It breaks my heart the way they misplace priority and handle sensitive issues like children.
The IG has done much damage than good with this alarm that is highly publicized. Even if the threat is real, of what benefit is it publicizing it. The right thing to do would have been to keep the security agents at alert to prevent the occurrence of the threat. There was no need scaring the populace.

Of what use is the publicity? To start with, Nigerians are fast loosing faith in the nations security agencies! This issue should have been handled more professionally. If the IG wanted the populace to be more security conscious, he could have sent the Police Commissioners in each state to simply place jingles on Radio and TV that the populace should be more vigilant as they go about their normal business activities so as to help the police nab undesirable elements in the society or foreign mecenaries invited to cause mayhem in the country. That wouldn't have raise the level of fear as it will be seen as a normal advice that the security agents are suppose to give to the populace periodically. The present approach lack professionalism.

Jinta said...

i dont see the point of al qaeda bombing anything in nigeria. what is there the bomb? the mountains of waste matter all over lagos?

and okiro ...i am sick to the back teeth of having these half-wits pronounce anything on nigeria. do these people not see how their foreign counterparts conduct themselves?

@ doja. i absolutely have no idea of what you mean but it brought me a light-hearted feeling to what would otherwise have been my inclination to get my big gun and shoot okiro.

Flourishing Florida said...

hmmm. am just hearing dis one o. & i dey dis country! anyway, i know say my relatives n USA & UK r more current n naija news (though blown out of proportion) dan moi. in fact, if u heard it 4rm dem, u'd think all of us here don die finish!

don't really know abt d IG's statement. Lack of knowledge & sound advisers, i put it as. but i serious doubt any Kano Taliban thing. Abeg, e no fit. na churches & shops Kano pple sabi burn. Bombing pass am


@ Sherri: my sista, no oh. I am not suggesting that officials not alert the public of real or highly potential threats. Frankly, they couldn't avoid it, not in this media intense world we live in. Even if such news weren't carried in local media, by the time people write about it and start calling our families members at home (which is usually the case), news starts to spread.

My sista, my point is simply that public officials have a fiduciary responsibility to not cause a public panic in the execution of their duties. From the little I know, Nigeria has teemed up with American security details to beef up anti-terror outfits that are currently working in Nigeria. The fact is that the public is not aware of this. In my mind, those anti-terror units do not need too much attention. We should obviously know they are there, but the public shouldn't be overly alert to them as that could hamper daily activities and maybe the economy. Nigeria, in my humble opinion, does not need anything that will throw the country off its current course. Things aren't perfect, I'll be the first to admit, but there is a relative stability, emphasis on relative, that is necessary for the continued achievement of fast paced development.

So, I just wish that the IG, and the media, had been a tad bit more tactical about how this information was shared with the world, given the circumstances and the fact that in rebranding Nigeria, we have to get as far away from an image of insecurity as possible. Thanks, though, for taking the time to ask a question that definitely needed clarification.

@ Doja: wetin do Jinta? lol! My friendship with Jinta should not be in jeopardy. Or is there something I am missing? JINTA...AAHHHH, I dey come find you, now, now...

Dojaa said...

on 16 May 2008 at 07:21 on doja's blog jinta said and I quote "solomonsydelle - na so we dey? i thought we were friends"

יש (Yosh) said...

Whether or not this recent alert is true or not, I'd still hold my balls. With the existence of a group called "Nigerian Taliban" and how volatile things are up North when it comes to anything pertaining the mainstream religion, I can't help but not take that statement half-serious. I mean, why'd people get lynched over some cartoon that was seen in Denmark years back? It's just not all right.

The IG isn't the only one hurting us with such a remark, really. While we may try to believe all is well, the travel warnings about Nigeria published on the web sites for these countries does not help either. And you have reports of the same police force molesting people on the road when you travel locally you feel helpless. Imagine trying to allay those fears and then some person comes in to get a feel of the soup firsthand won't be funny. You'd imagine what a joke such reports would seem to make us look!

But then... :-) We have to help ourselves

guerreiranigeriana said...

hmmmnnn...not really sure what the hell al qaeda would be bombing naija for or what they would be bombing...just to show they can bomb?..we all already know that...this whole 'war on terrorism' joke that has been going around i think has gone on long enough...naija should stay out of the so this 'war' na between the west and the middle east...we get out own the pipeline explosions...i don't want to see plans o...i want to see implementation already!!...we know naija can talk and plan...we now need to see them carry through...

shhhh said...

my sister you know what? only a handful of our leaders are media savvy/trained. the majority of them do not know how to practise damage limitation or speak positively to world media without showing crudeness. perhaps a few media outlets at home can offer their services for this said...

interesting read!

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