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Our zerophobia worse than xenophobia

By Yinka Odumakin

THE serial xenophobic attacks on Nigerians should not have been the best way South Africans could have repaid Nigeria for our contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle. I have been wondering what would be running through the minds of ANC cadres who joined us as students in Ife and Ibadan in our university days in the ’80s, seeing citizens of a country that was so nice to them being bothered on the streets.

It is a time to remember the “Africa Has Come Of Age” speech of General Murtala Muhammed at Organisation of African Unity, OAU, extra-ordinary summit in Addis Ababa on January 11,1976 where he declared: “Mr. Chairman, when I contemplate the evils of apartheid, my heart bleeds and I am sure the heart of every true blooded African bleeds… Rather than join hands with the forces fighting for self-determination and against racism and apartheid, the United States policy makers clearly decided that it was in the best interests of their country to maintain White supremacy and minority regimes in Africa.

 

South African
Xenophobia

“Africa has come of age. It’s no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power. It should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or to mar. For too long have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly.

“For too long has it been presumed that the African needs outside ‘experts’ to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies. The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves; that we know our own interests and how to protect those interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers which, more often than not, have no relevance for us, nor for the problem at hand.”

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Murtala Ramat Muhammed was killed 34 days after making this speech and General Olusegun Obasanjo became his replacement as Military Head of State to continue Nigeria’s push against apartheid.

At the World Conference against Apartheid in August 23,1977; Oliver Tambo said about Murtala and Obasanjo:We refer also to the late General Murtala Muhammed who, hardly 18 months ago in Addis Ababa, said ‘when I contemplate the evils of apartheid my heart bleeds…’. We did not know then that a month later Murtala Muhammed`s heart would bleed for the last time, through fatal wounds opened by the hands of crazed assassins. Neither did the world know then that five months later the blood of South African youth, men, women and children would flow on the streets of Soweto, Langa, Mamelodi, Alexandra and other Black ghettos at the hands of the same enemy forces….

“The historic statement made to this Conference yesterday by the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo, in the name of the people of Nigeria, was itself a lasting tribute to the life and memory of Murtala Muhammed and a further reassurance that in Obasanjo we have another Muhammed.”

I must say without mincing words that but for the lives of the people involved and the destruction of property, it was clear that Nigeria would come to this sorry pass given our choices of failure that have reduced us from hero of Africa to zero of the continent. I lived in Ghana between 2015 and 2016 for a programme at the University of Ghana and it was always an embarrassment as lecturer after lecturer used Nigeria as a reference point for the failure of Africa.

Ghanaian History teacher

Outside the university I could see the tension already building up against Nigerians that it would take a few years down the line before we start to hear of similar attacks in that country. We were not as nice to Ghanaians like South Africans. The “Ghana-Must-Go” saga is a reminder of how we bundled them out of our country when they rushed here to do all sorts of menial jobs in their days of adversity.

I can recall the disdain with which many Nigerians held them at that period. We had a Ghanaian History teacher called Mr. Sakyi in my secondary days. A boy misbehaved in his class one day and he called him out for punishment. As the boy stepped forward, Mr. Sakyi asked him to hold the desk and he raised his cane to flog him. Before the cane could descend, the naughty boy moved away and said: “Mi o jegba Ghana (a Ghanaian won’t flog me!) The wayward school pupil typified the boisterous Nigerian spirit. To see Nigerians trooping to that country today to enjoy the developmental strides they have created riding from their trials is a humbling experience.

At a time Nigeria is shutting its Western borders with Benin Republic, three auto companies are heading to Ghana to set up car plants with Nigeria obviously being their target market. They have heard too loudly from Boko Haram and Miyetti Allah to contemplate making Nigeria their investment destination.

I felt so small in Kenya 20 years ago when my wife and I had to travel with Kenyan Airways to India. We arrived Nairobi in the evening and were expecting a connecting flight to Mumbai within two hours.But it was not so. The airline officials started sorting out the passengers and leading them out. By the time they were done, there were over 20 passengers left who were all Nigerians.

A lady then moved over to give us a sad news: “There is no connecting flight to Mumbai till tomorrow. But unfortunately the green passport is not allowed into Nairoabi without a transit visa. Make yourselves comfortable till tomorrow evening.”

Nigerians who were treated like Royals in London in the ’70s once the green passport was presented? It was a time 98 Kobo fetched a British pound!

My wife and I found our voices to protest the treatment on the ground that it was not our fault that there was no connecting flight and we should not be punished for the inefficiency of Kenyan Airways. The lady looked at me and gave it to Nigeria: “If airline business is a very easy thing to do, your country would have one plane in the air.”

Twenty years after that insult, my country still does not have a plane flying. Nigeria Air was launched on the Internet about two years ago and became defunct on the cyberspace after the “project” gulped some billions of Naira.

Two decades after the taunt, the Nigerian government shamelessly and gleefully announced that my good brother and friend, Mr. Allen Onyema has gracefully volunteered to evacuate Nigerians from South Africa as the only planes Nigeria still runs as a country belong to the presidential fleet.

As at time of writing this, only 400 Nigerians have agreed to come home. It is most unlikely that there would be less than a million Nigerians in South Africa. The rest are not coming home because there is no home at home. There are a thousand ways to die cheaply in Nigeria today than through xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

I read somewhere that some Nigerians hoped that the proposed visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa next month will stave off attacks on Nigerians and shook my head vigorously. If the visit of Mr. President to Benue after the murder of 73 indigenes in one day on January1, 2018 did not stop killings in that state, is it in South Africa that his presence would bring an end to killings?

It should worry us that South Africa has offered no word of apology to Nigeria and has even gone ahead to declare it would offer no compensation to our citizens. This is a clear message to us about our zero status. Are the South Africans not aware that when herdsmen kill farmers in our country we call it clashes and do nothing about it? We have even officially told the victims to learn how to live peacefully with their terrorist neighbours!

Terrorist neighbours

How morally justified are we to demand redress from South Africa? Is a country’s foreign policy no longer an extension of its domestic policy? What value do we place on our citizens who are killed at home without consequence to put her premium on economic refugees abroad?

I laughed when I read that Mr. Adams Oshiomhole called on President Buhari to nationalise MTN as a way of showing displeasure over the xenophobia attacks in South Africa. It looks a good suggestion from the shop floor. But we can’t stop remembering that MTN got 0803 the very day Nigeria got 0804. That 0803 is today a success but nobody ever called me with 0804 since Nigeria started mobile telephony. Another shame and reflection of our zero state.

Much as our anger against South Africans is justified at this time, it is a waste of emotion if we don’t begin to interrogate where the rain began to beat us, in the words of Achebe, so we can properly dry our clothes and not get exposed to rain.

Nigeria worked under Federalism and to that we must return or perish the way we are going.

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