Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab became a household name on Christmas Day, 2009 when he attempted to explode a plane carrying 278 people to Detroit, MI. Since then, there has been considerable fallout for Nigerian and non-Nigerian travelers the world over. From long security lines, to extra scrutiny for Nigerians traveling into the United States and other countries. And, Nigeria was recently placed on a list of "Terror Prone" countries, putting it in far too close proximity with countries on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list - Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. During the days that have passed, the reaction from Nigerian authorities has been less than organized and far from effective. But, even more disturbing is the fact that Nigeria's President Yar'Adua, has been not just silent, but entirely absent from the resulting discourse and activity. This begs the question - Where is Nigeria's President during this time of incredible diplomatic crisis?
Even before he became President, Yar'Adua was known to be a sick politician. While governor of Katsina State, it was believed that he had a kidney condition, but that information was, and still has, never been officially confirmed. As President, Yar'Adua made several impromptu medical trips to Germany and Saudi Arabia. He even failed to attend a scheduled diplomatic trip to meet with Brazil's President in 2008 due to an apparent health emergency. Public discussion of his health resulted in the unlawful arrest of bloggers and journalists, and even the temporary shut down of a local independent news channel. The irony of these actions is significant because Yar'Adua came to power touting the importance of the "rule of law" and, he became President in the first successful transition of one democratic government to another in modern Nigerian history.
Although he had once been criticized for leaving the country impromptu and not following Constitutional requirements to leave the Vice President in power, all be it temporarily, on November 23rd, Yar'Adua was again rushed to Saudi Arabia without following protocols. And, once again, Nigerians were not informed when he would return. Foreign media outlets soon began to report that the President suffered a heart condition, in addition to his rumored kidney problem. Despite calls for his resignation, as at the date of publication of this article, Yar'Adua has been away and not seen or directly heard from for exactly 6 weeks and 3 days. That is a total of 44 days, costing N30 million* and counting.
A LEADERSHIP VACUUM DURING A DIPLOMATIC CRISIS
In the days after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Saudi officials of all kinds, from Princes to diplomats, were on multiple international networks working hard to deflect the negative attention the kingdom and its royals were receiving. As more details of the 9/11 suicide terrorists emerged, Saudi Arabia took steps to let the world know that it was cooperating with American authorities in the investigation and hunt for those connected to the tragedy.
Unlike Saudi Arabia's prompt handling of its international image and public message after 9/11, only a few Nigerian officials initially spoke publicly about the event. Instead, the various heads of responsible agencies and other authorities are busy playing the blame game, but they have no boss - no President - to require and demand that key steps be taken to address the growing diplomatic consequences of Abdulmutallab's terrorist attempt. The Vice President has taken executive action in instructing Nigerian officials to work with American authorities following the terrorist attempt. However, he is yet to follow the necessary steps to be officially declared acting President and apparently, he is loathe to do so.
Although a formal statement was issued on behalf of the federal government, it was not until Nigeria's inclusion on the "Terror Prone" countries list that authorities began to react with vigor. Nigeria's Minister of Information and national rebranding manager, Dora Akunyili, publicly exclaimed that the list was "discriminating" against Nigerian nationals and Nigeria's Senators expressed that they were "unhappy" with the list but would not do anything about it until they return from their vacation.
Alas, it is little surprise that Nigeria failed to launch an adequate offensive in the days since the 'knicker bomber' incident. And so, while Nigerians endure embarrassing treatment at airports the world over, their President is somewhere only he knows (hopefully recovering), their legislators are on holiday and those officials who speak on the incident and its fallout, have little to no diplomatic authority to engage international allies and persuade them and Nigerians themselves that steps are being taken to address valid concerns. Granted, Abdulmutallab only spent 23 minutes in Nigeria en route to Detroit. Yes, his radicalization likely began in England and obviously was completed in Yemen. Of course, valuable information from his father, Great Britain, and other informants was not shared/acted upon efficiently by US agencies. Also, it cannot be ignored that the Bush Administration actually released from Guantanamo the alleged masterminds of this terrorist attempt, allowing them to attempt to kill so many through Abdulmutallab. And, of course, Nigerians, as a people, are not known for such extremism as suicide bombings and such - key points that should be stressed by Nigeria's mouthpiece - its government.
But, despite these facts, the reality is that Nigerians are directly impacted by Abdulmutallab's attempt and their government should be on the offensive, not the defensive in addressing these and other related issues. Nigeria's placement on the "Terror Prone" list is very damaging for the nation's reputation and the ability of its citizens and businesses to travel and conduct commerce abroad. Serious diplomatic and public efforts are necessary to remedy the situation before things get worse. Unfortunately, Nigeria's President is missing in action, the national ship has no official captain and during a time of international crisis, shipmates flounder with little to no direction.
* Link to the source, Punch Newspaper (NG) is inactive/dead, but is available here. The link will be updated once the Punch website is up and running again.
Hattip to BabaJide Salu whose recent statement - "How on earth will any country take Nigeria serious when a serious issue such as the “Xmas g-string failed bomber” has failed to bring out our President into the open" prompted this article.
From the Archives:
- Nigeria Placed on "Terror Prone" List
- 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
- More Yar'Adua Health Uncertainty
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health
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