By Rotimi Fasan
THE Yarâ€™Adua administrationâ€™s programme to rebrand Nigeria suffered its worst setback when NigeriansÂ woke up to the Christmas day news of twenty-three year old, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallabâ€™s attempt to down aÂ NorthwestÂ Airline Flight 253, with about three hundred people on board in far away Detroit in the United States.
The would-be suicide bomber, son of Umaru Mutallab, erstwhile chairman of First Bank of Nigeria is obviously a lonely, impressionable youth whose immersionÂ in r eligion was a way to come to terms with a world from which he felt alienated.
His Facebook postings reveal a part of his internal turmoil and the onerous demandsÂ religion seemed to be making on him.
It was this loneliness that apparently made him a ready recruit for the deadly Al-Qaeda missionÂ that has set the withering gaze of the rest of the world on Nigeria, makingÂ nonsense of Dora Ankuyiliâ€™s rebranding mantra ofÂ Good People, Great Nation.
Itâ€™s not as if Nigerians were fervent believers in the rebranding philosophy, they were at best indifferent to it, seeing it as another attempt by a non-performing government to divert attention from its evident idleness. But in one fell swoop, Umar Farouk sent Ankuyili back to the drawing board, putting her skills as government spokesperson to the test.
And the woman has since being begging the rest of the world not to judge the rest of us by the misguided and isolated action of one.
While itâ€™s reasonable to see Faroukâ€™s extraversion of unprovoked terrorism as an isolated act by a Nigerian (discounting the case of those young Nigerians who hijacked a plane in the heat of the June 12 crisis in 1993), the same canâ€™t be said of religiousÂ violenceÂ in Nigeria. This is especially the case in the north where terrorism in the name of religion is somewhat seen as something to be excused. A lot of criminal acts are justified once they are given religious colouration.
Itâ€™s as if crime ceases to be what it is simply because itâ€™s done in the name of religion. So we see the superior attitude of those who pretend or genuinely believe to know the will of God more than the rest of us, claiming to be Godâ€™s spokespersons, and so go ahead to perpetrate criminal acts including murders of the most gruesome kind in the name of religion.
When this happens in the north, some apologists explain it away as the frustrated outbursts of economically disempowered youth. But economic disempowerment is not unique to the north. What is lacking is aÂ reluctance to confront the orge of religious fanaticism headlong and deal it a decisive death blow.
Illiteracy, hostility to modern education, begging, child marriage and all sorts of social vices are justified in the name of religion, even by persons who are themselves beneficiaries of the gains of modern civilisation. Faroukâ€™s action is of the same ilk as what weâ€™ve come to associate with religious violence in Nigeria. The point being made, therefore, is that the tendency to turn a blind eye to acts of religious terrorism directed at so-called non-believers, especially non-indigenes, in parts of the north has created room for some to export such violence to other parts of the world.
Only two days after Faroukâ€™s infamous act, Zango area of Bauchi metropolis erupted in religious violence ignited by a fundamentalist group called the kala-kato, itself an offshoot of the Maitatsine group that has been the scourge of Nigerians in the north in the last three decades. It was in this same Bauchi that the Boko-Haram unleashed violence across several states in the north just a few months ago.
The latest incidentÂ in Bauchi in which people were allegedly slaughtered like rams has claimed no less than thirty eight lives including children and security personnel drafted in to make peace. When religious leaders in the north condemn such acts these days, the impression one has is that they do so only because theÂ perpetrators of such violence are undiscriminating in their attacks, as their sense of religious righteousness has led them to the notion that only their brand of Islam is genuine while others are not.
They make mincemeat of indigenes and non-indigenes, muslims and so-called infidels alike. Their action is borne of a superiority complex that leaves no room for dissent; a credo of being that is its own justification while everything else is seen as nothing.
Itâ€™s this idea that itâ€™s either his way or the highway, what Soyinka called â€˜The Credo of Being and Nothingnessâ€™ that would lead Umar Farouk to want to commit mass suicide in the belief that he is right while everybody else is wrong. In his Facebook journal, Farouk betrays this sense of superior apprehension of religious knowledge despite his painful lack of social skills that could make him bond with his mates, make sense of his own growing sexuality and, maybe, strike up relationships with the opposite sex.
Ultimately his recourse to religion was an attempt at damage control, a means to walk through the lonely alley of teen and post-adolescent struggles. The gulf created by his alienation from a world, including a family, that he very much wanted to be part of but which somehow (he imagined) had no place for him would be filled by religious fundamentalism.
There is nobody more dangerous than one who has nothing to lose. Umar Farouk had nothing to lose from destroying a world he felt had rejected him. He could but look forward to another world where, as he claims in his Facebook account, Islam and muslims, as he imagined them, would win and control the world.
His retreat into himself was to protect himself from outside rejection while plotting and gathering strength for the ultimate battle between the forces of being and those ofÂ nothingness.
That he failed is no reason to suppose there are not others planning similar acts now. This is why our government cannot afford its present reluctance to take on the fundamentalists around and be decisive in tackling the perennial acts of religious terrorism that is getting ever more virulent in parts of the north.