My guess is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not going to be a very popular guy around airports anywhere in West Africa. The terrorist wannabe, who allegedly stashed explosives in his undershorts, is going to make international travel from the region, a royal pain in the best of circumstances, that much more of a hassle.
As the whole world learned on Christmas Day, a Nigerian man (as if Nigeria needed another smudge alongside the reputation for international scams and official corruption) attempted to blow up a Northwest airliner from Amsterdam as it approached Detroit. The plot was foiled.
The 23-year-old terrorist, Abdulmutallab, is sitting in jail, where he could well remain for the rest of his life.
But travelers into the United States now must get used to even more stringent scrutiny, including full-body scans, pat-downs and, good gracious, confinement to their seats in the last hour of flight. (Are airline crews prepared for ''accidents''? Having watched a great many bowl games since Christmas and an equally huge number of Flomax ads over that period, I imagine airport shops would be drumming up brisk business in Depends for travelers with overactive bladders and men who haven't yet asked their doctors whether Flomax is right for them.)
A saying among Ghana's Akans acknowledges the unfairness in innocent people suffering the consequences of someone else's ill-advised act: The lizard has chosen to eat hot pepper, but it is the frog that has broken out in a sweat from the heat.
This week, the U.S. added Nigeria to the list of countries from where travelers would be given very close attention. Abdulmutallab ate hot pepper, but one way or another, all travelers from Nigeria will be sweating it out for a long time to come. That, unfortunately, is the nature of the world of international terror we occupy.
Crowded, understaffed and short on creature comforts, Nigerian airports, to begin with, frequently are a nightmare to navigate. Add nonchalant service, a certain aversion to orderly procedures and lengthy security check-in protocols, and the wonder might be if anyone can make it aboard a plane at all. It might be fitting punishment, in fact, to drop the aspiring terrorist at Lagos' Murtala Mohamed International Airport amid irate Nigerians who have missed their flights on account of having their underwear inspected. Hell hath no fury . . . .
This is one more situation that illustrates how rapidly national borders are becoming relics of a past before the Internet and speedy global travel. If the accounts are accurate, Abdulmutallab bought his ticket from the KLM office in Accra, Ghana, and flew out of Lagos, Nigeria, on his Yemen-assigned mission.
The Wall Street Journal, reporting Monday on efforts to track where Abdulmutallab might have been radicalized, said that he attended a boarding school in Togo, graduated from a university in London, did graduate work in Dubai and enrolled in a language school in Yemen, perhaps as a cover for the training he required.
The news accounts noted Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy banker, a student for whom travel money, apparently, was no barrier. He might just as easily have boarded a plane to the United States from any of those places.
Which makes it a fair question how effective tagging a handful of countries for special scrutiny really will be in nabbing would-be terrorists unless security procedures are standardized and enforced with the same strictness everywhere.
The changing social dynamics between Nigeria and its neighbors also make the potential ripples from the Abdulmutallab case quite interesting. As Nigeria's own dysfunctions including official corruption, violence, declining education, high rates of youth unemployment escalate, those who have the means are seeking refuge elsewhere. Flush with oil and contract money, a well-to-do Nigerian elite can afford to fly abroad for routine medical care, bypass severely underfunded schools and universities, buy comfort and security in the relative safety of other capitals. If a well-to-do terrorist wannabe can't fly conveniently out of Lagos or Abuja, it is but a short trip to Accra, for example.
The consequences of this lizard's misguided escapade will not be confined within Nigeria's airports. Of that we can be sure. Frogs in the neighborhood are in for it as well. With travel out of Nigeria now on the terror radar, it can only be a matter of time before it becomes necessary to extend the scrutiny to Ghana or the Ivory Coast. Or maybe Togo or Cameroon . . . ?
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by e-mail at email@example.com