Nigerians Outraged Over Extra U.S. Travel Scrutiny

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Nigerian Minister of Information Dora Akunyili i

Nigeria's information minister, Dora Akunyili, speaks during a press conference in Lagos, Nigeria, on Dec. 27, 2009. Sunday Alamba/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Sunday Alamba/AP
Nigerian Minister of Information Dora Akunyili

Nigeria's information minister, Dora Akunyili, speaks during a press conference in Lagos, Nigeria, on Dec. 27, 2009.

Sunday Alamba/AP

After the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, the United States imposed new security measures on travelers from 14 nations, including Nigeria. Those travelers now face full body searches, among other requirements.

The suspect in the Christmas Day incident is Nigerian, and the new U.S. screening requirements have created a stir in Nigeria, infuriating people in the West African nation. Headlines in the country suggest that Nigerians are being treated like lepers.

In an interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Nigeria's minister of information, Dora Akunyili, says that other countries have not been subject to the same measures following similar incidents.

'Unfair Discrimination'

"If extra scrutiny would be given to travelers from all over the world, that's fine," Akunyili says. "But when few countries are singled out, and Nigeria is one of those few countries, then it becomes very painful to us, especially when we know that in this country we don't have terrorist tendencies. We feel that this is unfair discrimination. The population [of Nigeria] is over 150 million people — we are being defined by the behavior of one person."

Akunyili points out that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged attempted bomber, spent almost his entire life outside Nigeria. He attended secondary school in Togo, university in London and postgraduate studies in Dubai. After leaving Dubai, he went to Yemen.

Abdulmutallab's father disapproved of his behavior, Akunyili says, and even reported him.

"How many fathers would report their children?" she says. "I can easily remember in 2001, we had the British shoe bomber. When he was caught, his country was not stigmatized. It was clear to the world that this was one human being acting on his own. So we would have loved to be treated the same way."

Conflict, Not Terrorism

Although Nigeria's track record includes religious conflicts involving Islamic groups, Akunyili says the country does not struggle with extremism.

"If Al-Qaida could recruit in Nigeria, why did [Abdulmutallab] need to go outside the country to get recruited?" she says. "We don't have al-Qaida in Nigeria; we don't have people that would indulge in terrorists, any form of suicide bombing. It's not in our culture. ... Once in a while, not too often, we have religious conflict. Which has died down; it has not happened for some time now. Yes, I accept it has happened in the past. But that's not terrorism. That is conflict."

The new security measures are a hot topic of discussion in Nigeria right now, Akunyili says, and have left many feeling upset.

"Nigerians travel a lot," she says. "And when you are discriminated against in the airport, it can be very humiliating."

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