South African


By Eric Teniola

Millions streamed out through any possible exit they could find – through Shaki, to northern Benin. Down south, at the Seme border in Lagos, stampedes would kill many. Dozens were loaded unto open haulage trucks headed for Ghana. To add to the tragedy, President Jerry Rawlings, Ghana’s military head of state, had ordered the borders with Togo closed, to desist coup plotters and insurgents, so there would be no passage for days.

In response, Togo closed its border with Benin to avoid a refugee crisis. Cars stalled bumper to bumper from the Benin-Togo border to Lagos, with people caught in sweltering heat and without water. Diseases spread. The United States sent in aid. The League of Red Cross Societies airlifted 500 tents, 10,000 blankets and thousands of buckets. It was tragic. Children were abandoned by their parents. And all these happened in spite of the ECOWAS treaty.

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President Shagari won the election for the second term. On December 31, 1983, he was toppled by Major General Muhammadu Buhari. His first announcement that night was “fellow Nigerians, finally, we have dutifully intervened to save this nation from imminent collapse.

We, therefore, expect all Nigerians, including those who participated directly or indirectly in bringing the nation to this predicament, to cooperate with us. This generation of Nigerians, and indeed future generations, have no country other than Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together. May God bless us all”.

Months after General Buhari took over nothing improved economically. The prosperity that General Buhari promised never came in spite of the imprisonment of prominent politicians. For the first time, Nigeria started to queue for essential commodities like sugar, salt, milk, etc.

There was anger in the land. The government distanced itself from the people. Nigeria’s foreign friends abandoned her after Nigeria ridiculed Saudi Arabia as “We are unlike the Sheiks who do not know how to spend the oil money”. There was resentment all over the land.

A publication titled, Africa Today, published by Chief Raph Uwechue, captured the mood of General Buhari’s tenure in 1985. In the publication, it declared “There were further outbreaks of religious violence by Islamic fundamentalist followers of Maitatsine in February 1985.

The riots started in Jimeta, near Yola, in Gongola State. The trouble started when the police moved in to make a pre-emptive arrest of members of the proscribed sect who had been congregating in Yola. The sect offered very stiff resistance, resorting to rampaging, killing and burning. The Jimeta main market was razed to the ground and the town was deserted.

“The rioting was brought to an end only with the intervention of the army brigade based in Yola. After it was revealed that a substantial proportion of the rioting fundamentalists were aliens, the government ordered immigration officers to take greater action to monitor the movement of aliens in Nigeria and to stem the influx of illegal immigrants.

This course of action was dictated not only by security reasons but also by economic considerations. Aliens were accused of smuggling and other forms of economic sabotage. They were alleged to aggravate the unemployment situation by taking jobs that would otherwise have been available for Nigerians.

“On April 15, 1985, the Nigeria government ordered an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants to leave the country by May 10. If they failed to do so, the government declared that it would be ‘constrained to take necessary steps to ease them out of the country’. Residence permits for aliens would in future carry a special seal to cut down on forgeries, while identity cards would be introduced for Nigerians. The Ghananian government sent a delegation to beg General Muhammadu to extend the May 10 deadline for the expulsion of the aliens.

“Few hours after their departure, Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Major General Muhammadu Mangoro, announced that there would not be an extension. Most returnees went home penniless. Many were searching for food and water. It was a nightmare. Expectedly the world condemned Nigeria’s action.”

The recent xenophobia in South Africa was carried out by a mob. The one carried out in 1969 in Ghana and in Nigeria 1983 and 1985 was a state policy carried out by Ghana and Nigeria government.

Xenophobia is bad, very bad indeed. It should not be encouraged. It should be condemned no matter what.


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