From Watch List to Victim List – The Mutallab Factor

I have never been prouder to be a Nigerian until lately. Negativity of my standard of living in Nigeria was one reason for that delusion. Then wham, out of the blues, a demented indoctrinated young Nigerian caused the U.S. government to hastily place Nigeria, in its entirety, on that government's terrorism watch list. For the sin of 1 in 150 million Nigerians, many law abiding Nigerians and I are presumed guilty. As a single passport holder (Nigerian), there is really no hiding place for me if you really look at it. However, mathematically the odds of adversity are not on our side. Nigeria thus becomes a victim overnight and appears no longer the perpetrator in the eyes of the world. Those created in the image of God are naturally siding with us (the underdog). That is the reverse impact of a mixing of an unfortunate warped ideological brainwashing of a Nigerian and a hasty reaction of the intended victim.

There was outrage about the intent of that young Nigerian. An unwelcomed loss of life would have accompanied what he intended to wreck on board that Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day in 2009. Every Nigerian, as I did, was initially ashamed to be a Nigerian and that feeling would have lingered for a long time if the U.S. government did not abandon, without deep thinking, the rule of law which the U.S. had championed in the past. The presumption of quilt on the rest of all other Nigerians seems quite unfortunate particularly coming from a government headed by a constitutional lawyer – Barrak Obama. The listing of Nigeria in the U.S. government terrorism watch list came about a week before I left Nigeria for a trip abroad and the post travel feeling was nostalgic to say the least.

My trip outside the country had been planned before Christmas day 2009 and a must go. All my friends were happy it was not them travelling outside the country first. They made me promise to let them know the kind of reception I got outside the country. I had further worries because my son was also going back to the U.S. a day after mine on 10 January 2010. He sports a Taliban-like beard, but he looks cute. A friend reminded me, when I complained, that I was like that at his age - always wearing the Teddy Pendergrass look. All appeals to make him shave it off were rebuffed by him – after all, the intended Nigerian bomber was clean-shaven, he insisted. It was with these sour feelings that I proceeded to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos for my outward journey on the night of 9 January 2010.

I had earlier on that day, some 5 hours before my flight, gone to the airport to check in the only check-in bag I was travelling with. I went back home to have some rest, but you bet, I did not have any because of the anticipation of what laid ahead. The first confirmation of what the trip would look like was evident in Lagos - you can trust my people. The queue was the longest I had ever experienced and the air conditioners were ineffective. It was one hundred percent search as promised by the vice president of Nigeria. There was no Body Scanner but I still felt naked, thanks to the overzealous security officers - those were more catholic than the pope. Conversely, from the time we boarded the Air France Boeing 777 and to my surprise, it was a treatment of smiles and respect. The reverse of what I thought laid ahead was what we got.

Our destination, Paris, was in the nick of time – on schedule at 6 o' clock in the morning. I proceeded to immigration and for the first time in a long time, I was proud to flash my green passport. Some unexplained reserve of nervous energy and vigour could be why I felt that way. Why? It is a feeling of realisation that I have only one country of allegiance. I am stuck to being a Nigerian even if my country is on trial. I can as well stand on that line without crossing it and be ready to fight. The border agent in Paris, to my surprise, gave me a genuine smile when I handed over my green Nigerian passport to him. He checked for whatever on my passport, stamped it and said, ‘Have a nice stay.' I spent less than a minute with him and to me that was a record particularly after seeing him grill some non Euro state white folks that were with him before my turn. Customs did not even stop me or my colleagues, but all the baggage from Port Harcourt and Lagos had "Scanned" sticker on them - the reason they came late to the carrousel at Baggage Claim

My next anticipation was what my son would experience in the U.S. proper. After he arrived at Buffalo, New York he sent us an arrival notice to my box. I was on the Internet in my hotel in Terbes, Lourdes, France when I was alerted. I placed a call to him immediately. ‘How was it,' I inquired with worry. ‘Dad, it was the best treatment I ever got from the U.S. border agency. They treated all of us with respect, and the body search was for everybody and did not particularly target Nigerians,' he said happily. Now, what was all the fuss about? Is Nigeria being sympathised with even by U.S. citizens because of the unjust placement of the country in the American government hate-list? Nigerians are everything but terrorists and the whole world knows that, even the U.S. officials know that. There is only one damage control left to the U.S. government and that is to de-list us from the terrorism watch list. Otherwise, the other heinous tendencies of the real bad guys amongst us could be clouded in sympathies and that may not be too good for everybody –us and them.

Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick

Terbes, Lourdes,