Yara Blog

In Name or in Deed? – The Selectiveness of Nationality

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013  


The shockingly heinous crime recently committed in broad day light on a London street by two black men is an unacceptable atrocity that has, however, generated an interesting dimension about our perceptions of nationality and citizenship.

The main perpetrator of the crime, a British citizen, Michael Adebolajo, was widely depicted in the British and international media as being a “British-born person of Nigerian descent”, resulting in vehement protests by the Nigerian community in the UK.   Their argument is that Adebolajo is a born and bred Brit – he was issued a birth certificate in the UK and holds a British passport; therefore, his name does not confirm his nationality.  These Nigerians in the diaspora are obviously worried about the negativity that can be easily generated if other British citizens associate such barbaric behavior and inhumane cruelty witnessed in this crime with other persons of Nigerian or African descent.

Nationality, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is the status of belonging to a particular nation. Status is defined as the official classification given to a person….. determining their rights or responsibilities; a person who has an affinity for a specified place (i.e. belongs to) – in this case, his or her country. Furthermore, the UK Boarder Agency website of the Home Office clarifies that if you were born in the UK before 1 January 1983, you are almost certainly a British citizen. The only exception is if you were born to certain diplomatic staff of foreign missions who had diplomatic immunity.  Here, Adebolajo’s citizenship is clearly not in contention, but what is his actual or perceived nationality?

Undeniably, the name Adebolajo is of Yoruba origin, and the perpetrator clearly has familial ties, whether distant or close, to Nigeria – but does this make him a Nigerian national?  The underlying problem with the British authorities’ description of Adebolajo is symptomatic of a selective classification of Nigerian immigrants depending on the particular actions being interrogated at that point in time.

As Nigerians in the diaspora and at home have rightly pointed out, this selectivity borders on hypocrisy when juxtaposed against laudable actions by Britons of Nigerian descent across different areas of British life.  For instance, in the world of sports, such as last summer’s Olympic games, a gold medal was won for the United Kingdom by a British amateur boxer called Anthony Joshua – Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua. Other more readily identifiable UK athletes of repute with Nigerian ancestry include Philips Idowu and Christine Ohuruogu…and the list goes on and on.  However, when their laurels are being celebrated in the British public sphere, there is generally no mention of their Nigerian heritage.



Perhaps the argument could be made on behalf of the British authorities that in cases of terrorism, the nationalistic as well as religious ties of a person could shed significant light on the motives behind the crime. We saw a similar reasoning by the United States in 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to blow up an American Delta jet on Christmas day.  In that case, the perpetrator, a Nigerian boy radicalised in the UK and Yemen, was repeatedly

associated with Nigeria, though he had lived in the UK for several years prior to the  attack, and, by his own confession, he obtained the explosives in Yemen, where he received his orders from Al Qaeda operatives.  Yet, the US government swiftly placed a caution on ALL Nigerians, a courtesy which it failed to extend to UK citizens in the aftermath of the 2006 British Shoe Bomb incident perpetrated by a British citizen.  Again, perhaps the Nigerian case is compounded by our own Boko Haram ‘situation’, which gives some credence to this line of argument – at least on the face of it. But, unfortunately, such selectivity breeds resentment, and is unlikely to endear these governments to astute observers from the developing world.

Although the issue of terrorism and its links to religion and nationality are undoubtedly complex, the question must be asked about where the line should be drawn between the rights of majority of British citizens to safety and security, and the rights of British citizens “of Nigerian descent” and law abiding Nigerians living in the UK not to be unfairly stigmatized by this crime.  To my mind, the answer lies in our interpretation of the concept of nationality and what it really connotes.  In this instance, does the fact that the perpetrator is of Nigerian dissent help elucidate the case?

Objectively speaking, Adebolajo cannot be said to enjoy any rights or responsibilities from Nigeria nor is he likely to have any particular affinity for Nigeria – a place he has apparently never even visited.  In contrast, the British government had intervened on his behalf to extricate him from facing terrorism charges after his 2010 arrest in Kenya, precisely because he was one of their own. Instructively, so far, not a single person interviewed who knows Adebolajo personally has described him as remotely Nigerian, nor did he state in his gruesome interviews given on the sidelines at the crime scene that his “cause” was in any way connected to his parents’ being originally Nigerian.

Although as human beings the British will naturally identify with the success of assimilated immigrants in their country, it is understandable why they would instinctively distance themselves from a person capable of committing such a brutal crime.  Nigerians clearly share this very same instinct. Had Adebolajo discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS, instead of committing a senseless attack on an innocent man, he would today be celebrated as a true Nigerian son of the soil.  As the saying goes, success has many friends!  We should all, therefore, seize this opportunity to reprimand ourselves for our self-serving selectivity when it comes to attributing nationality to people based on their actions – whether positive or negative – and rethink how our thinly veiled biases could adversely affect the lives of ordinary people trying to go about their daily lives.  The Nigerian community in Woolwich, London, are already afraid of how this single act, terrible as it is, could affect their lives.  Judging by the British government’s decisive response to the incident, they may well have cause to be afraid.  It would be helpful if the British authorities and media would focus on the cogent facts of the case as they stand currently.  All said and done, in this instance, based on the facts daily unfolding publicly, Adebolajo’s one and only country is the United Kingdom.


Dr. Jumoke Oduwole,

Lecturer, Faculty of Law,

University of Lagos.

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One response to “In Name or in Deed? – The Selectiveness of Nationality”

  1. Ojienoh Segun Justice says:

    This is true and really enlightening! As humans, institutions and state We should stop passing the buck. As the American General said that the easiest animal to hunt is the scape-goat. We should stop all these as it goes only to show how quality or watery Our thinking is.

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