The Other Side of Abdulmuttalab

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

Any editor worth his salt will not put a call through to his reporter anyhow. A call from any editor to a reporter very early in the morning is like a summons from a deity. One, it is either that you, the reporter bungled up the previous day’s job and the editor is pissed and baying for your blood or that there was an earth-shaking development in the wee hours of the night and he wants you to get your sorry ass down there [no matter what it would cost] so that the paper would not be left behind when the news starts hitting the airwaves.

Recently, because I chose to take my own destiny in my hands to freelance as a journalist, I no longer get those kinds of calls. I make do with what comes around, posting my resume on the internet and hoping that in no time at all, I would be right there one day when an earth-scattering development would break and I would be the one to anchor the story on my own terms. For now as a freelancer, I am a journalist with and of many editorial compartments – editor, proof-reader, reporter, graphic artist and photojournalist, all ensconced in a big room of my own internal and wall-less newsroom.

So, on the morning of Saturday December 26, 2009, when my phone rang, I was not to know that a ‘deity’ was on the other side. It did not occur to me that it was the beginning an earth scattering event. The voice at the other end identified herself as Rosie Kinchen of the Sunday Times of London and asked if I had heard of THE bombing? I said of course that I had heard [my thinking was that she meant the December 22 near-bombing of the Superscreen Television premises at Onipanu, Lagos]. Kinchen told me that her paper was desirous to be on top of the story, and could I kindly help to be on top of any recent developments and find out if there was a motive?

Well, I complained that I no longer lived in Lagos, and on account of the Christmas festivities, it would be unlikely to be able to reach anyone. Kinchen then asked, ‘Can’t you monitor the story from where you are?’ That was what got my adrenal revving and raring to go. That question of hers was like a chip climbing from my spine and finally settling down on my shoulder. So, I got her email and phone and drove straight to my office [this time, still thinking she meant the incident that took place on December 22 involving Seyi Olayiwola Ahmed].

I set to work. At the office, I tried to get Frank Mba, Lagos police public relations officer, perhaps to get an update on what seemed to be stale gist. His phone rang and rang and rang but there was no response. At that point, I had no choice but rely on the Internet. After rumaging through the web, the facts of the Lagos bombing were still there semi-fresh. Seyi Olayiwola Ahmed, the alleged bomber was still in a coma at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, receiving treatment for injuries he sustained from attempting after to blow up a tv station.

But as I opened my email, I knew something was wrong. Kinchen had sent a different name from Ahmed’s and said that the bombing had taken place in the United States and the suspect was a Nigerian. His name was Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab [are there Nigerians with this kind of name, I thought]. This time, Kinchen raised the bar and wanted to know the following. Do the Nigerian authoritiies think there is a connection between the bomb at the TV station and the bomb in Detroit? Had anyone had any luck in tracking the suspect and or his family in Nigeria?

I had no answer to any of these questions. The Lagos state police commissioner too was not available from the available phone numbers he had advertised in the press. All the police top brass in the Abuja police force were also not taking their calls. And then, aha, the thought struck home : why not consult some senior colleagues and get the benefit of their hindsight? My initial calls to Olayinka Oyegbile of NEXT did not reveal much but the next time I called him, he was already racing to his office on the Island, as the wires were beginning to be red hot with what had just transpired. But it was Lekan Otunfodunrin of The Nation who gave me the alleged bomber’s full profile. Unfortunately for me however, CNN already had gone to town with that same profile and the Sunday Times was relying on their speed and veracity instead.

Abdulmuttalab is now more popular than Barack Obama and Michael Jackson put together. He has completely changed how the world and our international friends view Nigeria and Nigerians. He has caused a diplomatic row between two birds of unlikely feathers, the United States and Nigeria. Some doubt whether he is a Nigeria. He is the reason why security checks are being overhauled in airports all over the world.

He has even forcefully introduced a new word, Muttalab into Nigerian English, meaning a rich kid who attempts to throw his life away for seven virgins and rivers of gulder in the afterlife. Nigerians also see Muttalab as a synonym for ‘idiot’, ‘mu-mu’, and we have cleverly constructed sentences such as ‘Are you a Muttalab?, ‘Stop this Muttalabness at once!’ In our villages, our mothers are telling their stubborn sons, ‘won ma muttalab orie!, [Yoruba], commot for diaaaa, Muttalab oshi [Pidgin], Aga ma Muttalab isi kita kita [Igbo].

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