The Mutallab Challenge
Posted on Jan 12, 2010
Nigeria is certainly no stranger to religious upheavals. Many will recall the lives that were lost in the bloodbath that broke out in reaction to cartoons which depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish publication in 2006 and the riots which greeted the scheduling of a Miss World contest during the month of Ramadan in 2002. And even as Abdulmutallab’s folly was unfolding, there was mayhem in Bauchi, another northern, predominantly Muslim city. A clash between an Islamic sect called Kala-Kato and security personnel claimed more than 40 lives within two days.
In a country whose population, sharply divided along religious and ethnic lines, hardly ever agrees on anything, condemnation of Abdulmutallab and his strange act has been unanimous. The most damning of these criticisms have come from his kith and kin and the Muslim Ulama.
The district head of Funtua (the Mutallabs’ hometown), Sambo Idris, expressed shock and regret. A Funtua-based Islamic scholar, Aminu Liman, condemned acts of terror and described them as un-Islamic. Residents of Funtua also joined other Nigerians to condemn Abdulmutallab’s action. Funtua is in the largely Muslim Katsina state, in the north of Nigeria.
The Muslim Public Affairs Center, an independent Muslim organization based in Kano, another northern Muslim city, also condemned all acts of terrorism and described them as “a complete violation of the teachings of Islam.”
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The group also calls on Muslims to “rally together to positively and constructively intervene with our youth to make sure they have a good understanding of Islam so that no extremists will prey upon them.”
The secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, says “we are embarrassed by this incident and we strongly condemn the alleged action by this young man. … We do not think there is any organized Islamic group in Nigeria that is inclined to such a criminal and violent act. We condemn such an extreme viewpoint and action.”
An Islamic scholar and chief missioner of the Ansar-Ul-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheik Abdul-Rahman Ahmad, says “hijacking, targeting of innocent people, violence and murder are not acceptable in Islam.”
The director of the Muslim Rights Concern, Dr. Is-haq Akintola, also condemns all acts of terrorism, which he describes as “inhuman and animalistic.”
A group that calls itself “We condemn Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s action: Nigerians are not terrorists” chose Facebook, the popular social networking website, to denounce his “un-Nigerian act.” Thousands signed up to join the group barely hours after it was created. The group decries the “behavior of a lone numbskull who has just dragged Nigeria’s already sodden image more into the mud.”
Since a “technical fault,” as acknowledged by his principals, botched his attempt, thank goodness, the one thing Abdulmutallab may have succeeded in doing is putting a stick in the wheel of the Rebranding Nigeria Project, an ambitious image program aimed at projecting a healthy and positive face of Nigeria to the world.
The campaign has been primarily targeted at Nigerians in the interest of achieving a character reorientation and attitudinal change. If Abdulmutallab can be taken as the average Nigerian, managers of the program may have actually been flogging a dead horse all along.
Information Minister Dora Akunyili, who started the rebranding program, is understandably peeved. She refers to Abdulmutallab as “a stranger” who “sneaked” in and out of the country. A statement from her office says the federal government of Nigeria received news of the bomb attempt “with dismay” and that “Nigeria as a nation abhors all forms of terrorism.”
The vice president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has ordered all security agencies to investigate the incident and cooperate fully with U.S. investigations. (The president, Umaru Musa YarAdua, is away in Saudi Arabia for health reasons.)
The Nigerian Senate also denounces Abdulmutallab’s act, saying, “We condemn this strange act of terrorism in very strong terms and we are at a loss where he got this strange habit from,” and warns that “nobody should import fundamentalism into Nigeria under any guise.”
The Senate urges the international community to “treat him [Abdulmutallab] on his own merit and not associate this horrible conduct with law-abiding Nigerians who are decent and respectable international citizens wherever they are.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s president has launched a comprehensive probe of the bombing attempt. National Security Adviser Abdul Sarki Mukhtar has questioned whether the director-general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was right to keep the report made by Abdulmutallab’s father from the intelligence community. According to the security adviser, the report, if circulated, would have alerted the security agencies at so-called travel control points to take required action that would have led to Abdulmutallab’s arrest before he boarded the KLM flight from Nigeria and would have pre-empted the incident and saved Nigeria from international embarrassment.
The NIA has come under fire because, contrary to media reports that Abdulmutallab’s father reported his son’s strange ways to Nigeria’s security agencies, the real truth is that he reported only to a former national security official who served in the immediate past government. That official in turn reportedly informed one of the directors of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency, who, obviously, did nothing about the lead.
The father is also facing some tough questions of his own. Why, for instance, did he report his son, who recently concluded a degree program in London, not to the British High Commission but to the American Embassy? What did he know that sent him scurrying to the American Embassy? What are some of the relationships he has in the world of business, government and religion? He was recently named chairman of Nigeria’s first Islamic bank. And being married to an Arab Yemeni himself, what, if anything, does he know of his son’s Yemeni connections?
As a direct result of the Mutallab Challenge (as the incident is now known in Nigeria’s security circles), Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Authority, which when the scandal broke defended itself on grounds of not having equipment to detect powdery explosives, is collaborating with the World Bank to acquire modern detectors of powder-based explosives.
And while waiting for modern detectors, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos now insists on “100 percent primary and secondary physical body screening for intercontinental flights.” Ouch!
Whatever “100 percent primary and secondary physical body screening” means, it’s certainly not a nice time to be at the Lagos airport.
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