Nigeria's bin-Laden cheerleaders could ignite religious war, destabilize Africa

Special to, and USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston.

It was Henry Kissinger who, in a mocking comment about his hectic job and unending flares of international security problems, during his tenure in the 1970s as U.S. Secretary of State said: "There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full." Apparently, Nigeria's president, former retired army General Olusegun Obasanjo took Kissinger's sardonic wit on its face value. What else can one make of the "I don't worry" comments of Nigeria's frequent-flyer president. Obasanjo was "on schedule" to travel overseas to the enchanting beauty of Paris (France) while the country he was (s)elected to lead was already burning and bleeding from the rabid excesses of the fanatical cheerleaders and religio-political zombies who demonstrated in support of Osama bi-Laden mid-October in the predominantly Muslim, historic city of Kano. Hundreds have since died while churches, mosques and shops were set on fire.

Even if Gen. Obasanjo (picture right: waves aboard Nigeria's presidential jet on another foreign trip) continues his "I don't worry" posture of fatal reluctance in dealing with such national security issues, should concerned Nigerians, the international community and Houston be worried?

Yes; here's why.

First, Nigeria which celebrated its 41st year of political "independence" from Britain on October 1, holds strategic value and leverage in Africa, and has been the focus of interest for the likes of Libya's Muammar Ghaddafi who has been funding and financing "centers of Islamic learning" in such places as Zamfara State where the Islamic Sharia law was first formalized in Nigeria (applicable in 10 out of Nigeria's 36 States). The "graduates", "instructors" and "students" have, reportedly, been on the frontline of previous and recent emanations of zealotry, anti-Semitism and religious violence. "

Second, as has been argued by mainstream Christian, Jewish and Islamic scholars, it is blasphemous to commit murder in "God's name." What, therefore, is the rational explanation for any member(s) of Nigerian and African Muslim communities to serve as foot soldiers and cheerleaders for the Middle Eastern fraternity of terror, the enablers and executioners of the September 11 terror, which killed Nigerians and dozens of Africans and thousands of Americans? What are the substantial factors undelrining why they kill fellow Nigerians and giddily cheer for Osama bin-Laden? (in picture right).

I recall that it was the late but great Martin Luther King, Jr. who warned, "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." Their ignorance is complicated by ancient hatreds. And, Micron said, "Hatred is toxic waste in the river of life." It drains rational judgment, too!

Third, the inter-connectedness of global security, oil business, imperatives of trade and demographics/heritage make events in far-away Nigeria important for Houston business titan Ken Lay, congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Lee Brown, civil rights leader Howard Jefferson and thousands of Nigerian and American families across the Harris county and the U.S. Houston's oil, gas, engineering and power generation companies and their employees/investors will be affected if these conflicts continue. I've had to respond to inquiries at from concerned mothers and wives whose family members are in Nigeria, who ask "what's going on there, again…?" Houston is home to second highest residency of Nigerians outside in the U.S. A refugee problem inside Nigeria will have social and logistical demands on this city, and others in the U.S.

Third, those zealots directly threaten Nigeria's geopolitical foundations as a country of 110 million. The former leader of the Republic of Biafra (which seceded from Nigeria in 1967), Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu told me recently that such religious conflicts in the same key cities and across the northern region of Nigeria where thousands of Igbos and other easterners were massacred from 1966-1967 compelled the declaration of the now-defunct Biafra. He cautioned, "Not much has changed. The lives and properties are many of our people are still threatened and destroyed." Add to the fact all of Nigeria's major and minor ethnic groups have armed groups who have sworn to die for their "self-determination."

Fourth, some of those pro-bin Laden groups drunken with their concoction of bloody fanaticisms ignited events which have since led to the deaths of at least 4,000 Nigerian since Obasanjo took over power on May 29, 1999. In February 2000, 2,100 people were killed in religious conflicts in the predominantly Islamic city of Kaduna. Last month, in Jos, almost 700 died in clashes between Muslims and Christians. In the southwestern city of Oshogbo and around Lagos, Yorubas and Hausas have had bloody conflicts in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Fifth, those dogmatists endanger Nigeria's return to democracy. Religious conflicts have become a holier-than-thou mechanism for the continuation of the struggle over who governs Nigeria, when and how. But Nigerians and other Africans should learn from Senegal's democratically-elected president Abdoulaye Wade, a member of the Mouride Islamic sect whose wife is a French Christian. I was in Senegal regarding former President Bill Clinton's visit in April 1998 to parts of Africa, and I'm aware of the fact that, although, Senegal's population is almost 90 percent Muslim, Islamic fundamentalism is not common.

In this quest to make the world relatively safer, it is important to note the views of John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. and the author of several books on Islam, including The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? He wrote that "While some governments and experts identify Islamic fundamentalism as a major threat to the stability of their societies and to global politics, others point out that it is important to distinguish between authentic populist movements that are willing to participate within the system and rejectionists who seek to topple governments through violent revolution."

On a lighter note, Kissinger would have responded with his trademark guttural laugh if I sent him a comparative profile of Gen. Obasanjo's bulging domestic responsibilities vis-à-vis the same president's record-breaking global travels schedule. It's just that Kissinger did not mean it when he said "There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full." And, mine, too!

Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), is Founder and Publisher of (first African-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet), USAfrica The Newspaper, and The Black Business Journal. He also serves as an adviser to the Mayor of Houston on international business (Africa) and appears as an analyst on CNN, VOA, NPR, CBS News, NBC and ABC news affiliates. (October 17, 2001)
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