Nigerians have been waiting to learn the immediate consequences of the 'knicker bomber', Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's, attempt to blow up a plane headed to Detroit, MI. While various authorities have publicly played the blame game, the U.S. has gone ahead and listed Nigeria on a list of "terrorism prone" countries and placed special directives for all travelers coming from Nigeria and flying through Nigeria. While it is understandable that Nigerians would be disappointed by their nation's inclusion on such a list, they should not be surprised by this unfortunate reality.
TERRORISM PRONE LIST
All citizens from countries on this new list, created by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), will endure more stringent screening. So will non-citizen passengers traveling through or from airports in those countries. The list includes the four countries currently on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, and countries of "special interest", Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
FAR TOO MANY DROPPED THE BALL
Since the announcement that Nigeria was included on the 'terrorism prone' list, there has been a quick negative reaction from Nigerians around the world. There has even been much surprise from some who believe certain factors are being conveniently ignored. Abdulmutallab's father warned the U.S. government about his son's radicalization and that he was possibly a threat. The young man's ability to get on the flight from Amsterdam reflects a failure of US authorities to act on credible intelligence as it relates to the war on terror. Abdulmutallab also spent less time in Nigeria than he did in any other country he flew through to attempt his suicide mission - approximately 23 minutes. Additionally, American intelligence also had information about a Nigerian in Yemen for terrorist purposes. Plus, the fact that although Abdulmutallab was on a British 'watch list' such information was not shared with either American or Nigerian authorities. Furthermore, and most critically, the masterminds of the Christmas Day attempt were known Al Qaeda leaders, previously held in Guantanamo but released by the Bush administration to return to Yemen, a failed state and terrorist haven. And despite these facts, Nigerians will pay the repercussions for something that could have been prevented if certain other actors had not dropped the ball.
NOT FAIR, BUT NO SURPRISE
However, the addition to this list must be seen through the context of various additional facts. America has publicly associated Nigeria with terrorists before. In 2007, the U.S. put Nigeria on a list of countries with ties to terrorism and announced that "it had received information that Western and U.S. interests were at threat from a terrorist attack in Nigeria." The U.S. State Department eventually removed Nigeria from that list and later said that there were no specific threat to American interests in the country. Moreover, Nigerian authorities, for whatever reason, have publicly referenced Al Qaeda with regard to Nigerian security as was the case with the former head of Nigeria's Police Force, Mike Okiro in 2008. There is also the issue of MEND and other Niger Delta militants who have, in the past, wrought havoc in the Delta region and Lagos. Then, there is Boko Haram which wrought carnage in northern Nigeria not too long ago. And, of course the newest entrant to security issues in Nigeria, the Kalo Kato sect, whose fighting in Bauchi State resulted in over 30 deaths, many of the victims children. These examples of insecurity, Nigeria's porous borders, corrupt officials at all levels that can be paid to look the other way and the fact that Nigeria already had body scanners which were not used on Abdulmutallab when he traveled, would, regrettably, compel any relatively sane person to treat travelers coming from or via Nigeria with caution.
There should have been a serious offensive by spokespersons on international programing highlighting that most of the lapses in this case where not of Nigerian origin (true or not). The Minister of Foreign Affairs who spent N2.7 billion on "visibility" should have dispatched diplomats around the world to speak about the incident and distance Nigeria and Nigerians from it. In addition to the official statement released from the Minister of Information's office, the official statement could have been published in major newspapers across the world. While that might seem like a waste of time and money, it would provide at least Nigerians with the confidence that their government is beginning to react, as it should, to the incident and the expected fallout. That and much more could have been done to effectively counter the negativity Nigerians are beginning to and will experience as a result of the kicker bomber's actions. The official Nigerian response, save for Harold Demuren defending the Nigerian government (albeit he seemingly lacked crucial information about the body scanners already in Nigeria's possession), is a clear example of how not to react when a nation is faced with a grave international event that directly affects its image and thus, will have future consequences. Once again, the duty of doing right by the nation has been left to Nigerians themselves who have released multiple press statements (such as that from Champions For Nigeria), spoken out to the media against the terrorist act (such as Nigerian Muslims in Detroit), and collectively expressed their condemnation online in a Facebook group that is over 82,000 members strong and possibly growing.
For now, it will be much more difficult for Nigerians to travel, and even those merely traveling from or through Nigeria will come under much more strict scrutiny given the new list. As long as Nigeria remains on the "terrorism prone" list, some potential tourists and business persons will likely be discouraged from visiting, as well. What remains to be seen is what else Nigerian officials will do to combat the stigma from Abdulmutallab's actions, beyond committing to the purchase of full body scanners and stepping up armed officers at the nation's international airports. A concrete and sustainable plan to ensure that Nigerian airports are not a passageway for international terrorists, coupled with a zero tolerance for militancy and a commitment to security within Nigeria will go a long way in convincing the world that Nigeria is not to be associated with terrorism. These factors, and the steps necessary to make them happen, would equally convince Nigerians themselves that the country's leadership has a sound understanding of how to steer the national ship during these trying times - something that has been seriously lacking the last 2 years.
From the Archives:
- African Travel Post Abdulmutallab
- A Nigerian Terrorist & A People's Passivity
- 'Is Nigeria A Breeding Ground For Terrorism' (May 2007)
- America Speaks...Does Nigeria Respond?
- How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot With Al Qaeda
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