Now outside the fact that both of them are male, have first names of Umar, are from Katsina State and are Nigerians, that is where the comparison ends.
The Year 2009 ended on a terrible note for us Nigerians:
- our president Umar Musa Yar’Adua (and former governor of Katsina) has been “missing” since November 23, 2009; and
- a Christmas-Day (December 25, 2009) Nigeria-passport-carrying would-be pantie-bomber terrorist, 23-year-old Umar Farouk AbdulMuttalab (son of a 70-year-old Katsina richman-banker) made world news.
Now outside the fact that both of them are male, have first names of Umar, are from Katsina State and are Nigerians, that is where the comparison ends.
Let me address each of them seriatim.
Umar Musa Yar’Adua: Our President That is Missing – or is he a Hostage?
Sickness (often considered mental and long-term) and illness (often considered physical and short-term) in human beings are normal and to be expected. When you are a private person, invariably these are private affairs. However, when you are the president of a country of 150 million people, to be sick or ill and to consider that private is itself sick.
That conclusion is where we are right now when.
Since November 23, 2009, when President Yar’Adua collapsed and was rushed to a Jeddah hospital in Saudi Arabia where he had gone a number of times before, 99.99% of Nigeria’s citizens who elected him have not seen him (either via video tape or still pictures) or heard him (via any audio/video tape), despite all pleas. For the first time, his medical condition of acute percarditis was officially disclosed upon his November departure, but his handlers have since been playing hide-and-seek both with his true medical condition, as well as his exact whereabouts – country, hospital or recovery villa, or even grave-site.
However, suddenly, on December 23, 2009, we learnt that he signed a Supplementary Budget for 2009 after reviewing it for ninety whole minutes – with no documentary evidence whatsoever, audio, video or still picture for re-assurance that he did indeed sign it himself. Imagine a “father” sending his “children” no Christmas message or New Year’s Message or even note of gratitude for earnestly praying for him while sick – yet he has enough presence of send them money for school fees?
Something does not compute here.
As a result, a cottage industry of rumor-mongering has now developed, with the usual “reliable sources” telling us that:
- He has died, and only a convenient time is being sought to break the awful news; in the time being, his wife and inner courtiers will be ruling on his behalf, while faking his being alive.
- He is in a vegetative state, either in Saudi Arabia (least probable) or in Germany (most probable), and that because of his multiple-organ problems and long-term illness, only a miracle (which his wife and political handlers are still hoping and praying for) can save him;
- He is actually now in a recovery mode, either in Saudi Arabia, Germany or even Nigeria. He is even reported to have talked to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, House Speaker Bankole and Senate President Mark ever so “briefly” (a few minutes, in low whispers) a few days ago after the Mutallab bombing – his first body “movement” since December 23 when he “signed’ the supplementary budget? The theory here is that what his handlers are just waiting for is to spring his surprise return on the Nigerian people any day now, to great “Shout Alleluias!” and “Allahu akbars” and to shame the “nattering nabob of nay-sayers” and anti-democratic “enemies of progress.”
Another outcome of all this hide-and-seek is a cottage industry of activism, both political and legal, surrounding what is fast becoming a ridiculous international embarrassment:
- Kicking off on December 1, 2009 (with a follow-up on December 20), The G-53+, a group of human rights activists and politicians, made demands of the President, the Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly to do the right thing, either to temporarily hand over power to the Vice-President (as “Acting President”) – who happens to be Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, from the Southern State of Bayelsa in the volatile Niger-Delta oil-basin - or to initiate steps to determine the permanent incapacitation or otherwise of the president in preparation for declaring the position vacant. So far, these patriotic citizens have been rebuffed.
- Lawyer Femi Falana (on December 15, 2009, joined later by hundreds of Nigerians at home and abroad), former Rep. Farouk Adamu Aliyu and Sani Gabbas (on December 23), and the Nigerian Bar Association (on December 29) have filed three separate law suits – with the hapless and wily Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa as a defendant in all of them – to force the same things.
