Nigeria’s vice president yesterday urged citizens of Africa’s most populous country to provide better guidance to its youth after one of its own was accused of trying to blow up a US airliner.
The OPEC member is desperate to convince the world Nigeria is a safe place and that its 140 million citizens should not be punished for the actions of suspected plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
“Yes we have our social problems but certainly not suicide bombing. This is completely alien to Nigeria,” Vice President Goodluck Jonathan told a news conference in the capital Abuja.
Since Monday the United States has implemented tighter security measures for Nigerian air travellers, prompting warnings from Nigeria that this could jeopardise bilateral ties.
People flying from Nigeria to the United States must undergo the same checks now as people from Iran, Afghanistan and Cuba.
The United States is Nigeria’s largest trade partner by far, accounting for nearly 45% of its exports, mainly crude oil, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Abdulmutallab, 23, was indicted by a US grand jury earlier this week on six counts related to the Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound airliner carrying nearly 300 people.
Jonathan, who has been representing President Umaru Yar’Adua at official functions while the leader is in hospital overseas, urged “improved guidance and support for Nigerian youths, particularly those in the creative arts and sports”.
The West African country has been at pains to point out that Abdulmutallab spent most of his life outside Nigeria.
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 master’s degree in Dubai. He also took study trips to Yemen.
“If the vision of our youths is positive, then Nigeria has hope for a bright future.
Therefore, the preparation and encouragement we give to the younger generation matters a lot,” Jonathan said.
The suspected plane bomber’s link to Nigeria has been a significant setback for the country’s efforts to shed its reputation for corruption.
President Yar’Adua last year launched a rebranding campaign with the slogan: “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation,” and started a nationwide initiative to promote “Made In Nigeria” products over foreign imports.