Xenophobic Attacks on Nigerians: Enough is Enough!

Scene of a xenophobic attack in South Africa
Scene of a xenophobic attack in South Africa

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

“T’íyà ńlá bá gbé ni sánlè, kékèké a sí maa g’orí ęni”. (When one is befallen with big calamity, smaller ones will ride on one). This is a Yoruba proverb depicting the tendencies for smaller insults to happen to a country like Nigeria, the supposed “giant of Africa”, due to its refusal to rise up to the leadership for which it is envisioned.

This has been the fate of Nigeria and its citizens for so long now. They are being treated with disgust, disdain and disrespect, even by “tiny” countries, many of which may not be bigger than a town in Nigeria or a state or few states together, in landmass, human and natural endowments. It is a big shame!

The latest of such mistreatment is the recent incidents in South Africa. Nigerians and the world woke up to the dastardly attacks on immigrants in South Africa on Monday. Their shops and businesses were attacked, destroyed and looted. Garages containing many cars were burnt. Buildings housing them were razed. Unfortunately, Nigerians, as usual, suffered substantial losses in the fracas. Some deaths were also recorded, though not Nigerians. The people affected are African immigrants and some Indians, Lebanese, etc.

Before now, hardly did any week pass that we were not inundated with the horrifying stories of harassment, intimidation, arrest or killing of a Nigerian in South Africa. In the process, millions of dollars worth of goods are destroyed. Hard-earned, life-sweat of people are destroyed in few hours. Sufferings of many years and decades ruined within the twinkle of an eye. This is one attack too many.

Worst still, the statements emanating from some officials of South African government did not help matters. They were like rubbing salts on injuries. It betrayed what seems like “official conspiracy” and tacit supports for such inhuman actions of their citizens.

A video went viral on social media, of the statement made by the Deputy Minister of Police, Bongani Mkongi, who said and I quote (in part): “you won’t find South Africans in other countries dominating a city by 80 percent that is dangerous….. We cannot surrender South Africa to foreign nationals.” This has always been suspected, given the manners in which their security agents deal with Nigerians in particular. And also their lacklustre response to distress calls in the times of attacks like seen this week.

The South African High Commissioner in Abuja reacted to the attack in such a simplistic way that left much to be desired. He simply referred to the incident as “mere sporadic and criminal attacks” and not xenophobia. Unfortunately, he is yet to be deported back to South Africa, as I write this. To be fair to President Cyril Ramaphosa, he condemned the attacks and called it “unacceptable”. But, is that enough? This is not the first or second or third time it will happen. It has become recurrent.

But, can they be blamed? “Onígbá l’ópegbáa rè l’ekufo, t’ómo aráyé báa fi k’ódótí” (is it not the owner of the calabash who says it is broken, that the people then use it to pack dirts)? It is the way the Nigerian government has been treating its citizens, that gave other countries and their citizens, such audacity to treat Nigerians in their countries as they do.

They even often taunt Nigerians to go back to their country, if the suffering that they will face will not be worse than that being melted out on to them abroad. Are they lying? Are we not suffering at home? Are we not being subjected to abuses, oppression, intimidation, hounding, by our own government? Are we not being killed in droves by terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, killer herdsmen, and due to many other insecurities? All of which are due to bad governance.

What about the economic hardships? The high unemployment, increasing poverty, poor education and health, dilapidated infrastructures, and lack of basic opportunities to strive? Were these not the major reasons why our citizens would rather, out of desperation to survive, do anything to emigrate, even to the den of the lions? Even in the face of the current happenings in South Africa, and with free ride provided by Air Peace Airline to evacuate Nigerians back home from today Saturday, 7th of September, how many will voluntarily return? We shall see soon.

Since these last attacks happened, many other Nigerians have been narrating their personal experiences in South Africa, many of which were heartbreaking. They have to do with how some Nigerians actually caused such attacks with their criminal activities. And their victims were not only indigenes but even fellow country-people. Many engage in drugs trafficking, human trafficking, internet fraud (yahoo-yahoo), armed robbery, cultism and prostitution. The Ozubulu incident is still fresh in our memories.

All these continue to infuriate the indigenes, whose society is being contaminated and land desecrated. They see all immigrants as criminals, in a case of when one finger touches oil, it soils the rest. Where there are honest, hardworking Nigerians who are in the majority, the few bad eggs have destroyed their reputation. Almost everyone is painted with one brush of criminality. Hence, the xenophobic attacks, every now and then. Can one totally blame them?

However, whatever the case may be, it does not warrant that the South Africans take laws into their hands. Where crimes are committed or suspected, the law should be allowed to take its course, instead of resulting to “jungle justice”. And they do so with so much impunity. Innocent people fall victims in such situations. Any criminal should not go unpunished but Nigerians and many other Africans deserve respect from the indigenes. The citizens of South Africa need to be told this from their history, in case they do not know or be reminded if they have forgotten. Particularly these restless youths engaging in such barbaric acts.