- Two additional groups of Nigerians – 100 Lawyers of Conscience (on January 1, 2010), and Save Nigeria Group (January 7) – have made their own demands, including of the Saudi royal house, with the former group offering to go (or set up a delegation to go) to Saudi Arabia to determine the true situation of the president’s medical condition if only to obtain a “proof of life”, and the latter planning to mount protests around the world. There is an underlying implication of either complicity in deceit with a power cabal inside Nigeria, or outright hostage-taking by the Saudi government.
- Some Nigerians have issued a Missing Person’s poster for President Yar’Adua – see Appendix.
Almost every section of the Constitution – well, from Sections 140 to 149, for I exaggerate a bit – is being thrown at the president, the Federal Executive Council, the National Assembly and the courts – to get them all to do the right thing.
Why must Nigerian citizens be treated this way? It must be a result of a disconnection between the President and the electorate, his political Party and the People. For if they felt that they would indeed have to fight to return for a renewal of an electoral mandate, they would not be acting this way. However since the previous mandates in 2003 and 2007 were stolen – with the help of INEC, the Police and the Supreme Court – their reasoning must be “why can’t the next one be stolen too?” This mentality must also be a factor in the stalling and dilly-dallying over reforms of the Electoral Law and the Constitution.
With a president missing for almost fifty days now, this whole affair has turned ridiculous, even internationally embarrassing, with Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC tongue-in-cheek questioning recently whether he is “secretly dead”, and a young Nigerian drama-couple parodying on video the possibility of remote ruling from Saudi Arabia via Blackberry. Watch:
Nigeria Missing its President?
On the Lighter Side: Mutallab and Yar’Adua
So let the world hear it again from Nigerians – Our President is Missing, and We Are Earnestly Looking for Him.
Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab: The Christmas Day Terrorist
CNN became a harbinger of bad news for Nigerians and world citizens alike on Christmas Day 2009 when, for a millionth time, it reminded us that a “Nigerian terrorist” had been apprehended and prevented from suicidally blowing up NW253 flight from Amsterdam as it approached Detroit. His name was later given as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. Eventually his picture and pedigree surfaced: a handsome Black 23-year-old but pocket-sized male, engineering school graduate of the University College, London, a business-school student and son of a rich Nigerian banker who had actually “ratted” on the recent erratic behavior of his son to the American Embassy (on November 18, 2009) and to Nigerian security officials in Abuja, a disclosure which apparently went unheeded.
Born in Nigeria on December 22, 1986, we can roughly trace his latest movements long after leaving Nigeria: Lome (Togo, secondary boarding school, 1998-June 2005), Yemen (till August 2005, to study Arabic for three months), to London (September 2005-November 2008, University College, London June graduate) to the United States (August 2008), to Egypt, to Dubai (UAE; January to July 2009, University of Wollongong, an Australian public university in Dubai, incomplete MBA study) to Yemen (August to December 2009, for more Arabic studies), then back to Dubai for a flight to Addis Ababa then Accra (arriving December 9, on Ethiopian Airlines) to Lagos (December 24; Virgin Airlines Flight# 804) to Amsterdam (December 25,KLM flight) to Detroit (December 25; Delta/NWA Flight #253). Somewhere in between, he changed his underwear to line it with the explosive powder PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), ready to syringe some lighter-fluid into it near or at Detroit, hoping that all will explode, with the plane, himself and the rest of the passengers taken down in a fiery conflagration.
But, with gratitude to God, something went wrong, and he burnt his crotch instead. He is now an accused terrorist bomber, facing life imprisonment possibly without parole, and most likely requiring protection from other inmates for as long as he lives.
A 23-year old facing a life sentence possibly in isolation….
Nigeria – Now a Country on a Terrorism Watch List!
The worst aspect of all of this is that now, because of this errant Nigerian radicalized abroad, Nigeria has been placed on a terrorism “country of interest” list – along with Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.
