The global leadership icon Nelson Mandela of blessed memory, is one man that has acknowledged the critical role that Nigeria played in the liberation of southern Africa region from the shackles of white minority rule which persisted up till the late 1980s.
That’s why he unequivocally put his feelings on marble and which l fittingly presented as the opening quote for this piece.
However, many years after Nigerian govt made the bold and very significant sacrifice of railing against the USA and UK Govt that were supporting the supremacists regime’s in former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and South Africa nation under the apartheid regime, Mandela’s country men and women are now slaughtering Nigerians in South African streets with reckless abandon, on the bogus excuse that Nigerians are depriving them of jobs in their financially challenged country.
Meanwhile instead of standing up for Nigerians who had unwittingly become victims of the xenophobic killings in South Africa, our parliamentarians are quibbling over which chamber should send a delegation to South Africa to plead with their counterparts to persuade their compatriots to desist from further slaughtering Nigerians.
Ideally, rather than send a delegation to appeal to South African parliament against killing Nigerians, a forward thinking, sensitive and conscientious Govt should have by now demanded that South African govt fishes out the killers of Nigerians and prepare to be held accountable for the lives lost to the blood thirsty vampires blaming other nationals for their economic woes. Indeed, the decision to send a delegation to South Africa as opposed to issuing stern warning against further killing of Nigerians boggles my mind and l loathe to think that the opportunity to earn travel allowances rather than the defense of hapless Nigerians is the motivating factor for the National Assembly, NASS.
Obviously, the absence of president Muhammadu Buhari who was on medical leave abroad when the attacks occurred, must have provided the opportunity for the NASS to take charge. Otherwise, president Buhari, who is known to brook no nonsense, would have taken actions that could have compelled South African parliamentarians to be the ones visiting Nigeria to apologize for the violence against Nigerians by their compatriots.Without a doubt, economic hardship in South Africa is not enough justification for the barbarism unleashed on Nigerians by the South African blood hounds and l refrain from discussing the criticality of Nigerian economy to a slew of South African conglomerates raking in their highest profits from Nigerian market.
Obviously, South Africans reserve the right to make whatever decisions they deem fit to protect the economic interest of citizens. And if they felt threatened by the presence of Nigerians in their country , they could have issued a law or decree expelling them.
Remarkably , in similar circumstances, Nigeria had expelled foreigners in the past.
The difference is that when Nigeria was experiencing economic recession under Buhari’s military regime in mid 1980s, foreigners, especially Ghanaians (remember Ghana must go?) were given an ultimatum to leave Nigeria but a high level of civility was accorded the departing foreigners.
It is noteworthy that they were not molested, how much more get maimed or killed as South Africans have been doing to unfortunate Nigerians who happen to be eking out their living in the country which Nigerian govt compelled civil servants to make the sacrifice of donating a portion of their salaries into the funds meant for its liberation when it was shackled by white minority supremacist rule.
A close scrutiny of the Nigerians that have lost their lives in the xenophobic attacks in South Africa could reveal that their parents might have contributed part of their hard earned salaries to the pool of funds earlier cited and meant for the liberation of the so called rainbow nation. Would that not be tantamount to the xenophobic South Africans biting the finger that fed them?
Apart from the sacrifice by Nigerian civil servants, there are talks to the effect that then military head of state, general Olusegun Obasanjo, in solidarity with South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, denied Henry Kissinger , then Secretary of State of USA, landing rights in Lagos, Nigeria on his way from South Africa. According to some conspiratorial accounts, it was after the diplomatic spat with the USA that a battle line was drawn between Nigeria and the most powerful country in the world which was riled by the denial of landing rights in Lagos to its top diplomat. Since it was an affront too brazen, Nigeria had to be punished for what the USA deemed as intransigence.
Consequently , the price of crude oil, the main source of Nigeria’s buoyant economy and the reason for her exaggerated sense of importance, was altered through the flooding of the global market with crude oil by USA and her allies resulting in supply glut that led to a crash in the price of the commodity to about $10 per barrel.
It is needless pointing out that following the rapid drop in crude oil price, Nigeria’s main foreign exchange earner, a crushing blow was dealt on
her economy resulting in the economic recession during the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari which was the justification for the coup of December 31, 1983 that was led by then General Muhammadu Buhari.
The foregoing scenarios are just snapshots of the calamitous consequences that Nigeria suffered when she put up a fight against super powers towards liberating the South African region from her white minority oppressors.
