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In search of the scapegoat

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Traffic is seen on a highway in Beijing on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Noel CELIS / AFP)

They were bombarded with obscenities as the six fierce-looking Chinese law enforcement officers held their cuffed hands, ignoring their pleas and dragging them to nowhere. This captures the travail presently confronting the many Nigerians living in parts of China, as the current Coronavirus bares its fangs.

Many Africans have been rendered homeless, their belongings and other things they had laboured to obtain throughout the years, bundled up and jettisoned into the refuse dump in what has been termed the ‘xenophobic tendencies’ of the Chinese. But they, the Chinese, not wanting to be seen as obsessive jingoists, have crafted their own argument: ‘The exercise is to put those returning to the country in their proper places, so as not to contaminate the rest of us and spread the disease further.’ While their stand may appear prima facie valid, there is more to it than meets the eye: the Nigerians who bore the whole brunt of it all were in reality, no returnees and have been firmly established in the country. And to add to this, there were true, expatriate Chinese citizens themselves, returning to their native land, but were spared the indignities meted on Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ugandans, Zimbabweans and other Africans. Why this double standard? I dare to ask.

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Now, it’s like a free-for-all-fight scenario, with all manners of Chinese politicians becoming ‘COVID-19 experts,’ some suggesting that black Africans there, could possibly be the carrier of the virus and prone to spreading it. This assertion, a farrago of nonsense, is more like the pot calling the kettle black. Do they think sensible people out there will take this barefaced lie hook, line and sinker? Aren’t they merely resorting to scapegoating because they are short of options in curbing the dreaded virus that has engulfed China like a ravaging inferno? It really upsets me to see leaders apportioning blames and engaging in constructive ambiguity just to divert attention or score some silly political points. When Donald Trump, in attempts to minimise the impact of the disease in the US called it the ‘China virus’ because of its origin, he was pilloried for his assertion – and rightly so. The sensible thing is that all hands should be on deck to checkmate the spread of the virus, including the adoption of all measures necessary for its annihilation, as tracing any disease to its origin just for the sake of it and without any logical reason negates all genuine efforts at curbing such disease. Of what use would it be, for instance, were we to refer to Ebola as ‘the Congolese disease’ or Kwashiorkor as ‘the Ghanaian disease?’

While I call on the Chinese government to resolve this problem as soon as possible and for our own government to call the Chinese authorities to order – the Ghanaian government, having recalled their ambassador – I cannot help but go down memory lane when countries making up the East and S/East Asia looked up to us and wanted to be everything Nigerian. Of note is Malaysia which, in the early ’70s scurried down to my plantation village of Iyanomo, near NIFOR, Benin City, to borrow their first-ever palm seedlings. Today, that country is the world’s largest producer of palm oil while our once rich plantations have reverted to the bush due to our unbridled greed for petroleum, the devil’s excreta, which itself, swells the pocket of the very few, bringing untold hardship to the many.

We, the suffering youths, are today fleeing in droves to these Asian countries to make both ends meet. And do not be surprised if the Malaysian government were to adopt the Chinese approach in selecting out black Africans as scapegoats for the guillotine. This said, I am not contesting the fact that all countries have their migrant population, but my point, put succinctly, is that our policymakers should put Nigeria on the right footing and make it a country that works. If this is done, able-bodied youths would not be defecting the country en masse to be third-class citizens in these countries that once envied our fast-paced achievement fifty years ago, before we were consumed by the scent of petroleum. Also, our decrepit infrastructural facilities should be revamped for the benefit of us all.

As the hydra-headed virus has surfaced in our country, I enjoin fellow Nigerian citizens to take absolute precaution so that the disease is nipped in the bud. Social distancing should be respected as well as the lockdown measures, though I say this guardedly and with trepidation, as there is economic hardship in the land; and people must feed their hungry stomachs. But again, nothing lasts forever, as the aphorism goes. Therefore, we shall be victorious over COVID-19 and all that comes with it.

Agbonlahor, a trained lawyer and journalist, is the author of Killing Them Softly: The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Nigeria, wrote from Greater Manchester, United Kingdom.

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