It is itself a surprise to me that we are responding to the issue of the alleged Nigerian suicide bomber/terrorist if it was totally unpredictable. We want to condemn it, we are disappointed by what Umar is alleged to have done and the added shame and disrepute that has brought upon Nigeria, but it would be wrong to suggest that there are no fundamentalist strains in Nigeria. They abound.
The recent Boko Haram incident, and the way muslims in Northern Nigeria reacted to the 2005 Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) by setting churches on fire suggest that we must have been breeding this kind of people, and we are probably more capable of breeding them with possibly little outside influence than we presently imagine.
A series of troubling but interesting events happened in close succession, within the space of two years, when I was a student at Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU) Ile-Ife. For those who are not very familiar with Nigeria, OAU is arguably the most Yoruba and also possibly the most politically active and intellectually progressive of Nigerian universities.
Obafemi Awolowo Hall (popularly called Awo Hall) is well known as the most politically active, hilarious, fun loving and liberal residential hall within the university. Awo Hall also has a long standing tradition, dating back about twenty years or more, of the free screening of pornography videos in the hall’s TV Room every Friday evening. There is incidentally a make shift mosque just across the lawn from the TV Room in what used to be the kitchen attached to a dinning cafe where students used to eat when the Nigerian government provided free food for university students. The tradition of Friday evening porn predates the existence of the make shift mosque, which according to the university was even an illegal creation in the first place. Suddenly one Friday evening the leaders of the Muslim group in the hall stormed into the TV room and seized the DVD player. The incident eventually degenerated into a free for all fight that resulted in a two-week university closure.
There was another occasion when a girl was beaten up for dressing “inappropriately” while visiting the hall (Awo is a male residential hall). The muslim brothers retreated into the mosque after the onslaught and they wouldn’t allow anyone who wasn’t a muslim to approach for questions and a demand of apopogy. They held sticks and other weapons, prepared to attack the uninvited. It was strange and scary. I had to step in, having been a rather good friend of the Awo Hall mosque as I had been spotted entring the mosque to take part in prayers, and having subsequently attracted a couple of the more senior members of the mosque who tried to convert me to Islam, albeit unsuccessfully. Thankfully, we were able to get them to apologise in the long run, an act that eventually that brought the mattter to rest.
A third one occured when a girl was married off to a fellow student by fellow students within one of Mosques in the university without the knowledge of either party’s parents. The girl subsequently decided to cut off all communication with her family. After several weeks of failed attempts at reaching her, the girl’s parents had to visit the university to confirm what had happened to their daughter. She had been transformed from a regular muslim lady to one that covers her face, she was already pregnant and she wasn’t going to see her parents when they eventually visited.
I once had a “friend,” a Nigerian who told me that he would kill me in the event of a holy war! He wasn’t joking.
Mild as these incidents were, what they show is that for these to happen in the liberal south, at the very bastion of southwestern Nigeria liberalism, you can imagine what possibly goes on in the north where some states already practice the Islamic Sharia legal system.
I don’t think that Umar did what he is alleged to have done simply because he is from a rich, privileged family or from northern Nigeria. He simply had good access to radicalising influences, or is it the other way round? There are thousands of Nigerians, I’m sure, who would go the same way if only they had the same kind of access Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had, and we should not be oblivious of this important fact as we discuss this unfortunate incident.