I was struck by an opinion article published today in the Washington Post by Lekan Oguntoyinbo, a U.S.-based Nigerian journalism professor. In discussing the foiled terrorist attack of the young Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the media celebrity of the moment, Oguntoyinbo points to the much greater problem of corruption and security in Nigeria:
The problems at Nigeria’s largest airport are symptomatic of issues plaguing the West African country. Once one of Africa’s greatest hopes, Nigeria, a nation about the size of Arizona, California and Nevada combined, has become an embarrassment, a lawless country run by plutocrats. Nigeria has all the makings of a failed state: Less than half of its 148 million people have access to running water, the World Health Organization and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation have reported. Electricity is epileptic. The K-12 and public university systems are frequently beset by strikes. Roads are poor, often unpaved and unpassable. Crime is the order of the day. Nigerian police officers don’t protect and serve; their uniforms allow them to exploit, extort and oppress. If victims are not from Nigeria’s small protected class, they are sometimes murdered. Borders with neighbors such as Niger, which is known to host al-Qaeda cells, are notoriously porous.
In 1996 and 1997, Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Nigeria the world’s most corrupt country. When Nigeria came in second behind Cameroon in 1998, some joked that Nigerians had bribed the Cameroonians.
Upon reading such a description, I can’t help but think of Russia, and just in the old joke “Nigeria with rockets” comparison. Petty corruption is a major contributor and facilitator to terrorism, a topic which was often raised following the second bombing of the Nevsky Express. How much did it cost the terrorists who carried out the train bombing to gain access and intelligence? What kind of bribe does somebody need to board a plane with 80 grams of explosive powder in Lagos?
Considering that in the last Transparency International corruption perceptions index, Russia actually ranked 16 points below Nigeria (146 and 130, respectively), Abdulmutallab could have easily come from Russia.