Given the sacrifices made by Nigerian nation to liberate South Africa and indeed the rest of Africa, it is heart wrenching that the South African black brothers and sisters that Nigeria literarily put her neck in the guillotine to be chopped off by powerful nations like the USA and UK that buffeted the apartheid regime , have now turned around to be hunting Nigerians like dangerous animals that must be eliminated from their country.
Had the ignorant black South Africans killing Nigerians in their country known that our country went into it is first economic recession some 35 years ago as a consequence of her efforts to save the necks of their fathers, mothers, uncles and aunties, they would not have had the temerity to lay their murderous fingers on Nigerians.
Unfortunately , either by design or omission , when the path to their freedom from apartheid and Nigeria’s critical role should form part of their school curriculum, the average South African is not aware of that aspect of their history and therefore oblivious of the critical role Nigeria and Nigerians played to secure their freedom.
As such, the great sacrifice made by Nigerians as individuals, civil servants and artists (musician Sonny Okosun sang himself hoarse calling for an end to the atrocities of apartheid and the freedom of Nelson Mandela) has remained unknown by the average South African black men and women now baying for the blood of Nigerians in the so called rainbow country.If Nigeria had adopted the USA policy known as the Monroe doctrine which compels any nation that America is intervening in militarily,like Kuwait, to bear the cost of the exercise after being liberated,(Kuwait paid with her crude oil) our country would have been the better for it by negotiating repayment for her noble efforts with gold which is in abundance in South Africa.
Perhaps with such arrangement, South Africa could still have been paying Nigeria , and owing to the burden, the big brother role that Nigeria played in their rescue a few decades ago,could have registered in the memory of the xenophobic elements and thus help them manage or direct their anger elsewhere.
To be clear, I’m not by any stretch of imagination suggesting that Nigerians should take reprisal actions against foreigners by engaging in barbaric acts like their South African counterparts have done because that would be reinforcing the dictum, tit for tat in a mob manner.But as a firm believer in former USA’s First Lady, Michelle Obama’s mantra : “When they go low, we go high”, l recommend that Nigerians rise above the low lives in South Africa butchering Nigerians. Nevertheless, as the giant of Africa, we must not fail to apply the principle of reciprocity or tit for tat in diplomacy.It is the only language that bullies like the ones killing Nigerians in cold blood can respond to faster.
In fact it is the practice in international relations and diplomacy that more often than not,unless a measure of force is initially applied, diplomacy is hardly efficacious.
We recently witnessed the strategy work in Gambia when former president Yayah Jameh who lost in the presidential election, but decided to sit tight in office ,until African Union forces massed up at the country’s border with Senegal to enforce his ouster.Seeing the threat of force compelled Jameh to go into exile-a proposition he had snubbed previously when force was not applied.In 1984 when the UK seized Nigeria airways aircraft allegedly involved in the kidnap and botched smuggling of erstwhile minister of transport, Umaru Dikko accused of corruption in Nigeria, in retaliation, Nigeria also detained a British Caledonian aircraft which was on routine flight to Nigeria. If nothing else, such actions fast tracked the coming to a negotiation table by the feuding parties.
It may also be recalled that when a neighboring African country had some disagreements with Nigeria in the 1980s under Shehu Shagari’s regime, and general Muhammadu Buhari was GOC 1 Division, it took great efforts to convince Buhari to roll back Nigerian armed forces arrayed against Nigeria’s hostile neighbors where significant incursions had already been made. A version of the story is that Nigerian army under Buhari’s command had made significant incursion into the enemy territory before he was recalled by then president and commander in chief of the armed forces of Nigeria, President, Shehu Shagari.
It is also worthy of note that after a similar skirmish with Cameroun, Ahmadu Ahijo, the President of the country flew into Nigeria to literarily apologize to President Shagari and the next day newspapers carried the bold front page photographs of Nigerian President Shagari and his Cameroonian counterpart in warm embrace with the screaming headline “Ahijo is my brother” to douse the tension.
That’s how smart shuttle democracy by the no 1 citizen of Cameroon stopped a conflict from escalating. In the light of the foregoing,the appropriate action against South Africa by Nigeria could have been amongst others, a stern action like summoning of the high commissioner by the Presidency to account for the lives of innocent Nigerians wasted by the frustrated South African youths hardened by long period of subjugation by their white oppressors under apartheid.
