By Dr Aliyu Tilde
The Tragedy of Umar F. Mutallab
The first involvement of a Nigerian in terrorism has reduced the nation to the status of a child. Immediately the chap was identified as a Nigerian, we were all on our knees begging America, doing our best to convince it that we are not terrorists: "Wallahi, this boy is a black sheep. We are law abiding citizens wherever we go overseas. Yes. At home, we are known for fraud, election rigging, corruption, armed robbery, bank robbery, cultism, human trafficking, religious intolerance, concealment of truth to our citizens, we tell them lies and even engage in forgery at the highest level. Eh. We have also been pushing cocaine for over two decades now. But Wallahi – America – we are not terrorists. It is not in our character… Do anything with Umar Mutallab. The boy deserves it. We completely dissociate ourselves from him…. Chinekeeeee!!! This boy has shamed us. He wants to put us in trouble."
It is true. We are not lying. We are not terrorists. If we were, we would have blown off our leaders first before any other person and effectively rid the country of corruption. However, courtesy of our inherent African docility, the people whose actions have caused so much misery on our land are walking about Scot-free. They would not do so if we had sufficient thymotic potential to blow their planes or shoot them down at gatherings. They would not have had the temerity to rig our elections or the guts to steal our wealth.
Yet, it appears that America is not convinced by the confession chorus voice of Nigerian officials, non-governmental organizations, religious and secular, at home and overseas. Nigeria produced maitatsine and, recently, boko haram in addition to a whole catalogue of transnational criminal activities. By now, the world has concluded that every Nigerian is either a fanatic or a fraudster, unless he is proved innocent. This is a golden opportunity to impose some severe security measures against these fraudulent people, America insists.
The first step has been announced within a week of the event: body scanners will be installed in all our four international airports such that a record of the anatomy of every Nigerian traveler will be documented. Fingerprints are not sufficient. "Would these scanners show the naked bodies of people?" a foreign journalist asked a Nigerian official, three times. "A-a-a-a. "It is just in case the passenger is carrying something on his body, the machine will detect it," answered the official every time the question was repeated. I laughed. The truth is that the scanners would show your naked natural body, including everything. I had that experience at Heathrow Airport in December 2004 when I was singled out, for no stated reason, and scanned before I boarded a British Airways Flight back to Nigeria. This may not be the only measure, I suspect. More are likely to follow.
But why are we jittery about this singular act, heinous as it is? Are we the first terrorist country in the world? Did we produce Carlos – The Jackal, Al-Nagrahi, IRA, Timothy McVeigh, or the 911 bombers? Are we worse terrorists than Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, or Libya, countries where many terrorists lived and carried out their threats? Are we worse than Saudi Arabia, the country that produced Osama Bin Laden and 18 out of the 19 terrorists that bombed the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001? Why have we not heard the officials and citizens of these countries pleading against any possible collective victimization by America? Why are scanners installed at Jeddah and Riyadh International Airports? Instead, we saw Obama paying a visit to King Abdullah and bowing his head to the King in respect, as he bowed before Queen Elizabeth III during the G20 meeting last year.
I think something is wrong with us and our leadership. Would this be how we will respond when one day we find ourselves in conflict with America? I believe General Victor Malu will not be surprised, having lost his job simply by refusing to "co-operate" with the military experts who America sent during his tenure as Chief of Army Staff. Malu did not know that our Nigerianness exists only at the mercy of the only superpower in the world today. Obasanjo proved him wrong. "Hey boy," Obasanjo told Malu, "When America says 'jump', simply ask: 'how high?" Commot jare. The munci man has since been enjoying his pounded yam in his native Benue. The Defence Towers in Abuja are not for his kind.
On contemplation, I think the real reason why we elite are afraid of our new feather is because of the inconvenience that we will suffer from whenever we visit overseas or the opportunities we will miss in our hideout countries where we send our children to study after celebrating the collapse of our public schools at home; where we take our wives for delivery after we have allowed our hospitals to deteriorate; where we hide the billions we steal daily from public coffers; where some of us think is the Promised Land. Think about it: what restrictive measure would the average Nigerian, who will never have the opportunity to board even a domestic flight be afraid of? Will the airport scanners scan him on his farm? Indeed, we are crying for ourselves, for our interests, not for Nigeria.
