By Dele Sobowale
I started reading Nigerian newspapers in 1953 â€”mostly those absolutely delightful cartoon/advertisements by Nigerian Breweries featuring Sammy Sparkle. Who in our generation can forget that mischievous character who popped up almost every where to stop a train; to stop a fight, etc, and the punch line â€”â€œI did says Sammy Sparkle; its time for STARâ€.
I was also a good listener; in fact the best listener when my father, a Yoruba man who would gladly lay his life on the line for â€œZik of Africaâ€ and my eldest brother, who was a die-hard Awoist engaged themselves in arguments over their heroes. Between father, who religiously read the West African Pilot published by Zik and my brother, who devoured the Tribune, published by Awolowo, I got to know most of the important news of each day.
Never in those 56 years has the media in Nigeria and respected opinion leaders made such individual and collective fools of themselves as they have done since the news ofÂ Farouk Abdulmutallabâ€™s attempt to commit suicide was first announced by the American owned CNN network on Christmas day.
Notice the words â€œattempt to commit suicideâ€ because that is what most of our commentators missed. The CBN, naturally, had gone to considerable length to portray Farouk as a terrorist because an American aircraft was involved and the attempt occurred as the plane was about to land in Detroit â€” one of Americaâ€™s largest cities. It was understandable that the news network would take the politically â€œcorrectâ€ position in their broadcasts with regard to this incident.
But, it was poor journalism. Worse than that; it was pure propaganda â€”as this article would show.
While CNNâ€™s position was understandable, the response of the Nigerian media, opinion leaders, the Federal Government and even Faroukâ€™s father was at first puzzling and finally enraging. CNN labeled Farouk a â€œterroristâ€ and every damn fool in Nigeria who had access to a page of newspaper or a few minutes on the air in electronic media, was gullible enough to accept that label without question and a barrage of the most prejudicial statements and commentaries followed.
Editors, who should be more discerning, were all on holidays and they allowed their papers to be used in the most despicable manner â€” to defame Farouk; to pronounce him guilty â€” even before pleas are taken and to have handed the poor misguided boy to American executioners. Well, I have a name for my media colleagues, from CNN to Nigerian columnists â€” on this matter.
As far as I am concerned they are all a bunch of media executioners. They have not even bothered with the first golden rule of journalism and law â€”let the other party be heard. None of our engaging and erudite columnists has spoken to Farouk; and failing that none had put on their thinking caps to ask themselves if Faroukâ€™s right â€” namely the right to be presumed innocent of the charges â€” were being violated.
When Mark Twain, 1835-1910, wrote in Innocents at Home, â€œAre you going to hang him anyhow â€” and try him afterward?â€, he must have had in mind a situation such as this.
And it was not only Farouk who was thoughtlessly slaughtered in the collective race to hand the poor boy to American executioners. His parents, the Federal Government and even the re-branding effort of the Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s administration and the Nigerian nation were all taken to the media abattoir and butchered.
But was Farouk guilty of terrorism? Was his father wrong to have sent his son abroad for his education? Should the unfortunate incident be a reason to jettison the re-branding effort? And should Nigeria and Nigerians feel embarrassed and hide their heads in shame? The answer to all the questions, surprisingly, is a resounding NO!
Permit me to start in reverse order to point out how Nigerians have allowed themselves to be fooled by US propaganda and the thoughtlessness of our public opinion molders.
Virtually every day bombs go off in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, killing several hundred more people than were on the Delta Airline plane that Farouk was accused of attempting to blow off. Neither the governments nor the people in those countries feel ashamed or embarrassed. Why? Because they, and the entire world, realise that those carrying out these activities are in the tiniest minority. The vast majority of the people just want to live a peaceful life â€”if they can.
By the same token, 90% or more of Nigerians have never boarded an aircraft â€”and probably never will. An even larger majority â€” close to 99.99999% know nothing about explosives; they neither know how they are made and how they are used.
So in what way does Farouk represent them and as a result they should feel ashamed. In fact, Farouk is a product of the foreign countries â€” including Britain and America, now making the most deafening noise about a Nigerian â€œterroristâ€ when there is none. So Nigeria and my fellow countrymen and women have nothing to be ashamed of on this matter which the Western media and their Nigerian collaborators have blown out of proportion â€” as you will soon see.