Failing to provide satisfactory answers should attract sanctions such as expulsion of the High Commissioner; recall of our high commissioner over there; and possibly a threat of trade embargo if the country remains unapologetic or intransigent.
Such a diplomatic action would have put the issue on the front burner and thus compel South African authorities (who appear to be nonchalant and complacent about the Nigerian lives lost) to pay more attention by apprehending the culprits and seeking speedy resolution.
To the best of my knowledge, the response from South African authorities in the wake of the unnecessary loss of Nigerian lives to hardened criminals and thugs operating under the guise of Xenophobia has been lukewarm.
In my reckoning, all the authorities have done so far is deport some Nigerians who were in violation of their laws,and no public remorse or empathy has been expressed by the relevant authorities.
My considered opinion therefore , is that It is the lackadaisical attitude of Nigerian authorities towards South African govt after previous xenophobic attacks on Nigerians , that is giving the misguided youths the Dutch courage to repeat the dastardly act in Nigerians.
I’m convinced that if the assailants were conscious of the fact that serious consequences awaits whoever spills the blood of a Nigerian wherever or whenever they are unjustly killed, they would think twice before embarking on their orgy of killing defenseless Nigerians.
Take the nation of Israel for instance. That country goes to every length to protect every Israeli any where in the world and would even trade off hundreds of prisoners to secure the release of a dead Israeli soldier.
Little wonder Israelis are very patriotic.
Some may argue that Israeli government’s unparalleled protection of her nationals is derived from the past experiences with the unfortunate incidents of holocaust that led to fewer Jewish population in the Middle East. A counter argument would be that the approach of Israel on protecting her nationals at all costs is not significantly different from that of the USA-the most powerful country in the world which also places high premium on the protection of her citizens worldwide.
My fear is that if no coercion power, (even in a subtle form) is applied to rein in the blood thirsty South Africans, who seem hell bent on venting their spleen on Nigerians, before you know it, and in the nearest future, Ghanaians could start copying South Africans in their dastardly act against Nigerians in their country too.
The fear is real and underscored by the fact that only recently, Ghanaians started feeling threatened by the entrepreneurship and prosperity of Nigerians in their country, and that led to some tension in the Nigerian community in Ghana. But fair enough, Nigerians did not suffer the type of casualty recorded in South Africa before the issues were resolved.
Dishearteningly, it is the same Nigerians that the great Nelson Mandela was urging Africans to hold up as a symbol of respect for the Blackman, so that the world would extend the respect for Nigerians to black people from all over the continent, (as conveyed in the opening quote for this piece) ,that the Xenophobic South Africans are mowing down in their streets like Americans hunting down red Indians as depicted in cowboy movies of yore.What is the point in Nigeria being the giant of Africa in terms of population size (180m) and GDP (in excess of $500m) yet her citizens are being hunted down like animals in a sister African country?
Nigeria and South Africa are rivals in the African continent with Nigerian economy recently surging past South Africa’s shrinking economy, which by the way is believed to be fueling the xenophobia. The rivalry has been brotherly but the recent killing of Nigerians in the rival country and the Nigeria seems to be turning the other cheek as the bible enjoins peace seekers, is taking Nigeria’s big brother disposition a tad too far.The Japanese and Chinese are rivals in east Asia and they have mutual respect for each other.China will not tolerate the Japanese killing Chinese in their country and vice Versa.The USA and Canada are number one and two political and economic powers in North America, but no matter the high level of rapport between both countries, neither would stand aside and look while their nationals are being murdered in each other’s countries.
Now that president Buhari is back, although without being on the driver’s seat, Nigeria’s executive and legislative arms of Govt should live up to their responsibility.
Failing to do so, the civil society (the fifth realm of the estate which is increasingly becoming the arbiter in liberal democracy) may have no other option than to approach the interpretative society (the judiciary) to compel govt authorities to honor their oath of office to do everything within their power to protect the lives of Nigerians, whenever and wherever they are under threat, as is currently the case in South Africa.
When Nigerian govt continues to handle issues pertaining to the lives of its citizens with levity, (recall the harrowing experience recanted by those recently deported from Libya and other African countries, plus the recent beheading of some Nigerian prisoners accused of drug trafficking in Malaysia etc without active govt intervention), patriotism may take flight from Nigerians , and Govt would only have itself to blame.
Onyibe, a development strategist, former commissioner in Delta state government, is an alumnus of the Fletcher school of law and diplomacy, Tufts university, Medford Massachusetts, USA.