Here, I have much to doubt about the sincerity of Umar's father, Alhaji Mutallab. I initially thought that he has been very heroic in alerting the Nigerian and American security officials about the indoctrination of his son. He must be one of the most patriotic citizens of the world, I thought. But in fairness to the son, I now think differently. I was only naïve. The father must own up and accept that he exposed the son to the risk of indoctrination. He knows his son better than anyone. He should. At what point did he start to notice the defiance of his son and what did he do about it?
This chap has been complaining of loneliness since when the father isolated him from this country and sent him to a British elite secondary school in Togo. Doesn't his life in that school initiate his anti-white racist doctrines before he even met with terrorist groups later in the United Kingdom? Why did not the father return him to Nigeria and enroll him in one of our best secondary schools or private universities. Why was Umar ignored by his father until he became a prey of the vicious elements that exploited his racist sentiments?
Also, would the poor and lonely Umar have been conscripted into international terrorism if his father were poor? Would he have been to Togo or Britain? International terrorism, as I said in an interview with Radio Deutche Welle, is a product of affluence, not religion. The overwhelming majority of terrorists – from Bin Laden down to their latest flag bearer, Umar Mutallab – are people from affluent backgrounds, homes that have links with the West and have firm roots in its economic order.
Umar's father did not get this calculation wrong. By alerting the police, he has secured his wealth but not his son. He has conveniently surrendered the son, against the biological instinct of protection, to the FBI, in protection of his economic interests, most likely, instead of taking all necessary measures to restrict him to this country, getting the authorities to seize his passport and sponsor a program of his de-indoctrination. After all, the father is well aware of the Hausa adage that says ba gagararre sai bararre – there is no outlaw except the condoned. The father cannot, therefore, claim that he was taken by surprise because he was rich enough, pretty rich, to buy multimillion pound mansion for the family in London where the son lived. He was not living on campus. Someone here – the father – does not do his duty well. He should own up.
The second blame should be dumped at the doorstep of American counter-terrorism officials. Obama has every right to look at them straight in the eye and tell them that they have not done their job well. There was a report indicating that al-Qaida is training a Nigerian for a terror attack on an American Airline. Then there is a Nigerian father who complained of the indoctrination of his son and the son has already been placed on America's Terrorist Watch list. Would it be clear even to the most incompetent agent that Umar was the most likely person? How many Nigerians are there on the list after all?
Umar's ordeal should serve as a wakeup call to all Nigerian parents who send their children overseas for studies. I know it is inevitable in many cases given the failure of our educational system here at home. But each of them can, and should, do something to salvage it, in his own way. I believe Alhaji Mutallab must be regretting this way: "Had I known, I would have built a model secondary school and a even a private university in my hometown Funtua where Umar and other Nigerian children would study without being exposed to indoctrination by people alien to our culture… A good secondary school would not cost half the price of one of my houses in London… Had I known…"
The whole idea of sending children to study abroad must be done only out of necessity, as Dr. Yusuf Qardawi once said. Where necessary, they must not be sent until, among other conditions, they have acquired the cognitive maturity that will protect them from indoctrination.
Please let those of us who have children studying overseas keep an eye over them. Terrorism is not the only thing we need to guard them against. There are just plenty other negative tendencies that they must not be allowed to indulge in. We must ensure we engage them constantly such that we can understand the cognitive developments they are going through. We must not, even for a day, fail to listen to them or attend to their needs especially for company. And we can do this today so easily through modern communications facilities. It is our duty. We must not delegate it to school authorities.
Umar had access to wealth but it did not buy him the protection he needed as a teenager. Poor Umar! Surely, he has been a victim of three people: an incapable father, a vicious group of terrorists, and incompetent and negligent American security agencies. He could have been saved the doom of becoming a criminal of this order. This beautiful looking son of Africa was, therefore, a prey. His story is a tragedy. He set out looking for knowledge but would end up serving a twenty year prison term. I pray that by the time he comes out – for he will still come out pretty young, 43 – he would have contemplated enough to purge himself of the indoctrination he went though. He would then return to African and reside among us quietly, enjoying the docility that is typical of our passive continent, or suffering the consequences of its lack of thymos.