Since the end of the fall semester, I had been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to write this article because I knew it would be my final article to appear in the Multicultural Affairs section of Le Provocateur. At the start of the holidays, I made the decision to use this article as an opportunity to reflect on my undergraduate experience here at Assumption; an experience that has been nothing short of fulfilling. I intended to touch on key parts of my experience here at Assumption where I had made progress in both my personal and leadership development, with the hopes of ending the article with a personal message to some of the students, asking them to take advantage of the opportunities available to them here at Assumption. On Friday, December 25, 2009 that idea for this article was immediately thrown out the window.
Sitting in the living room of my uncle's apartment in Falls Church, Virginia, barely a week after my mum had arrived from Nigeria to spend the holidays with my brother and I, my world was turned on its head as I heard the news of the attempted terror attack aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. My heart sunk once I heard that the suspect was a Nigerian national. A mixture of sadness and disappointment ran through me as more details of the incident on Flight 253 were revealed. It was on that December morning that I decided to use this article as an avenue to express some of my thoughts on the incident on Flight 253.
Nigeria is a country with an extensive history and rich culture. This is a country with more than 250 ethnic groups and where over 500 languages are spoken. Beyond its culture, with its abundant supply of natural resources, Nigeria boasts a thriving economy and has been cited as one of the "Next Eleven" - countries identified as having a high potential of becoming the world's largest economies in the 21st century. Nigeria has given birth to the likes of Wole Soyinka, the first African Nobel Laureate in Literature and Chinua Achebe, the father of modern African writing. For these reasons and many more, I am proud to be Nigerian. Nevertheless, all of my pride is still unable to blanket the infamous name Nigeria has created for itself on the international scene.
Nigerians are often associated with being famous for corruption, particularly e-mail fraud, and movies such as District 9 have only served to promote this stereotype by negatively depicting Nigerians as criminals and cannibals. As of December 25, 2009, because of the actions of one man, Nigeria is now identified with terrorism, as proven by our recent addition to the Transportation Security Administration's "countries of interest" list. Nigerians, both within and outside the country, have protested our addition to this list, including former federal capital territory minister Nasir El-Rufai. In a letter to President Barack Obama, El-Rufai expressed, among other things, "profound sadness and distress" on behalf of all Nigerians for the incident on Flight 253. His letter was an attempt to start repairing Nigeria's international relationship with the United States; a relationship which I recognize one letter will not salvage.
I am in no way concerned with the political ramifications of the incident on Flight 253, rather I am concerned with the plight of Nigerians following that incident. Because of the attempted terror attack aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, Nigerians will inevitably be stereotyped as terrorists or simply "bad people," none of which sit well with me. Another Nigerian who was on the same Northwest Airlines flight couldn't have said it better when he said, "if you are Nigerian, and you are Muslim and your name is Abdul, then what people will think about is - the bomber." I recognize that it is impossible for me to control the perceptions of Nigerians across the globe even if I tried, but the least I can do is to try to shed some light on what impact the incident on Flight 253 will have on the everyday Nigerian.
I would like to ask that you take the time to reason with me for a moment. I would like to ask that you look at this situation from a different point of view, maybe not necessarily my perspective, but that of the average Nigerian. What happens now to the student whose sole goal is to attain the best education available, but has thwarted dreams of studying at an American college or university? What happens now to the father or mother whose children lives in the United States, but runs the risk of not being able to see them again? What happens now?
You might argue that you would never stereotype or profile a Nigerian, but simply because you have made that personal choice doesn't guarantee that the next person will do the same. We have to accept the fact there are people who will engage in reckless stereotyping, but I am asking that you not be such a person or condone any stereotypical behavior. Does an entire ethnic group, nation or continent have to pay for the actions of one individual?
I would like to clarify that this is in no way an attempt to justify the irrational and unjust actions of the individual who attempted to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. His attempt to destroy the plane would have denied 290 people of their fundamental human right to life and I am incapable of excusing such a heinous act. All I am asking is that we treat every Nigerian we meet with the same love and understanding that we would want to receive. This goes for not just Nigerians, but for all people. In times like this, regardless of religious or political affiliations, I am sure we can all agree that the golden rule still stands true.
That being said, I can assure you that I will not be joining any "Get Us off That List: Nigerians Are Not Terrorists" Facebook groups or peddling any "Nigeria Is Against Terrorism" t-shirts. Rather, I will continue to strive to be the best person I can be because, like my brother alluded to, "I have to do even more to prove myself as a decent human being."