The Terror Watchlist: Nigeria’s Response

In the last few days, Nigeria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs (MFA) Ojo Maduekwe had addressed the world through two poignant fora. One was the BBC Hardtalk programme and the second a news conference in New York. The two provided a critical view of what might be going on in the Nigerian seat of power.

The facts were that a young man of 24 estranged from his parents after a lonely and long sojourn in British educational institutions abroad (whether he should have been allowed to leave home at such a young age for boarding school abroad is another matter entirely) was poached, schooled and nurtured by elements now identified as the Al Qaeda group. He attempted to blow up an aeroplane over Detroit and he thankfully failed. It emerged that his father had warned the US authorities of his strange behaviour and rising religious fundamentalism. Yet, the US authorities never cancelled his visa and this allowed him to board a US bound plane. Airport security has never remained the same again. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s battered image took more than its fair share of the hit. It is American security and its embassy officials that failed, not Nigeria! And it is not the first time that the gargantuan American security apparatus has failed her nation. It even recently failed to secure the White House properly and allowed unauthorised persons to gatecrash a State Banquet being held for the visiting Indian Prime Minister.

In 1998 the American Embassies were subject to terror attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. Out of the 224 people killed in Nairobi, 12 were Americans, 201 Kenyans and 11 other Africans. Testifying in a New York court, a former Al-Qaeda operative, Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl revealed that the US authorities were informed of the impending attack. The US security agents admitted that they were warned and the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright ‘criticised the State Department for not doing more to safeguard US missions’ (Aide ‘warned US of bombings’, 2001). Up till now Kenya and Tanzania are not on the terror watch list. Neither did Kenya make any watch list whatsoever when rival political groups struck inflicted terror on innocent people and political opponents during the last Kenyan Presidential elections. Could the present US authorities be turning a blind eye towards Kenya because President Obama’s father is from there?

Saudi Arabia was not demonised when Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi national was fingered in the 9/11 attacks on America, more importantly about half of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Britain was not and is not on the US watch list after the ‘British shoe bomber’ failed in his attempt to blow up a transatlantic plane heading to the US. The same offence the young Nigerian boy is accused of. If this is not discrimination there must be another definition for the word. But of course when America and the West fail to get their acts together, it is a systemic failure. When a man reports his son to the US security to be on the lookout for him and the US fails to act appropriately, his country is named a terrorist nation. May we remind the American government that Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma bomber), Theodore John Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and of course the fundamentalist religious leader David Koresh of the infamous Waco Siege incident were all US citizens who perpetrated terror against the society as a whole. America has not become less of a terror threat to herself or other nations since these three men neither has it become terror proof since they apprehended Umar Farouk.

It is imperative to note this doctrine of cynicism as practised by the last two American governments and particularly the Obama administration against the Nigerian peoples and government vis-à-vis how they have responded to one or two other nations involved in the same situation as Nigeria, if not worse. Nigeria has to start calling a spade a spade. It must engage on a more robust foreign policy that protects Nigeria’s interests and more importantly her citizens both home and abroad. In my own view there is a way out of this quagmire we are fast allowing our Nigeria to wallow in. It is of the utmost importance for Nigeria to start asserting herself more robustly like we did under the Military government of the no nonsense duo Generals Buhari-Idiagbon Regime. One cannot but remember with a sense of patriotism what has come to be known as the ‘golden era of Nigeria’s foreign policy’ the periods when the Foreign Ministry was led by Ibrahim Agboola Gambari and later by Bolaji Akinyemi.

An incident occurred on 5th July 1984 when a Nigerian Airways plane was impounded on British soil by the British authorities for being implicated in the botched forceful removal of National Party of Nigeria (NPN) politicians that fled Nigeria in the wake of the coup d’état that brought in the army on New Years Eve in 1983. The Nigerian authorities responded immediately by ordering back a British Caledonian plane forty-five minutes after it took off in Lagos due to ‘security reasons’ it said. There was a diplomatic standoff and eventually the British authorities were forced to release the Nigerian plane in Stansted airport and we released theirs. It took just a few days for the British authorities to see that the new regime would tolerate no nonsense from its former colonial lord. As a matter of fact the then British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe ‘emphasised that Nigeria was ‘a friendly Commonwealth country’ with ‘a very substantial trading relationship’ with Britain. UK sales to Nigeria were worth nearly Pounds 800m last year, and there were about 12,000 Britons living in the country’ (Strong protest over kidnapping : BRITISH JET HELD IN LAGOS by K.Brown & A.Gowers, 1984); See also (The Kidnap of Umaru Dikko by Max Silloun, 2008).

The lesson here is poignant. It is not just enough to accuse a larger nation of bullying you. It is important for you to strike back appropriately where it hurts the most, coupled with the element of surprise. Bullies are always and most certainly felled in an embarrassing manner. The retaliatory response by the bullied nation is always certainly a morale booster to her citizens. This is exactly what has created an excruciating defeat for most Nigerians worldwide right now. Our government fails us without firing a proper salvo in the direction of Washington to let President Obama know that he is not actually in the position to deride Nigeria. It is as if the persons in authority have personal interests to protect abroad. If these were not the case, there is no reason for these atrocious trampling on Nigeria with so much disdain by the US authorities and if I may add by almost every country these days.

This is the major crux that is apparent in Ojo Maduekwe’s two press outings. On BBC Hardtalk, he failed to robustly project a serious Nigeria on the platter of gold offered by the BBC. His performance was dour compared to say a Tom Ikimi under Gen. Sanni Abacha. As the nations MFA even if the President was lying ill in China, are all the members of the Federal Executive Council, The Council of State and The National Assembly also ill? Even if the Vice-President has not been declared as the Acting President yet, the structure is there for us to have put a more appropriate response back to the US. The rambling question/statement put to the MFA in New York by Omoyele Sowore sounded more like the usual student union activist approach to demands from university authorities in Nigeria. He ought to have decided if he wanted to be an objective journalist or a passionate activist. That was the flaw of his exchange with Ojo Maduekwe. Which other mandate or directive does the MFA require to project our country’s position? He is not seeking an election, is he? He has already been sworn into the job. Maduekwe thus fell into the trap of allowing petty chat to overshadow the thrust of the direction Nigeria wants to be seen as taking.

Herein lays the ba

ne of our problems, the inability to arise above pettiness and keep our eyes on the ball. What we could have done, was to highlight all the flaws of the American security system. America suffers from a perennial Achilles heel, it’s security organs and the ability to respond appropriately is in shambles! The Obama administration prefers referring to it as ‘systemic failures’. The logic is that if America is suffering from systemic failures, then Nigeria is not safe from attacks from American nationals simply because American intelligence cannot be relied upon. It is time to hold the bull by the horn. As a matter of urgency, Nigeria ought to have responded immediately by putting America on it’s own terror watch list, subject all passengers coming from America to full body searches. And deploy the usage of body scanners when it concerns citizens from these countries with particular emphasis on flights from the US. Nigeria ought to have gone on a huge propagandist mission to major news networks with a combined strategy of interviews, press conferences and sponsored advertorial. If Nigeria does not do this, I am afraid it has dug a hole for herself to be buried in.

Works Cited
Aide ‘warned US of bombings’. 2001. BBC News. [Online] February 8, 2001. [Cited: January 24, 2010.]

Strong protest over kidnapping : BRITISH JET HELD IN LAGOS by K.Brown & A.Gowers. 1984. [Online] July 7, 1984.

The Kidnap of Umaru Dikko by Max Silloun. 2008. Nigerians in America. [Online] February 4, 2008. [Cited: January 24, 2010.]

Written by
Kola Alapinni
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