What? Are we now are expected to be thankful that we were not placed on the other list, the state-sponsored terrorism nations list – along with Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan and ? Absolutely not, because there is little distinction or difference in the minds of ordinary folk out there between the two lists, and the same inconvenience will be attached to all much-travelling Nigerians, particularly in the Diaspora, who will be profiled.
For just one failed incident?
Let the world know this: on September 11, 2001 four planes were hijacked by nineteen-plus-one-persons. The hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11 were Mohamed Atta al Sayed (Egyptian), Waleed al-Shehri (Saudi Arabian), Wail al-Shehri (Saudi Arabian), Abdulaziz al-Omari (Saudi Arabian), Satam al-Suqami (Saudi Arabian). The hijackers of United Airlines Flight 175 were Marwan al-Shehhi (from the United Arab Emirates), Fayez Banihammad (from the United Arab Emirates), Mohand al-Shehri (Saudi Arabian), Hamza al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabian), Ahmed al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabian). The hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77 were Hani Hanjour (Saudi Arabian), Khalid al-Mihdhar (Saudi Arabian), Majed Moqed (Saudi Arabian), Nawaf al-Hazmi (Saudi Arabian), Salem al-Hazmi (Saudi Arabian). The hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 were Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese), Ahmed al-Haznawi (Saudi Arabian), Ahmed al-Nami (Saudi Arabian), Saeed al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabian). The 20th “hijacker” (who did not actually take part, but was part of the conspiracy) Habib Zacarias Moussaoui is a French citizen who was convicted of conspiracy in the attacks, and is now serving a life sentence without parole in the USA.
Yes - fifteen Saudi Arabians, two from UAE and one each from Egypt, Lebanon and France.
Yet, for one failed incident, Nigeria is grouped with Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, while Egypt, UAE and France are not even on the list?
What about post 9/11? The “Shoe-Bomber” Richard Reid of December 22, 2001 was from the United Kingdom, and of Jamaican ancestry. If the UK and Jamaica are not on the list, why is Nigeria on the list?
True, Nigerian national AbdulMutallab’s attempt at killing hundreds of people along with himself is heinous. True that Nigeria has witnessed domestic sectarian and criminal terrorism in various parts of Nigeria, with the government often unwilling, unable or incapable of punishing their culprits. True, the United States government should do all that it can to protect its citizens from further threat of these kinds of terrorists. But targeting Nigeria in the way that has been announced is unfair. We do not belong in a list with Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen. While we do not necessarily wish the addition of Egypt, UAE and France, or UK or Jamaica to any list – no nation with self-esteem wants to be on any terrorism list - then their omission should also dictate Nigeria’s omission, unless more information is provided to Nigeria as to any alternative thinking.
If domestic terrorism inside Nigeria by its citizens (as different from trans-national incidents) were the concern – and serious sectarian and criminal violence does occur with impunity in Nigeria from time to time - then certainly Nigeria again belongs in an international list that should include (among others) France, the UK – and the United States.
After all, in the US, we are familiar with incidents such as the serial “Unabomber” Theodore John Kaczynski (who sent/set off 16 bombs around the country to various university and airline targets between 1978 and 1995); Oklahoma city bombing (April 19, 1995; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols), the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park bombing (July 27, 1996, by Eric Robert Rudolph), the 2001 Anthrax attacks (over several weeks starting September 18, 2001), the October 2002 “DC Sniper” shootings (by John Allen Muhammad and teenage accomplice/stepson Lee Boyd Malvo that saw 13 people shot, with 10 of them killed); the Little Rock recruiting office shooting of June 1, 2009, carried out by Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (formerly called Carlos Bledsoe) that killed one soldier (William Long, aged 23) and wounded another (Quinton Ezeagwula, aged 19, clearly of Nigerian descent); the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting (June 10, 2009, by James von Brunn), the Fort Hood mass shooting (November 5, 2009, by US Army doctor Major Nidal Malik Hasan), the dozens of anti-abortion related murders, attempted murders, assaults, threats, arson, bombing and property crime particularly since 1993.
And a number of other more random shootings….
