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Date Published: 02/13/10

Setting Agenda for Acting President Goodluck Jonathan on Counterterrorism. By Oludare Ogunlana


On December 25, 2009, Umar  Farouk Abdul Muttallab announced himself to the whole world when he  attempted to bomb a Northwest Airline jet on the soil of the United States of America. The operation was carefully planned by the Al-Qaeda group in Yemen and their deadly gift was to be delivered by Mutallab - a young Nigerian - on Christmas Day. Nigeria was immediately and erroneously branded a terrorist-breeding nation.  Of course, the action of Mutallab is called terrorism and he is a terror agent of Al-Quada.  While most families in the Northern Nigeria where Farouk was born cannot afford basic education and living in abject poverty, Farouk happens to be one of the privileges few that his father was able to send abroad to study from elementary to university level in the United Kingdom.

According to the Times Online, Mutallab was "groomed" by al-Qaeda while he was a student in London.  As President of the Islamic Society at the University College, London, he organized lectures where members discussed the war on terror, jihad, and Guantanamo Bay among other things.  The Times also notes that Mutallab is the fourth President of the Society to face terrorist-related charges in the last three years”.

Terrorism is not new; this phenomenon has a history that is longer than the modern nation-state. Terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents. The term "international terrorism" means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.

The sad event forced President Obama to cut short his vacation. In his address to Americans , he admitted that there were “intelligence and systemic failures” and affirmed that his government is ready to work around the clock to correct such mistakes in order to prevent future occurrences. While Americans were busy working to get to the root of the matter, Nigerian government officials embarked on a “blame game”, shifting responsibility to Ghana, the Netherlands, and even the United States.

Farouk’s action did not only embarrass an entire nation, it put paid to the ambitions of many young Nigerians to further their education in the United States. Presently, Nigeria has been listed among the countries of “interest”, visa procedures have been reviewed, and Nigerians travelling abroad are now being subjected to humiliating searches at international airports all over the world.

It is ridiculous and fundamentally unsound that the Nigeria president has never sent a high-powered delegation to the United States to discuss this issue. There is no telling whether President Yar’Adua has expressed Nigeria’s concern and embarrassment over the incident since it occurred. After all, he was able to speak to the entire world via the BBC World Service from his sick bed.

It is quite unfortunate that the Nigerian government has not yet taken adequate practical action to convince the world that the country is willing and able to fight terrorism by adopting stringent counterterrorism policies to deal with the current situation.

Mr. Jonathan should, as a matter of urgency visit the White House to express Nigeria’s regrets over the Mutallab case and negotiate with and reassure the US government on her commitment to the Global War Against Terrorism with the ultimate aim of removing Nigeria from the US list of “countries of interest’. There is no doubt that Nigeria’ readiness to act, as can best be evidenced by a comprehensive and proactive counterterrorism policy will be a determining factor in achieving this feat.

Acting President Jonathan should make this as a priority by designing strong counterterrorism policies that supersede the mass killings and extra-judicial murders witnessed during the “Boko Haram” crisis. The best goal of any counterterrorism effort is to prevent radicalization by helping to deal with terrorist-spawning grievances like injustice, man-made poverty, corruption, and electoral fraud.

The government must rather develop public diplomacy strategies that delegitimize terrorism through poverty alleviation, creating employment opportunities for young people, providing free education, and building static infrastructure that can support strategic development. It was noted in Mutallab’s interrogation that the Al-Qaeda found him to be vulnerable because he was lonely and confused. The government must work with civil society organizations to embark on a “war of ideas” to kill the seeds of terrorism growing in the hearts of idle young people in Nigeria. Public lectures, symposia, and media campaigns should be organized to reach out to young people on campuses, in places of worship, and workplaces to dissuade young people from acts of terrorism.

Other steps are zero tolerance for terrorism; designating select organizations as terrorist groups; providing rapid response teams for domestic terrorist incidents; delivering creative and flexible antiterrorism and counterterrorism finance; training for law enforcement agencies, and enhancing border security.

Combating terrorism consists of two separate but coordinated actions: counterterrorism and antiterrorism. Counterterrorism is the use of personnel and resources to preempt, disrupt, or destroy the capabilities of terrorists and their support networks. Counterterrorism is inherently an offensive approach to the threat of terrorism; it involves the use of diplomacy, intelligence operations, law enforcement, military operations, and counterterrorism training.

Antiterrorism is the use of defensive measures, including response and containment, to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property to terrorist acts,. Antiterrorism includes defensive measures at borders, ports, and airports designed to detect or thwart terrorists. Success in the struggle against terrorism requires equally effective defense and offensive measures.

When confronting terrorism, democratic governments must recognize not only who they are fighting, but what they are fighting for. Of course, there are general principles that should guide a democratic society's anti- terrorism policy:

       A commitment to the rule of law: When democracies do not adhere to their own laws, terrorists use it as propaganda against the government. Actions to combat terrorism must be seen as legal before they can warrant public support.

       A common definition of terrorism: Without a common perception of what the threat is, it is difficult to develop appropriate, suitable and effective countermeasures.

       Deeds must equal words: If a state says it will act against a terrorist threat, then it must act. Failure to act against a credible terrorist threat does considerable damage to a nation's credibility and its international reputation.

       There is no simple solution to terrorism: Governments and their publics must realize that terrorism has been around for centuries, and it will remain with us for a long time to come. There is no magic bullet, there are no easy solutions, and there will never be a clean victory.

Oludare Ogunlana is of Department of Homeland Security, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, MD, USA.

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