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Blackspotting Nigeria

By Obi Nwakanma
I was spending the Christmas vacation in Florida with my family when the élan of yuletide was shattered by the news of a Christmas-day bomber: a Nigerian by the name Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. As the profile of the young terrorist became clear, it threw the Nigerian blogosphere into overdrive. What, many asked, could have driven such a young man from wealth and privilege to suicide and terrorism?

We may have to leave the answer to this particular question to social psychologists, but it does seem clear to me that at the roots of the young Mutallab’s fundamentally schizoid act was alienation – a search for meaning in an increasingly meaningless society. This condition, I’m afraid, is affecting a high number of young Nigerians who are socialized outside of their real world, and who therefore lose all kinds of the linkages that could root them to a sense of permanence; a deeper community, and to purpose.

Nigerian parents are very busy making money and thinking that that is all it takes to provide a great life for the kids. Many create cocoons of privilege that isolate their children from a larger community of peers, and they live in that bubble of a small, closed society, and become very easy targets, as I am sure the young Mutallab became, of those who give them meaning and tempt them with purpose beyond themselves.

Today it is Religion. In the past, our greatest purpose was the homeland and the country. We were once young, and they told us, that we were the “leaders of tomorrow.”

We grew up and realized that there was no country to lead; just a postcolonial trap that harasses, insults, and exasperates us. Many turned to religion, others turned to other forms of exile; young men like Mutallab are turning to martyrdom. The chicken has come home to roost.

Because the Nigerian elite have destroyed the great purpose, the obligation to work and build up a great society selflessly, they are creating, as the young Mutallab has just demonstrated a historic monstrosity– a generation that might turn to terrorism as a means of protest. It is this assumption, in part, that has guided the United States government under the administration of President Barack Obama to blackspot Nigeria alongside a few other countries – Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Somalia, Sudan and Algeria – as terrorist nations.

This is, of course, a rather broad stroke and I agree, much too general. For example, two days after the news broke we went from Sarasota to Orlando with my kids who wanted to go to Disney’s Magical World. There, I met some Nigerians also on vacation. At the grocery I ran into a young Nigerian Muslim woman, a broadcaster with the State Radio from Minna with her lovely daughter Hussaina, not more than ten years old, who had a beautiful shy smile.

These two could never be terrorists. But according to the current security guidelines by the United States government that profiles us all, these would have to face the discomfort of the blackspot on Nigeria. The United States has unequivocally labelled Nigeria as a terrorist state and blacklisted it. Naturally, loud voices of protest have followed America’s decision and Nigerians have described the inclusion of Nigeria on that list as misguided, uninformed, unfair and outlandish.

“Nigerians are not terrorists. We love life too much!” one Facebook character was reported to have testified, echoing the vast number of voices in many internet chat rooms. In fact, in a huff, the Nigerian senate, speaking through Ayogu Eze, in typically Nigerian hollow-talk, gave the United States a seven-day ultimatum to withdraw Nigeria’s name from the blacklist or face a diplomatic row.

A diplomatic row? There was already a diplomatic row, and the Nigerians did not get it! Which again typifies the current state of Nigeria’s public leadership. The Federal Government had to eat its words, knowing the ineffectual politics of diplomatic threats now, because Nigeria is not in a position to assert a diplomatic threat.

Remember, Princeton Lyman already told us the truth: Nigeria is irrelevant to the US and is not in the ranking among great nations. But let us look at the other side of this question, starting with the Igbo folklore about the Hawk and its children.

Once, the Hawk sent her children to go and hunt. They swooped down on the tribe of the hen and took some of her children. When they returned, the hawk asked them what the hen did.

They said the hen flared, and cried, and threatened. The hawk told his children to ignore it. The hen had nothing but her hollow anguish. Next they went, down on the duck and her children. Again, they returned to the same question.

This time, they said, the duck said nothing; it was calm. The hawk asked them to return the ducklings to their mother because her stoic silence was too mysterious and foreboding.

Of all those with whom Nigeria was accused and blacklisted, Nigeria could make all the noise in protest against its blackspotting, but it has nothing to offer. It is not a great military or economic power. It is not a great technological power.

It is not a rich, manufacturing power. It is not a power house of great human innovation. It is just an incompetent, but nevertheless, terror-breeding state. That is what its long-time ally, the United States has called it. Ordinary Nigerians, who have no business travelling, and may never have reasons to go to the United States or Europe, and be subject to the implications of Nigeria’s blacklisting, will just look and laugh, and continue their daily grind in the sweltering and lightless cities; in the long-lines at dry petrol stations, in the urban ghettoes that sprawl and deface the land, and in the background of a rudderless nation, whose president is not even in a fit state to respond to America’s act.

I do not offer any excuse for Nigeria.

But it is only self-evident that Nigerians have no interests in terrorism, although the United States government has decided to act based on the act of a single Nigerian recruited in Britain and trained in Yemen. In other words, a transnational Nigerian, whose acts ought to reflect his odysseys, rather than his Nigerian roots, has given Nigeria its black spot.

All the same, it is curious to Nigerians that the United Kingdom, with greater presence of more competent terror cells than Nigeria is not on the blacklist of “countries of interest” for the American government. There are many who say that the US policy is again governed by a certain, subtle racist undertow that sees black and white and shades of brown in its nightmares – a profiling of the darker races.

That may be so, but what I think important is, in the case of Nigeria, an indictment of Nigeria’s systemic incompetence or even unwillingness to deal with matters of terrorism – both domestic and international. Is the United States acting on intelligence about Nigeria that we do not yet know?

Is it true that many prominent Northern Nigerians have affiliations that constitute a potentially dangerous network of terrorism, and that these prominent men are very powerful players in the Nigerian government? We keep watch.


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