Friday, January 15, 2010

Playing the ostrich with terrorism

Since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s 2009 Christmas day botched attempt to bomb the Flight 253 Northwest Delta Detroit-bound Airline, Nigerian officials have been doing their best to absolve the country of any complicity in the infamous act.

When on January 4, 2010 U.S. blacklisted Nigeria alongside Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia as “countries of interest” and lists Cuba, Iran, Sudan, North Korea and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism, many Nigerians were shell shocked.

The implication of the blacklisting is that henceforth, air travellers flying into the U.S from and other "countries of interest" would be subjected to advance screening techniques, such as body scans, pat-downs and a thorough search of carry-on luggage. This is rubbing salt on a festering sore. Nigeria all along has dented international image as hitherto, we are regarded as a country of scammers. Added to this infamy is terrorism. Yet, we aren’t all criminals as many of us are law abiding citizens with good character.

It may be true that U.S is displaying double standard more so as there are facts to the effect that European countries whose nationals made similar dastardly attempts in the past were never meted with same treatment as is being applied to Nigeria. However, if you must blame the hawk for wickedness, first scold mother hen for exposing her children to danger. In my opinion, what has happened is a clarion call for Nigeria to do the needful to curb the growing incidences of terrorism in the country. I laugh when government officials fall over themselves to declare that terrorism is alien to our character as a country. Since the era of military adventurism into Nigerian politics, terrorism has become part of us. What is novel is suicide bombing the kind of which Farouk attempted last Christmas day.

According to the 7th Edition of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, ‘terrorism is the use of violent action in order to achieve political aims or to force a government to act’. When Abacha’s killer squad were maiming and killing members of National Democratic Coalition, (NADECO) was that not a terrorist act? When Dele Giwa was killed via letter bomb, and unarmed protesters against the annulment of June 12 were gunned down on the streets of Lagos, were those not terrorist acts?

How do we categorise the activities of ethnic militias such as the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) who few years back killed and maimed with impunity in parts of the South West and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) whose men, according to Saturday Sun of January 9, 2010, carry out banditry, rape and illegal detention centres in many communities in Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo State?

Can we in good conscience say that the dozens of campus cults operating in our various academic institutions are not terrorist groups? Justice Kayode Esho’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its March 10, 2009 report observed that there were 116 cult groups operating in Rivers State alone and called for their proscription. What shall we call the menacing acts of street urchins popularly called ‘area boys’ and Al-majiris? How best can we describe the years of sustained militancy by men and women of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta (MEND) and other dissident groups who wilfully blow up pipelines, engaged in illegal oil bunkering and institutionalise hostage taking and ransom kidnapping? What about those hooligans engaged by politicians to wreak havoc during campaigns and elections? Recall that over 300 lives were lost in the November 2008 political violence over election into Jos North Local Government of Plateau State.

In 2009, there were about four sectarian violence in some states of the federation with the Boko Haram of July and Kala-Kato of December 2009 being the bloodiest. While over 700 people were reportedly killed in the Boko Haram religious war, 38 people were officially claimed to have been killed and over a thousand injured in the Kala-Kato intra-sect violence. In fact, two of the Boko Haram suspects alleged that they were trained in Afghanistan.

I have gone to this length to cite all the aforementioned examples to indicate that Nigeria over the years have been a terrorist laden society. Unfortunately, in spite of many commissions of inquiry into the root causes of these acts of rebellion, such reports were in most cases not acted upon as they gather dusts in various government houses. The insufficient political will to prosecute the arrowheads and masterminds of these fiendish acts is partly responsible for the prevalence of this national malaise. It would be recalled that the Director General of the State Security Service (SSS), Gadzama Afakriya, had in July 2009 accused government of ignoring security reports when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Police Affairs. He also alleged disconnect between and among the security agencies in the country. This disconnect manifest over Umar Farouk’s case as SSS claimed that the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) to whom Abdulmutallab senior reported the extremist tendencies of his son did not share the intelligence information with the SSS.

With all the hullaballoo generated over the last December suicide bombing attempt, it is gratifying to note that measures are being put in place by Nigerian authorities for stricter security checks at the airports as well as demand being made for the passage of anti-terrorism bill sent to the National Assembly by the President last October or thereabout. Good as these initial steps seem, they will not curb intimidation or acts of brigandage in the country. The best counters to terrorism are equity, justice and fair-play which are derivatives of good governance. Issues of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and insecurity must be tackled, otherwise Nigeria will continue to be a fertile ground for all forms of terrorism, suicide bombing inclusive.