My dear God, has it now become a crime to be a Nigerian? The headlines tell me so over and over again. Mutallab: Man Who Shamed Nigeria. Mutallab: The Nigerian Agent of Al Qaeda. The Boy Who Blew Nigeriaâ€™s Image.
Umar Faruq Abdulmutallabâ€™s failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner has just landed Nigeria, my country of birth, on the list of 14 nations whose nationals are going to be singled out for special checks if they want to fly to the United States. Nigeria has become a uniquely insecure travel terrorism hub, they say.
But Abdulmutallab never studied in Nigeria. He did not have â€œterror connectionsâ€ in Nigeria. Instead his initiation into terror clubs happened abroad in the countries where he was sent to study to become a better person.
Abdulmutallab went to a British high school in Togo. He studied in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt. Above all, he studied mechanical engineering at University College, London, one of the oldest in England. It makes me wonder how Nigerian parents who have sent their children to study abroad, and those children studying abroad, are looking at the story of â€œthe boy who blew Nigeriaâ€™s image.â€
I, too like Abdulmutallab, am a Nigerian student studying in the United Kingdom. I can understand the concerns of Nigerian parents like mine who sent their children abroad in hopes for a better education â€“ a Western style education. Now there is a deep concern among the same parents, especially those at home who are skeptical of the kind of â€œcultsâ€ their children are being exposed to abroad in the name of acquiring â€œthe white manâ€™sâ€ education. A study by the University of Notre Dame in 2009 found that parents tended to know only 10 percent of what their children were doing abroad.
Foreign education is no longer a safe haven. On the other hand fearful parents cannot bring their children back home either. After all, American media reports paint Nigeria as a hotbed of Al Qaeda terror. When I come back to the U.K. after Christmas break I do not know what will befall me. Will I be treated as a terror suspect because I am Nigerian? Will the U.K. government just wash its hands off me while it pockets my high tuition?
Nigerian parents and students worry whether the U.K. government is living up to its promises to protect the students in its charge. Has it allowed terrorist groups to penetrate its universities so that unsuspecting students can fall prey to their wiles? Already there is a systemic breakdown of security in U.K. institutions of higher learning. A Kingâ€™s College, London report says more and more women are reporting rapes. Nigerian parents worry about their children abroad.
Instead of demonizing Nigeria, the international press and the world at large should be honoring and celebrating the alleged terror suspectâ€™s 70-year-old father, who set aside blood bonds to report his sonâ€™s newfound religious extremism to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. I contend that he deserves a Global Citizen Award, and Nigeria should honor him with a National Merit Award. He is an exemplary Nigerian whose act of integrity should be rewarded and recognized. This might help fight terrorism by encouraging others who might have similar useful information.
Instead of ganging up on Nigeria, world powers would do well to review security policies to better protect the lives of international students. Our parents sell their pound of flesh to provide a brighter future for us. No parent would ever dream their â€œwell-behaved and humbleâ€ child — as many have described Abdulmutallab — would turn into a terrorist and end up in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of acquiring the â€œwhite manâ€™sâ€ education.
Olugu Ukpai is a Ph.D student at School of Law at the University of Reading, U.K. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.