Probably the United States is on the list of other nations, with transnational “terrorists” such as
- American citizen John Phillip Walker Lindh who was captured as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan's Taliban army during the United States' 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and is now serving a 20-year prison sentence;
- American citizen José Padilla (or Abdullah al-Muhajir or Muhajir Abdullah), arrested in May 2002 and convicted in January 2008 for aiding and funding terrorists abroad. A charge of plotting a radioactive "dirty bomb" attack was later dropped.
- The still freeAdam Yahiye Gadahn (born Adam Pearlman) is an American-born senior operative, cultural interpreter, spokesman and media advisor for Al-Qaeda. Since 2004, he is reported to have appeared in a number of videos produced by Al-Qaeda as "Azzam the American".
Nigerian Reactions to the Events
The nexus between the two Umars now is that the President of Nigeria is missing while the Nigerian bombers’ saga has been unfolding – and there is a critical leadership vacuum from the Nigerian end. While President Obama disrupted his Hawai vacation three times to address press conferences on the serious incident, and has addressed the nation since, providing a comprehensive and compelling responsive road-map, President Yar’Adua remains completely incommunicado. Rather, a clutter of government officials, from Vice-President Jonathan, to Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, Information Minister Dora Akunyili, and Senate Information Chairman Eze Anayogu among others, have been speaking in his stead, with very uneven effectiveness. The 7-day ultimatum by the Senate for the USA to lift its classification of Nigeria – or else what? - was clumsy and is unenforceable, and ultimately counter-productive. Happily, the Presidency-sans-Yar’Adua has dialed back on the ultimatum, seeking more diplomatic efforts to smoothen the relationship and find a way to get Nigeria out of that hated list.
Most strident in their expression of shock have been members of the large Nigerian Diaspora worldwide, who cannot understand what could have motivated a young man from a rich parent to do the dastardly deed. Nigerians, often adjudged some of the happiest people in the world even in the face of all the adversities, political, social and economic facing them within the country, love life, and cannot simply imagine a young man attempting to blow himself up for some evil cause. At last count, at least 20 Diaspora organizations have expressed their outrage (also in an uneven manner) at AbdulMutallab’s behavior, and have urged that Nigerians not be stereotyped as terrorists.
This was even BEFORE the Nigeria-is-a-country-of-
What rankles this writer about the deluge of Diaspora Nigerian furious reaction on this matter is not only the creeping in of private, regional and even sectarian agenda in them, but the overwhelming feeling that it is the personal discomfort arising from all the attention that we will now be getting at airports around the world - not just the United States – that is worrisome. One would have hoped that the same attention were given to the various rapes of democracy that have been going on in the country for a long time now, resulting in our present political, social and economic stagnation. One would have hoped for an equal measure of outrage.
Maybe this near-miss tragedy is a wake-up call that continued and storied impunity within Nigeria can only lead to a speedy willingness to accord ill-repute to us outside of the country.
The bottom line of this essay is that we need our President back – preferably alive than dead. Whatever be the case, we need him back either as President, or we need to install an Acting President temporarily in his stead, or a substantive President to permanently replace him outright. After all, we are not running a hereditary monarchy, but a constitutional democracy.
By the way, if the Saudi Arabia Kingdom is holding our president hostage, it would be unprecedented, but she should name the ransom price.
Secondly, the long-term absence of an ambassador of Nigeria to the United States (since March 2009) is another glaring vacuum which must be corrected at the earliest possible time, coupled with the credible prevention and prosecution of all forms of domestic Nigerian terrorism.
As to AbdulMutallab, justice should be done in his case, and his trial speedily concluded so that he can quickly begin to serve his long-term sentence if that is what is imposed. However, it must be reiterated that Nigeria is NOT a terrorist state, and belongs in no such list, however couched. Hence both the United States and Nigeria should do all in their power to see that Nigeria is off that list and is not so type-cast.
Finally, the United States and ALL nations should do all in their power to stamp out both domestic and international terrorism – and any real or imagined justifications for them.
I rest my case.
Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD