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Nigeria playing into American hands?
By Duro Onabule
Friday, March 12, 2010
For almost three months, there has been this friendly disagreement between the United States and Nigeria on whether the latter is a terrorist state. Rather foolishly, Nigeria this week confirmed acts of terrorism within its borders. Nothing could be more appetizing for the Americans to retain Nigeria, at least for the foreseeable future, on the list of terrorist nations.

Since September 2001, the United States heightened and toughened security measures both internally and at entry as well as departure points. That was with all justification. For the first time since the second world war, Americans in 2001 incredibly experienced aerial invasion at key targets of not just the World Trade Centre but also the presumed most secure fortress - the Pentagon, (known in other parts of the world as Ministry of Defence).

In war times especially far away in other countries, a figure of three thousand casualties (or even more) might not alarm Americans. But to be caught unawares on the homeland of the most militarily powerful country in the world should send the message to other parts of the world that America could never over-react in ensuring its security.

A few years ago, at Newark Airport, New Jersey, United States, after the routine check-in, we got to the screening point where every passenger had to deposit every metallic object he might be having on him. The man in charge picked out my bunch of keys and demanded I should submit my nail-cutter.

I asked him why and he explained firmly in the American 'no messing about' way that the nail-cutter is an offensive weapon which could be used, during flight to intimidate and indeed harm especially the cabin crew in a hijack operation which I understood within me to be an act of terrorism. In short, the nail-cutter is now a danger to travelers boarding airlines in America. Rather amused, but I also realized that I stood to benefit from such security measure. After surrendering the nail-cutter, I showed him my passport with a smile to identify myself as a Nigerian. In a humorous way, I told him 'do you think the Nigerian wants to die? You can suspect or even fault the Nigerian, like other travelers, for anything but not for suicide in acts of terrorism.'

The man grasped my humour as we both laughed.
Even, despite last Christmas foolishness by a Nigerian adolescent Umar Farouk Mutallab who tried to bomb a passenger airline at Detroit, Michigan Airport in the United States, it is still a fact that no matter the condition, the Nigerian prefers being alive, hoping that tomorrow will be better. Unfortunate, a naïve young man, for want of what to do after sound education through some of the best institutions ending at University College London, messed himself and Nigeria up.

The United States, therefore quite rightly placed Nigeria on the list of terrorist nations. It is not a plea for Farouk Mutallab but ordinary explanation that like the Nigerian, the silly man never intended to die. Otherwise, he would not have waited till the plane landed in Detroit, United States, all the way from Amsterdam, Holland, or indeed Accra, Ghana, before attempting to bomb the aircraft.

Such explanation, however is not tenable or weighty enough to challenge any country (in this case, the United States) on whatever measure taken to guarantee its security. The onus is therefore on Nigeria to demonstrate that it is not a terrorist nation. Is Nigeria doing that? From events, it does not seem so, if anything, more like a curse, societal crimes and reckless official utterances since the Farouk Mutallab incident, inadvertently justify the decision of the American government to place Nigeria on the list of terrorist nations. Within the past three months, there have been tragic mass murders of Nigerians by fellow Nigerians in Jos and surrounding areas in Plateau State. Such tragedy has, as to be expected attracted concern and comments within and outside Nigeria.

Perhaps, not to damage Nigeria's chances of being delisted as a terrorist state by the United States, reactions from abroad (including the United States) have been very careful. The United States stressed the need to respect the constitutional rights of the surviving victims of the Jos massacre.

The Vatican described the incident as killings, Britain described it as violence while the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the ugly events at Jos as horrible acts of violence.

On the other hand, the House of Representatives (in Nigeria) resolved that the culprits should be tried according to law. But the Senate was shocking in describing the Jos tragedy as 'acts of terrorism.' That being so, why was Nigeria's Senate up in arms when the United States, rightly slammed Nigeria as a terrorist state?

Or what is a terrorist state? Are these senators intelligent at all? No matter the revulsion against the intermittent violence in parts of the country (especially in Plateau) any reaction must be weighed against the inevitable effect on the country's image. Does America need any further evidence that Nigeria does not merit being delisted as a terrorist nation?

Accordingly, it is the right of the United States as a sovereign nation to subject visitors at entry and departure points to any degree of strict screening. No nation, after the military humiliation of September 11, 2001, can afford to underestimate possible consequences of the slightest hint of terrorism especially if officially confirmed on the domestic front by a country like Nigeria. As the most powerful country in the world, when America is secure, human beings all over the world can go to sleep. On the other hand, any danger posed to America either on the homeland or in terrorist attacks on aircraft, is an attack on the world. You do not need to be an American to appreciate that bitter truth.

Instead of arguing with the Americans for placing Nigeria on the list of terrorist nations, we should demonstrate by our actions over some period, even if long. Eventually, security reports on Nigerian visitors to different parts of the world, especially the United States, will convince the Americans that Nigeria, indeed is not a terrorist state.

Meanwhile, let America subject Nigerian visitors to the strictest and tightest screening at airports. Such search is for weapons of destruction either within America or on air to and from America. We should have no problem with that since as a people, we are not terrorists.

Also, while Nigeria is still battling to be removed from the list of terrorist nations, there has been a sudden surge in the criminal act of kidnapping. In America, kidnapping is a terrorist offence. You kidnap an American anywhere in the world, you cannot visit the country for life. In Nigeria, kidnapping suddenly became a growth industry. It became so alarming that some states like Rivers and Ebonyi enacted laws to attract death penalty. So far, there is as yet not a single convict. Fortunately, Ebonyi State has a test case to prove its determination to stamp out kidnapping. Some suspects who have confessed have been arrested by the police in Abakaliki. These criminals should be tried earliest and if found guilty, the death sentences should be carried out instantly.

Enforcement of such laws against terrorist acts will convince the outside world, including the United States, that Nigeria is not a terrorist state.

By the way, it is the right of any country to subject visitors to its (host country's) rules and regulations on immigration. Any visitor who cannot comply with such immigration requirements is also free to stay away. Neither owes the other any apology. We should stop complaining to the Americans.