Those carpeting the father for sending his son abroad for education are simply envious. There is probably no Nigerian today blessed with Alhaji Mutallabâ€™s money who will not ship his children to school abroad. And, if a university in London harbours subversive elements hell-bent on preying on poor misguided souls, the fault is not Alhaji Mutallabâ€™s own; nor Nigeriaâ€™s. The fault is with the British government which had failed to curb such activities on its campuses.
Alhaji Mutallab, as a matter of fact, deserves a pat on the back for not engaging in cover-up. Few fathers will report their sons to the CIA or British security forces. Alhaji made only one cardinal error â€”which is, jeopardising his sonâ€™s right to strong defence when the case comes up.
He should not have released the statement that he did because it can be misconstrued as admission that his son is guilty as charged by the media executioners â€”at home or abroad. Later in this article, Alhaji and Nigerians will be shown the way forward.
But, let me announce the destination of this journey â€” Nigerians should collectively put up a fight to save Faroukâ€™s life. And the reasons are not hard to discover.
First, America never releases its citizens for prosecution in another country. So contemptuous are they of the quality of other nationâ€™s judiciary that they donâ€™t even believe an American can receive fair trial even in Western countries.
Secondly, Britain has provided the example of what a country should do when its citizen is on trial in other lands. As the Farouk story was playing on SKY NEWS, another story was on the air. A Briton had been sentenced to death in China for smuggling hard drugs into that country.
The British government and the manâ€™s family proceeded to mount a campaign to free the man. He was pronounced mentally unstable â€” yet nobody presented a doctorâ€™s report to substantiate the claim. The Chinese were made to feel like brutes despite the fact the more people are killed and more lives are destroyed by drug trafficking than all the homicides arising from â€œterrorismâ€.
The message was clear; Britain wanted its citizenâ€™s life to be spared irrespective of the fact that the judgment was based on convincing proof and guilt was beyond reasonable doubt. By contrast Farouk was being cut and quartered at home and abroad by people who have not even heard the evidence.
Who’s a terrorist?
Now we come to the main issue â€”was Farouk guilty of terrorism? Was he a terrorist? And do all the facts at our disposal point to terrorism? Few of us are experts on the subject and even the experts donâ€™t always agree. But, every one is familiar with the saying that, â€œone manâ€™s terrorist is anotherâ€™s freedom fighterâ€.
Every time a bazooka lands in Israel from the West Bank, the Israelis call it a terrorist attack; the Palestinians call it a blow for liberation of Palestine from the illegal occupants. When Israel, in response to the bazooka which killed one person, sends bombers and tanks into Lebanon and reduce the city to rubbles â€” including childrenâ€™s hospital â€” the West calls it retaliation; Arabs call it genocide.
Whoâ€™s right? It all depends on who you are. There is absolutely no reason why Nigerians should swallow â€” hook, line and sinker â€” the Westâ€™s characterisation of an event as â€œterroristâ€ any more than we can expect them to accept it as â€œliberation effortâ€.
At any rate, if America can recruit Britain, Australia and other nations to fight its war in Afghanistan or Iraq, and those soldiers are not called â€œterroristsâ€ regardless of how many Arabs they massacre, what stops the Arabs from seeking help wherever they can find it?
This is not an admission that Farouk was a recruit for al-Queda despite US propaganda. It is to point out to everyone that there is a war on in the Middle East started on the basis of a lie told by US President Bush and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, about weapons of mass destruction, WMD, in Iraq. I recollect writing in my SUNDAY VANGUARD column before the war started that â€œBush and Blair would invade Iraq even if there is no single pen knife in the countryâ€.
Today the whole world knows there was no WMD; the whole world also knows that over one million Iraqis have lost their lives since the invasion and the once thriving country has been devastated. What can be more â€œterroristâ€ than that?
Now we come to my â€œsonâ€, Farouk. I call him son, not only because I am old enough to be his father, but because I feel pity for him and if possible, I will adopt him. If it is possible to visit him, I will hug him and tell him that he has not been abandoned; that in my books, he is not a terrorist. Again the facts at our disposal should be our guide. And what do we know?
