Nigerian vandals and an American example
Who does not know Theodore Kaczynski, that mix of genius, anarchist and sociopath who once terrorised America? A mathematical prodigy and Harvard graduate who earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan and became an Assistant Professor at the University of Berkeley in 1967, at age 25, he later became disaffected with America, his country, and with modern technology.
Suffice it to summarise his subsequent activities with these quotes from Wikipedia: “In 1971, he moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water, in Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient.” And: “Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski engaged in a nationwide bombing campaign against people involved with modern technology, planting or mailing numerous homemade bombs, ultimately killing a total of three people and injuring 23 others. He is also known for his wide-ranging social critiques, which opposed industrialisation and modern technology while advancing a nature-cantered form of anarchism.”
His bombs were dispatched specifically to universities and airports across the United States, prompting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to use the coinage “UNABOM” (which stands for University and Airline Bomber) to identify his case before his identity was known. The press later modified the coinage to Unabomber.
However, what makes Kaczynski’s case most relevant to what I refer to as an American example in the title of this piece is how he was eventually identified before his trial and imprisonment for life, which saved his country from the threat he posed as a domestic terrorist. It was his brother, David Kaczynski, who revealed his identity to the FBI with his wife’s encouragement, having identified his writing style in a 35,000-word essay entitled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” which the FBI abbreviated to “Unabomber Manifesto,” whose publication in a major newspaper of journal, preferably the New York Times, he gave as a condition for him to “desist from terrorism.”
By that extraordinary gesture, the brother placed the love of country and the safety of other human beings above the bond of blood, and saved America from a terrorist threat to its security, economy and educational system, and to its values as a country that believes in modern technology, whose embrace and cultivation partly accounts for its greatness as a nation.
Now, there is a parallel – which I note here in passing – between the motivation of Kaczynski’s terrorist acts and that of Nigeria’s Boko Haram. For Kaczynski it is hatred for modern technology while it is hatred for western education for Boko Haram, which makes both anti-knowledge and explains why their terrorist acts partly targeted educational institutions like schools and universities.
Also – and more relevant to this piece – there is a parallel between the impact of Kaczynski’s terrorist attacks and the type of attacks being executed by vandals who bomb gas and oil pipelines in Nigeria. For while Kaczynski’s attacks on airports undermined America’s aviation business and by implication its economy, those by the Nigerian vandals achieve the same purpose in Nigeria by undermining power generation and the production of oil which are critical to the economy.
However, there is a notable difference in the attitude of the average American and his Nigerian counterpart to fighting terror as reflected in the gesture by Kaczynski’s brother and his wife and the response of some Nigerians to the recent remark by Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Muhammadu Buhari, that Nigerians complaining about poor electricity should hold the vandals responsible. Some Nigerians criticised him for the remark, insisting that it is government’s responsibility to fish out and deal with the vandals and not the citizens’. Indeed, the Unabomber might have remained elusive like the Nigerian vandals if some American patriots did not choose to fulfil their moral obligation to protect their country and his potential victims by revealing his identity to the authorities.
Adesina’s remark may have been tactless, the result of his frustration with the citizens’ apathy in what should be a joint effort with the government in tackling the vandals whose activities threaten the entire nation. But it made sense as a disguised clarion call – which I consider it to be – to Nigerians to assist the government by revealing the identity of the vandals who apparently are not unknown to them.
Incidentally, what we have witnessed in Nigeria in the last decade or so is the unwitting implementation of a self-destructive credo: “If there is no crisis, create one.” And so the citizens of the country have during that period created – and generated crisis through – the O’odua People Congress (OPC), the Arewa Congress, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); and through their other creations like the Niger Delta Militants, Boko Haram, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Shiite Muslims, Fulani Herdsmen, and the Niger Delta Avengers. And due to the activities of these groups, it has failed to lift the boulder of stagnation off its shoulders, like a country doomed to engage in Sisyphean toil.
During the period, for instance, the violent activities of the Niger Delta Militants, especially kidnappings of expatriates for ransom and vandalisation of oil installations, so severely threatened the country’s oil-dependent economy that the then President Umaru Yar’Adua established the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs with an amnesty programme to pacify and rehabilitate the militants.
Later, Boko Haram destroyed large swathes of the country’s north-eastern states, killing thousands and precipitating a huge humanitarian crisis in the form of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Subsequently, a bill for the establishment of a Northeast Development Commission is being debated at the National Assembly, as the Buhari government is said to be considering granting amnesty to the repentant culprits, together with a rehabilitation programme as in the case of the Niger Delta Militants.
From the south-east, IPOB is threatening secession, raising tension through encounters with security forces that have reportedly left scores of their members dead, with President Buhari vowing in the face of such threat to do “everything possible” to keep Nigeria united. And as the country battles this crisis, people suspected to be Fulani herdsmen – who the government has described as foreigners, even without making an arrest – launched attacks in Benue and Enugu states, killing hundreds and instigating ethnic tension.
This crisis-generating process seems to have turned full cycle with the recent bombing of gas pipelines by the Niger Delta Avengers, threatening the country’s economy and power supply. And Nigerians should realise from the example of Kaczynski’s brother – and need I mention the courier who revealed Osama bin Laden’s hideout to the American authorities? – that governments usually combat such threats posed by the vandals most effectively with the help of citizens willing to volunteer information regarding the culprits.
• Oke, a public affairs analyst, lives in Abuja