Of Commentaries, Reactions and Over-Reactions

By | January 12, 2010

My column of this week.

December 25, 2009: A Nigerian-born male, with secondary education in Togo and university education in London, said to have been radicalized during his university days in London, and to have been further radicalized in Yemen, attempted to detonate an ‘incendiary device’ that he had sown into his underwear before getting on a flight to Detroit. The situation was contained with the help of fellow passengers.

The flight originated from Amsterdam Schiphol airport, where the airport security failed to detect the said ‘incendiary device’.

The first reaction of the American Transportation Security Administration was to immediately announce a one-hour rule. This means, among other things, that nobody on a flight bound for the United States is allowed to leave their seat during the last hour of the flight, not even to go to the toilet.

Reacting to this, some commentators complained about how it seems that the US is playing catch-up with terrorists. They wondered whether terrorists would actually repeat their last failed tactic.

Shortly after the news of the Detroit terror attempt, there were debates in the media about whether or not a full-body scanner would have detected that there was some foreign article in the underwear, and if so, whether it would not be better to have full-body scanners in all airports. One should point out that now would be a good time to invest in the shares of companies that manufacture said scanners.

January 3, 2010: The American Transportation Security Administration declared Nigeria ‘a country of special interest’ and added it to a list of countries whose citizens would have to go through ‘enhanced screening’.

Commentators wondered whether it was really wise to alienate potential allies in the fight against extremist Islam, pointing out that Nigerians had done all they could to stop the situation, and that ultimately, it was American officials who dropped the proverbial ball.

Other commentators wondered at the generalization about a country from one isolated case, especially since there was nothing in the young man’s past to suggest that he had been radicalized, or had radicalized others, in Nigeria.

In reply to these, other commentators stressed the fact that Nigeria could be a hotbed of terrorism, especially because there have been what have been largely termed religious violence in the Northern part of the country. In counter-reaction, some pointed out that this is an overtly simplistic take on violent conflicts that are a lot more political than religious.

January 6, 2010: The Nigerian Senate gave the United States a seven-day ultimatum to remove the name of the country from the list. They threatened the severance of diplomatic with the United States if the United States refuses to remove the name of the country from the list.

On the same day, Mrs. Dora Akunyili, Information Minister and rebrander-in-chief of Nigeria, who had earlier tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to distance Nigeria from the young man with poor taste in underwear, said that the inclusion of Nigeria on the list had ‘the potential of undermining long-standing and established US-Nigeria bilateral ties and the goodwill the US enjoys in Nigeria’.

January 7, 2010: Barack Obama, the American President said, at a press conference, ‘we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don’t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust.’

Some commentators said that this was in reaction to those who said that United States was now suffering from a ‘siege mentality’ by introducing measures that some see as becoming, on the one hand, increasingly invasive of individual privacy, and on the other, increasingly isolationist.

Glaringly absent was any mention of the threat by the African superpower.

January 8, 2010: Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of a president whose state of mind and health remain largely unknown, allayed fears of any confrontation. He said, ‘we cannot be talking about ultimatum at this stage.’ He also said that the two countries would avoid a potential face-off by resorting to diplomatic solutions to the issue.

To which Petrodollar-land heaved a sigh of relief.