OLOIBIRI, Nigeria — This small town in the Niger Delta region near the country’s southern tip should be a tourist attraction: It’s the place oil was first discovered in 1956. However, a visit today provides little to write home about. Despite the town’s rich history, poor leadership, corruption and lack of accountability have helped make it one of the country’s most underdeveloped places. “If not for corruption,” says Terkaa Ode—a technical officer with the international non-governmental organization PACT based in Bayelsa state, where Oloibiri is located—the region would be “the Dubai of Nigeria.”
When I found out that Oloibiri is the site of Nigeria’s first oil well, I had to visit. What I found was irony—a place that helped transform the country into a global economic competitor now plagued with glaring unemployment, underdevelopment and abject poverty. The only sign of its historic status is the physical structure of the oil well located at the town’s entrance. Not even a visitor’s center or a museum, despite government promises, preserves the legacy of this site.
SOLO, Indonesia — How many graduates must be arrested on terrorism charges for the Indonesian government to shut down a school? Whatever tipping point you may have in mind, Ngruki’s alumni list is probably multiples of that number.
The school is among the most famous terrorist training sites in Indonesia. Since its founding in 1972, four teachers and 14 students who have called the pesantren (Muslim boarding school) home have been linked to terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, the 2003 Marriot hotel bombings in Jakarta and the 2009 Marriot and Ritz Carlton bombings in the nation’s capital. The International Crisis Group has dubbed Ngruki the Ivy League of recruiting for Jemaah Islamiah, an Indonesian terrorist group.
Its spiritual leader, who is thought to have links to Al Qaeda, is one of the school’s two founders. Abu Bakar Bashir spent more than a year in prison for his involvement in planning the Marriot hotel bombings, and upon his release started sending money to a military training camp in South Aceh that sought to send soldiers to Syria. That earned him a 15-year stint in a prison just south of Jakarta, where he remains today. But incarceration hasn’t kept him away from his Ngruki family—in June, he celebrated Eid ul Fitr holidays with his grandchildren and members of the school.
The kyai (principal) who replaced him was quoted by a local newspaper affirming that the school will continue to teach jihad in Bashir’s absence. Closely surveilled by government officials, Ngruki continues to operate in the city of Solo, Indonesia, where President Joko Widodo once served as mayor. The school’s leaders are also called to Jakarta annually for questioning. But even in the shadow of a mountain of suspicion, the institution has never been forced to shutter.
What does it take for the Indonesian authorities to deem an educational space “radical?” Once a pesantren such as Ngruki has been assigned that designation, what steps does the Religion Ministry take to deradicalize it? Are such programs of deradicalization working in Indonesia?
JAKARTA, Indonesia — An entourage of 1,500 people, consisting of more than 800 delegates, 25 princes and 10 ministers. Over 500 tons of cargo, including two Mercedes Benz limousines and two electric elevators. Seven planes. All for a one-week trip to Indonesia.
The grandeur of the proposed visit by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the monarch of Saudi Arabia, led analysts to predict that the 81-year-old and his friends were going to invest heavily—to the tune of $25 billion—in security, infrastructure, aviation, health, information, Islamic affairs and education.