“If stereotypes could kill, we all would be monkeys swinging in trees“, explains the public angst against Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab Christmas terrorist attack in the US. The silent misery of bearing the smear of a clutch of dishonest, lazy and dubious Nigerians had been enough torment for many in the diaspora. Alas, the image of Nigerians abroad has never been particularly charming. Unfortunately Mutallab has reinforced what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – at TED Global 2009 presentation in Oxford – called the danger of a single story.
Nigerians love life. Are we not called the happiest people on earth? Never mind that the senseless religious carnage in Northern Nigeria seems to have morphed to an annual event. The reason is simple: Islamic fanaticism has an ethnic and political undertone. Besides, those who carry out this butchery are usually miscreants, manipulated by influential Nigerians for their selfish ends. Last year’s Boko Haram (Western education is evil) violence in Bauchi State, was allegedly propelled by religious fundamentalists from neighbouring Chad and funded by a high ranking government official.
Terrorism will remain an aberration in Nigeria. We are no prigs but we are pragmatic. A terrorist self-destructs in order to obliterate others. This is certainly un-Nigerian. A Nigerian wants to remain alive to enjoy the fruits of his labour – whether legitimate or not. That’s why Mutallab is an exception.
This is a young man with an envious pedigree, a recent engineering graduate of the University College London. Mutallab’s father was a prominent banker while his mother is from Yemen. This 23-year-old had a personal conflict of trying to balance morality and modernity. He was nicknamed “the Pope” in high school and was radicalised in London – not Lagos – where he may have encountered US-born Yemeni Islamic cleric, Imam and spiritual leader, Anwar al Awlaki. His subsequent romance with Al-Qaeda is only a progression of the internal turmoil between “two worlds – the age-old life of the village and the global village of modern ideologies.”
Umar Mutallab is certainly not the first Northern Nigerian Muslim to study abroad. Many before him have done so and they never ended up as terrorists. It is intrusive to break the stereotype that most Muslims are necessary by definition on a jihad. Two Nigerian Muslims are good examples of this.
Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, has a stirring testimonial. This Prince of Kano attended a Catholic primary school. He’s an economist and a Khartoum-trained Islamic scholar. Sanusi headed Nigeria’s 100-year old First Bank – while Mutallab’s father once chaired its board. He got his first introduction to Western philosophy in the Sudan, where he read Plato and Aristotle in Arabic and was introduced to post-modernism, Islamic mysticism, comparative religion and cultural studies.
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, formerly minister and now gadfly of the present government is certainly no less Muslim than Mutallab. He is an alumnus of the University of London, Harvard Business School, Arthur D. Little School of Management in Massachusetts, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
These two Muslims from Northern Nigeria have not been detonating bombs in their underpants. Rather they are either cleaning up the bank stench (Sanusi) or fighting a corruption battle against the government (Rufai).
Mutallab has further hurled Nigeria’s already sodden image into the dung. If he had any justifiable anger, he should have directed it to the rotten political oligarchy at home and not against the West. Charity, they say, begins at home. The explosives that almost blew him up would have been appreciated by MEND, the Niger Delta militants. MEND’s grouse is similar to Ken Saro Wiwa’s, albeit with guns. Ken Saro Wiwa, a “martyr”, dared to protest the violation of oil rich Ogoni land. Where the flora and fauna were devastated; where fish disappeared from meals because the water was no longer safe to drink; and where the very air that his people breathed was filled with fumes.
Dear Mutallab, if you are ever released, do not return to Nigeria because you’ll surely not receive a warm welcome. Certainly not from the government, whose illusion of rebranding Nigeria, you just complicated. You have made crossing the Atlantic a nightmare for your fellow compatriots: included Nigeria in mélange of terrorism and declared us all guilty by association. Religion has never been an excuse to perpetuate evil, worse still attempting to send 278 innocent souls to the great beyond. We Nigerians are not terrorists!