Fighting 419, Nigerians Face Lethal Blow

The story of Abdulmutallab, a staunch Muslim who was schooled in Britain and other places and the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and politician, is not the kind of story Nigerians say their nation needs at this critical time.

The failed Christmas Day bombing by a young Nigerian could perhaps be best described as a devastating image tsunami for Nigeria, a West African nation that has been battling with an already bad image, traced to e-mail fraud known as 419 named after the Nigerian penal code perpetrated by a tiny fragment of its citizenry.

The deadly attempt by 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up Northwest Airline Flight 253 carrying 278 passengers over the Detroit skies with an explosive device sent shock waves to Nigerians in the Diaspora.

The story of Abdulmutallab, a staunch Muslim who was schooled in Britain and other places and the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and politician, is not the kind of story Nigerians say their nation needs at this critical time.

“This is very reprehensible and I join all concerned Nigerians at home and abroad in condemning it. I think it is an image holocaust that could affect the country’s trade, tourism, foreign investments and economic growth,” said Nigerian-born author C. Paschal Eze whose new book, “For Blacks (And Others) Who Really Care,” discusses smart ways Americans can make their mark on the African continent from afar. “I also think it has the possibility of making life hell for law-abiding Nigerians abroad who may come under intense scrutiny, suspicion and isolation wherever they go.”

Abdulmutallab, who is being tried by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan before U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman, faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Bernard Onwuemelie, president of the Nigerian Foundation of Michigan, issued a statement Monday evening condemning the Christmas attack in Detroit.

“The Nigerian Foundation of Michigan condemns this act of terrorism, and disassociates the Nigerian community in Michigan from all acts of terrorism and wanton destruction of life and property,” Onwuemelie said. “We call on the Nigerian government, the United States of America and all well-meaning people of the world to investigate this act in all its ramifications in order to forestall such occurrences in the future.”

Onwuemelie said the group pledges its support “against terrorism and calls on all people to support efforts towards this endeavor.”

The Christmas Day incident has reignited a spirited debate on the war on terror and what policies ought to be adopted for international and domestic airlines.

But at the center of the debate is the question of why Abdulmutallab’s U.S. visa was not revoked after his own father alerted the U.S. embassy in Abuja Nigeria on Nov. 19, five weeks before the attack about his extreme religious views and possible links to terrorist groups.

Abdulmutallab boarded the inbound flight to Detroit from Amsterdam in the Netherlands and was trying to detonate the explosive as the jet approached Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Questions are also being raised about airport security in the Netherlands and why Amsterdam and Nigeria did not detect the explosives on Abdulmutallab.

Tosin Banwo, a Nigerian MBA student at Wayne State University said he received calls from his colleagues following the incident that “Nigerians have done it again.”

“This incident shows the power of how one person can damage the image of a whole country,” Banwo said. “Considering the challenges and problems we have it is going to take a while before we can redeem our image.”

For a young man like Abdulmutallab, who came from a privileged background, Banwo said he doesn’t understand what could be the motivation for the terror suspect’s actions.

Meanwhile an Al-Queda group in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the airliner attack, saying it was in retaliation for a U.S. military offensive against the group in Yemen where Abdulmutallab is said to have lived sometime in 2005.

Profiling is back in the spotlight with some analysts suggesting that individuals with Muslim, ethnic or foreign sounding names should be thoroughly questioned during travels, something that would be met with stiff resistance from the civil liberty community including the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We have to be vigilant and work harder to portray the good image of Nigeria,” Banwo said. “No one should label all of us as terrorists.”

In a nation where northern states like Kano are governed by Sharia Law, many fear religious extremists might be seeking sanctuary in Nigeria.

That is why Eze said the Nigerian government failed to respond appropriately to news of the Detroit incident. He said his nation dropped the ball in tackling this latest public relations disaster on the world stage.

“Silence and delay are never golden in an image crisis,” Eze said. “Imagine what could have happened if the Nigerian government had held a truly international press conference within 24 hours of the dastardly incident, condemning the wicked act in the strongest possible terms, pledging full and active cooperation with U.S. security agencies, and harping that such a wicked act is not reflective of overwhelming majority of Nigerians who are peace loving in their core.”

The relations between Washington and Nigeria, the world’s eleventh largest oil producing nation and fifth largest supplier to the U.S., is unlikely to be severed by the terrorist incident.

In responding to the crisis, President Barack Obama was determined to instill confidence in the public that the nation will utilize all of its power to fight terrorism.

Naming Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia as places the U.S. will tackle terror, as well as anyplace else, Obama never mentioned Nigeria in his speech in which he called for more airport security.

Yet, according to Eze, “Despite its poor image, the Nigerian nation has been a force for good in the world with its active participation in UN and African Union peacekeeping missions and Technical Aid Corps Scheme that has benefited many Third World nations, among others.”

Courtesy of New America Media

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