Why did he do it?
First we know that Farouk is the son of one of the richest men in Nigeria and that he stands to inherit â€” if we can save him from the executioners â€” millions of naira and, may be, even dollars. In fact, he will probably not ever have to work for a living if he chooses not to and he will still live in affluence for the rest of his life. The obvious question is: why does a fellow like that want to blow himself up? Once that question crops up in your mind, you begin to see the truth, namely that we have a mind disturbed in a handsome body frame.
In short Farouk was, and is still, not himself. And nothing proves this more than the approach he adopted to end his life. In short the fellow was embarked on suicide in the most â€œtragic-comicalâ€ manner.
Second, most of us forget, when reading about suicide bombers, that the first word is SUICIDE. That comes before bomber. Obviously, any person with so much to live for, and who contemplates suicide, is not a candidate for the electric chair or the firing squad but a mental hospital.
Third, the poor boy, in absolute ignorance of how to manipulate the device he procured for the suicide bid, strapped the damned thing to his vital organs â€” which raises one question. Which well-adjusted young man still in his twenties would want to blow off his â€œtool boxâ€?
Even my old friends, past 70, until their dying days guarded the â€œstrong roomâ€ jealously. Despite the attempt by CNN and other Western media to prove that the explosive could have blown a hole in the planeâ€™s fuselage, which they considered a sufficient reason to label Farouk as a â€œterroristâ€, the fact remains that if the device had gone off as planned, Farouk was the only sure candidate for kingdom come. The seats next to him appeared empty and a plane might still be landed with a hole in the fuselage. It has happened before.
Fourth, a real terrorist generally wants to witness the result of his efforts. They plant an explosive which is detonated by remote control or with a timer allowing them to get away before the explosion occurs. Just as in the regular army, a soldier is trained to kill for his country, not to die. In so far as he dies, he has been a failure. So the real terrorist wants to live to terrorise another day.
The suicide bomber is another character all together. He would not see the outcome of his mission â€” if he succeeds. In that respect, he has a lot more in common with others embarking on self-liquidation. Having decided to end his life, the next most important question is: how?
The methods range from those who go alone to those who decide not to â€œwalk aloneâ€. And once it is decided that the exit must be accomplished by taking a crowd along, then it does not matter whether he drives his car on the path of a speeding train, or a fully loaded bus or a plane full of passengers. Farouk chose the plane and he is no more a terrorist than the fellow who caused the train to derail taking 400 people with him.
Nigerians must save Farouk
So far, all evidence at our disposal can only support one conclusion â€” suicide. That it occurred on Delta Airlines and in a plane coming to land in Detroit are secondary considerations. And if it is suicide, the fellow should not be executed but helped. And the only people who can help him are Nigerians. And Alhaji Mutallab must take the lead for his son to be saved.
We must adopt the Western approach; which means we establish a SAVE FAROUK ORGANISATION. Its functions will include raising funds to ensure that Farouk obtains the best legal team money can engage. The second is to start a multimedia campaign, including using CNN, to convince the world that Farouk is not a mass murderer but a sick young man.
The third is to insist that Nigeriaâ€™s leading psychiatrists should be called to assess his mental state. It is doubtful if an American or English doctor can accurately diagnose mental illness in a Nigerian who is not a raving lunatic already.
Fourth, the Federal Government of Nigeria, instead of distancing itself from Farouk, should use diplomatic approaches to get him released to a Nigerian psychiatric hospital for treatment. The fifth is to get Nigeriaâ€™s media executioners to stop labeling the fellow a terrorist and to join the campaign to save Farouk.
It will not be easy, given the prejudicial statements most commentators have made before. But, we must hold the life of every Nigerian so sacred as not to throw them to foreign wolves when they present with evidence that they are asking for help whichÂ sometimes manifests itself in extremism.
Finally, this is not an issue which should be confronted by Muslims alone. I am a Christian; but, that should not stop me from standing up and defending a Muslim who is being led to the slaughter house as we are now doing to our son Farouk. Will you join the struggle?