Terrorism and the dwindling influence of a giant

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Jan. 10, 2010 

Alhaja Folake, 70, just returned from Dubai where she went for a medical check-up. Saturday Sun of January 9, 2010 quoted her as saying that a white lady stripped her while conducting a search on her at the airport in Dubai. She knelt down on her arrival in Lagos and thanked God for seeing her through the ordeal.

 Elsewhere in the world, Nigerians go through hell in the hands of immigration officers. The same Saturday Sun reported that Canadian officials turned back some Nigerians who live in that country and who had returned after celebrating the Yuletide in their home country.

 The major cause of this latest insult on Nigerians is the failed attempt by a Nigerian, Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a United States bound Northwest Airline plane on December 25, 2009. Last Friday, the suspect pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge brought against him before a US court.

 US authorities had earlier listed Nigeria among the “countries of interest” group. This means that travellers flying into the US from Nigeria will face thorough screening such as body scans and pat-downs. Other countries that belong to this group include Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia. The other category known as “state sponsors of terrorism” has such countries as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria on the list.

 As expected, many Nigerians have condemned the US action. The Senate has threatened fire and brimstone. The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, described the move as discriminatory. Nigerians, she said, were peace-loving and happiest people on earth.

 The action of the US government appears to be too severe. A few Nigerians may have put us on the map of advance fee fraudsters. But we are not known to be suicide bombers. Mutallab’s is an isolated case just as that of the British citizen, Richard Reid, otherwise known as the shoe bomber; or the case of the American, Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for the Oklahoma bombings in the US. Britain and the US were not branded terrorist nations on account of the actions of a few of their misguided citizens.

 However, we miss the point when we base our argument on this premise alone. The fact is that presently, Nigeria is like a widow buffeted by selfish and troublesome in-laws. It has no central figure, no rallying point, or if you like, no husband to give some form of direction and protection.

 For 48 days now, our President, Umaru Yar’Adua, has been in a Saudi hospital without handing over to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan. Some government functionaries keep telling us he is in charge. Some say he will return very soon. How soon, nobody knows. The other day, Senate President, David Mark; Speaker House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; and Jonathan expressed immense delight that Yar’Adua spoke with them on the phone.

 We are not serious. We lack leadership. We lack direction. We keep making noise about our large population; about our roles in peace-keeping operations around the world and such other mundane things. The truth is that the world is leaving us behind.

 Former American ambassador to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, put it succinctly when he noted recently that Nigeria was not making a major impact either on the region or on the continent as it was making before. As he put it, “The point is that Nigeria can become less relevant to the United States. We have already seen evidence of it. When President Obama went to Ghana and not to Nigeria, he was sending a message that Ghana symbolised more of the significant trends, issues and importance that one wants to put on Africa than Nigeria.”

 Currently, Nigeria does not have a substantive ambassador to the US. Ambassador Oluwole Rotimi was recalled after an altercation with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe. The US rejected his replacement, Tunde Adeniran, on the allegation that his son gang-raped three women in Baltimore, US. We have not also been participating fully at the highest level in many international engagements. Late last year, our President preferred to attend the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia to a United Nations function in New York.

 In any case, suicide bombing is not the only form of terrorism. We have religious killings, electoral violence, ethnic cleansing and so on. The dust is yet to fully settle over the Boko Haram religious killings in the North when Kala Kato uprising erupted in Bauchi. Thousands of innocent people perished in those disturbances. So far, nobody has been adequately punished for these crimes.

 While we cry over our fate in the hands of US and other foreign immigration officials, we need to also look into our tendency to discriminate against one another. An Itsekiri man does not see eye to eye with an Ijaw man; a Hausa man has little or no trust in a Yoruba man; the Igbo man believes he is marginalised and places his hopes in the illusory Federal Republic of Biafra.

 Rather than threaten and poke our little fingers at the US, we should strive to put our house in order first. It’s good the House of Representatives will be debating the absence of the President for over a month now on Tuesday. I only hope the debate will be devoid of unnecessary sentiments and focus more on how to rescue Nigeria from the problems at hand.

 There is no need playing the ostrich like the Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Aminchi, and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, have been doing. Sometime in December last year, Aminchi told us that Yar’Adua would soon return to the country. Forty-eight days after, he is still telling us that Yar’Adua is sound and fit and would soon return.

 The majority of Nigerians are no longer interested in this he-will-return-soon template. Since the President could sign the budget from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, he should not find it difficult signing a letter mandating his deputy to act as the President pending his return to the country.               

 What the country needs now is dynamic leadership. Things should be done properly to regain the confidence of the international community; and to save citizen Folake the embarrassment of being stripped at any airport in the world.

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