The Yorubas will say that: “T’ómodé bá k’oyán alé, àgbà á f’ìtàn balè” (When a child rejects his pounded yam of a dinner, the elder will tell him the history of his existence). South Africans may need to be reminded of their history. Or, is it not the same indigenous blacks in that country who were subjected to horrendous treatments by the white minority during the decades of apartheid? They were treated like slaves in their own land, despite being in the majority. This was the case, up to as late as early 90’s before democracy was established. And who did they have then? Nigeria, Nigerians and fellow Africans. Such rule was supported by some countries from the west, particularly USA, UK and France, unfortunately. They did not see anything wrong in it.

It was Nigeria and other African countries that stood by them and with them, fought for them, supported them in all ways possible; financially, physically, morally and militarily. Many countries like Zambia, Tanzania, DR Congo, etc, with Nigeria at the forefront, contributed in no small measures. In fact, no single country contributed more than Nigeria to anti-apartheid struggle globally (I stand to be corrected). Nigeria and Nigerians “carried the fight on their heads” (like they say in the local parlance).

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Since Nigeria’s independence, our leaders have supported black South Africans, to liberate them. It is on record that Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister of Nigeria, pushed for the establishment of National Committee Against Apartheid in 1960. Nigeria supported South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and Pan-African Congress (PAC) with annual subvention of 5 million dollars.

In 1976, the military regime of General Obasanjo established South African Relief Fund (SARF), to which 3.7 million dollars was contributed. General Obasanjo personally donated his own 3,000 dollars and all his cabinet members donated 1,500 dollars each, to the anti-apartheid cause. The Nigerian workers sacrificed 2 percent of their monthly salaries to it, in what was then called “Mandela tax”.

The Nigerian students were not left out. The students sacrificed their lunch, skipped it and donated the money to the fund. It was said to accrue to about 10.5 million dollars in six months. Many indigenous blacks in South Africa were evacuated to live in Nigeria when the apartheid regime was “terrorising” them. Mr. Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa, lived for 7 years in Nigeria (1977 to 1984). About 86 indigenes were given free education in Nigerian universities.

In 1976, Nigeria boycotted the Olympics and also the Commonwealth games in 1979, as ways to show their stand against apartheid in South Africa. It was reported that since 1960, Nigeria boycotted trade with the apartheid regime and refused to sell oil to them. This was estimated to be about 41 billion dollars loss in trade to Nigeria. Our Musicians waxed songs to condemn apartheid. Late Sunny Okosun’s “Fire in Soweto” released in 1977, was an example.

Even after defeating the apartheid and democratic government established in 1994, Nigeria continued to support South Africa. While many of our indigenes and that of many African countries are only into small and medium scale enterprises, which are still being destroyed by the South Africans, their own firms are provided with conducive business environment to strive. And on no account have they been attacked “unprovoked”, even when they provide shoddy services or commit infractions, as seen once in a while.

Their branches in Nigeria provide the biggest market for them, and largest return on investment, from all the countries where they operate, including their home country, South Africa. MTN, Multichoice (owner of DSTV and GOTV) and Shoprite are some of the examples. Even now, at this height of provocation from south Africans, our own government and security personnel have been doing everything possible to protect the investments of these South African companies. They have ensured minimal damages. This is contrary to what obtained in South Africa. Unfortunately. Nigeria is too kind to fellow Africans and other countries, but now, enough is enough!

Nigeria needs to make example of South Africa on this matter to show the rest of the world, who the real “boss” is. We must tell them that the gentility of a lion, is not a sign of cowardice. While I will not advocate for any violent retaliation, strong diplomatic blows must be dealt on them. Some actions already being taken by the Nigerian government are in order.

The boycott of the ongoing World Economic Forum is welcomed. More actions must be taken like the planned recall of the Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa, shutting down their various business interests in Nigeria, closing our airspace to their airlines, and so on. They must be made to feel the consequences of their actions. Adequate compensations for all the damages done to Nigerian businesses must also be demanded from the South African government.

On the citizens’ part, our celebrities have led the pack, with the boycott by the Music diva, Tiwa Savage, who has decided not to attend the DSTV Delicious Festival concert to be organised in South Africa on 21st of September. The popular comedian, “Basket Mouth” has also followed suit. Likewise Kunle Afolayan. All of us can decide to boycott their businesses in Nigeria or anywhere. The attendant loss in revenues, hence remittances to their home country will suffer. That will be our ways of peaceful protests.

Ultimately, the sweetest payback will be to better our country. The time to rethink what we want to be as a country is now. Our leaders must change their selfish and greedy ways, and begin to think of the legacies they will like to be remembered for, by rebuilding Nigeria. It is broken as it is right now. And they are all major contributors.

With a better Nigeria, who will be interested in going to many of those “rat-holes” called countries? We are blessed with all that we need to be great but we are not deploying them appropriately. President Buhari needs to wake up and lead Nigeria out of this mess. Enough of the excuses they made throughout their first term. Nigerians are no longer interested in that.

The criminal Nigerians in South Africa and all over the world should stop soiling our names and putting the rest of their fellow country people in arms-way, by their illicit activities. The news about Nigerian citizens in the past few weeks have not been palatable. They have put us to shame.

Our society back home needs to do re-evaluation of our value system too. The cases of instant riches, get rich-quick syndrome, celebrating riches without questioning their sources, pressurising children to become rich at all costs, by all means, and many attitudes which drive these young people to crimes, need to stop. Their should be virtue in labour.

May God continue to guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095