Bin Laden more popular with Nigerian Muslims than Bush
KANO: President George W Bush has used his first journey to Africa to seek support for the US war on terrorism, but in northern Nigeria his foe Osama bin Laden enjoys more public affection.
The US leader will be warmly welcomed to Abuja on Friday by Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, who leads a pro-Western government keen to demonstrate its commitment to democracy and economic reform.
But if Bush’s tight schedule had allowed him time to venture beyond the airy, ultra-modern capital to the dusty streets of Kano, he would have come upon a surprisingly widespread enthusiasm for his most feared enemy.
Saudi militant Osama bin Laden’s now familiar smile beams out from posters and T-shirts dotted around the bus stops and markets of this sprawling, mainly-Muslim city, as of he were a football star or a singer.
Many Muslims in Kano held parties to celebrate the September 11 attacks and now, almost two years later, the man who ordered the kamikaze hijackers into action is still a hero to many of the people here.
Rabi’u Musa is one of many bus drivers in the Malam Kato motor park to have a big portrait of the fugitive Islamist on his rear windscreen.
“I’m proud of Osama. He is a hero who has proved that America is not the invincible superpower it made the world believe,” the 30-year-old told AFP on Wednesday while waiting for passengers.
There has never been a terrorist attack against US interests in Nigeria. There are large Nigerian communities in the United States, and strong cultural links between the two very different countries.
Nigerian oil exports to the United States account for almost three quarters of the country’s foreign exchange revenue. Nigeria receives US military aid and hosts many US companies.
And yet despite these promising links, on the eve of Bush’s historic visit Bin Laden T-shirts and posters are far outselling Stars and Stripes flags on the streets of Kano.
“We sell a lot of Osama posters. People like him. He is a hero,” said Tukur Sani, a 24-year-old stallholder, as he dusted down his stock in front of an admiring cluster of children. Shoe salesman Sanusi Ibrahim, 27, wears his green Bin Laden T-shirt with pride as he serves customers in Kofar Wambai market.
“Whatever propaganda America feeds the world against Osama, he remains a hero and he will continue to shame America and bring her to her knees,” he declares cheerfully.
Bin Laden has himself attempted to tap into Nigerian anti-Americanism in one of his famous taped broadcasts on al-Jazeera, one of Kano’s most popular satellite television networks. He branded Obasanjo’s pro-US government “apostate” and called on Muslims to rebel. As yet there is little or no evidence that any Nigerians are ready for “martyrdom” in an Al Qaeda style violent jihad.
But Bin Laden’s self-reinvention — from being the privileged son of a building tycoon to the cave-dwelling champion of the masses — has caught the imagination here in a way that Bush will be hard-pressed to match.h.
Much of Kano’s anti-Americanism can be traced to the preaching of its religious leaders who are sure to use the weekly Friday prayers that coincide with Bush’s visit to stir up more anger.
“America’s hatred of Islam is not hidden, and Bush’s intention is to extend his fight against Islam to Africa which is known as a centre of Islam,” Mohammad Bn Uthman, a radical Muslim cleric, told AFP. “His main mission here is to propagate the idea to African leaders, who are his stooges,” he said.
Bn Uthman may be a radical even by the fiery standard of Nigerian preachers, but his message finds a large echo on the street. And the distrust of America is not a just the result of the imam’s rhetoric; many Nigerians have listened to what Bush has to say. Kamilu Nasir, an illiterate 32-year-old grocer, listened to a speech the US leader made on the first leg of his African journey. He was unimpressed.
“I listened to the radio translation of Bush’s speech in Senegal on Wednesday and the speech focused on the war against terrorism and on oil,” Nasir said, picking at his kola nut stained teeth with a match stick. “His mission is to launch his war against Islam in Africa and also look for ways to exploit our oil resources,” he said. —AFP