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"The man who shamed Nigeria"

Nigerians struggle to understand why a privileged son tried to become a bomber.

Muslim faithful attend Friday prayers at the central mosque in Nigeria's capital Lagos, July 31, 2009. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigerians are still struggling to come to terms with the news that Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of one of this country’s most prominent and wealthiest bankers, allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it landed in Detroit on Dec. 25.

“The man who shamed Nigeria,” is what the local newspaper, "The Guardian," dubbed Abdulmutallab.

In a country where the majority of people live on just $2 a day, people are asking how someone who’s been born and reared with a golden spoon in his mouth could throw it all away?

And if the privileged young man could be drawn by Islamic extremism into a suicide bombing plot, what does this say of about Nigeria's efforts to encourage its Muslim and Christian populations to live together peacefully? Muslims make up about 50 percent of Nigeria's 149 million people, while Christians comprise 40 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up a passenger-filled airliner has left Nigerians angry and puzzled. And it comes at a time when officials here are trying to improve Nigeria's image.

“This singular act has done unquantifiable damage to the nascent re-branding project,” said Steven Douglas, an executive with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. “He was simply unenlightened and stupid to allow himself to be used."

Abdulmutallab’s father Umaru Abdulmutallab, 71, is at the top of the heap of the Nigerian elite, and has been for years. His 16 children and two wives share massive homes around the world. His home on Asa Street in the tony Maitama district of Abuja is palatial, as is his country home in the sleepy Funtua in the nearby Katsina state.

He just retired as chairman on First Bank, one of the nation’s largest, after serving on its board for 13 years. And before that he ran the large United Bank for Africa (UBA). For decades Abdulmutallab, has worked the corridors of power here, serving as a federal minister, as far back as 1975 and currently heading up the current president’s Business Support Group. He has racked up national honors over the years.

In a country where some 90 percent of the people struggle economically, Abdulmutallab's wealth allowed him to give his son, Farouk, an international education that most Nigerians can only dream of.

Abdulmutallab sent his son to a posh boarding school, the British International School in Lome, Togo and then to the University College, London, where his son lived in swanky apartment. The younger Abdulmutallab seemed destined for success.

After graduating in the U.K., the quiet young man, who was dubbed "alpha" and "the pope" because of his saintly ways, went off to Dubai for post-graduate studies.