LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria described on Monday as unfair its inclusion alongside Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen on a list of countries whose air travellers will face tighter screening on journeys to the United States.
The procedures, which take effect on Monday, follow the botched Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound U.S. airline blamed on Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who U.S. officials believe was trained by al Qaeda in Yemen.
Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili — who has been spearheading a “rebranding Nigeria” campaign since last year meant to shed the country’s reputation for corruption — said Abdulmutallab’s act was a “one-off” and that it was unfair to punish the rest of the nation as a result.
The U.S. list includes passengers travelling from or through nations listed as “state sponsors of terrorism” — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
“Abdulmutallab’s behaviour is not reflective of Nigeria and should therefore not be used as a yardstick to judge all Nigerians. It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person,” Akunyili said.
“He was not influenced in Nigeria, he was not recruited or trained in Nigeria, he was not supported whatsoever in Nigeria,” she told Reuters by telephone.
Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on December 25 with almost 300 people on board. He transferred to that flight from a KLM flight from Lagos.
The son of a well-respected banker from northern Nigeria, he was educated at a boarding school in Togo before studying engineering at University College, London and doing a masters degree in Dubai. He also took study trips to Yemen.
Nigeria has said Abdulmutallab spent less than half an hour in transit in Lagos airport on December 24, when he boarded the flight to Amsterdam, and that he had arrived from Ghana.
Ghana’s deputy information minister said on Monday Abdulmutallab arrived in Ghana on December 9 from Dubai and left on December 24 for Lagos and that the country was unaware of any security alert on him during that time.
The United States asked airports and airlines around the world to tighten security after the foiled attack, which raised questions about how Abdulmutallab had been able to get explosive materials onto the plane despite higher security worldwide since the September 11, 2001 hijacked airline attacks.
Nigeria, along with other countries including the Netherlands, has said it will start using full-body scanners at its international airports to try to prevent such a security breach happening again.
But the West African country, split roughly equally between a predominantly Muslim north and Christian south, has also been at pains to point out that while Abdulmutallab may have been one of its citizens, he spent most of his life outside the country.
“(He) was a well-behaved child from a responsible family who developed the ugly tendency to do what he tried to do because of his exposure outside the shores of Nigeria,” Akunyili said.