Nigeria must develop her people against Africa
IN June 2014 before Nigeria rebased her economy, South Africa was the undisputed economic giant of Africa. It had had an economy developed on the same theories and practices that were used by European economies for their development. A lot of my friends who had visited South Africa told me the incredible stories of a country, South Africa, which is physically and economically more developed than Sweden or Norway or Finland. These kinds of stories made me remember sometime ago when I visited a sister African country, Ghana. My visit came after the Ghanaians had knocked off all of those zeroes on their currency that made a Nigerian carry a bag of Ghana Must Go bag if he exchanges 10,000 of our currency into the Ghanaian Cedi.
I didn’t know about this zero-knocking off, so I got there with an ego which was immediately knocked off my shoulders when I realised that our sister country now had a currency somewhat comparable in strength and value with the American Dollar, the European Euro and the British Pound. As a matter of fact, after that day, I no longer had the cockiness that most of us carry around at our being the supposed giant or big brother of Africa. Not only that, I found out that even though we had helped our Sierra Leonean and Liberian brother with a military expedition aka ECOMOG, we turned out to be so hated to the extent that ECOMOG as an acronym was no longer ECOMOG, but it stood for Every-Cargo-and-Moveable-Good in the eyes and ears of the people we thought we did a good turn.
Therefore, after we rebased and overtook South Africa as the largest economy in Africa, I didn’t expect South Africa, in the spirit of our contribution to free them from the oppression of the Boers, to clap for and egg us on. As a matter of fact, I was appalled at the epithets with which the respected Madiba, God rest his soul; once used in describing us after he got out of Robben Island, and this appalling feeling is what establishes the suspicions and subsequent suggestions in this discourse. Most South Africans, and indeed a lot of the people we see as our African brothers and sisters, see us as ‘big for nothing’, and would go out of their way to prove it. I sensed something was brewing and the currency of bad blood growing after about 67 South African died at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Lagos, Nigeria. The South African government was bitter, and even though they tried their very best to hide this bitterness, and came short of accusing the Nigerian government of complicity in the unfortunate deaths of her citizens, my gut feeling was that they would take a pound of flesh, first for our surprise overtaking of their position as the largest economy in Africa, and second, for the unfortunate deaths of South Africans in Nigeria.
The opportunity came, aided and abetted with the naivety of our government. In a secret arms deal that was supposed to stay secret and brokered at that level of international diplomacy, the South Africans took that opportunity to rubbish whatever international reputation we had left after Boko Haram, as a giant or a big African brother. A colleague here looking over my shoulder and sensing my train of thought from my title, is adamant that we served up ourselves on a platter for the South Africans to hack to pieces on the altar of mediocrity. That may be so, but most of us are adamant as well that we must look us in the face and tell us some home truths.
Following reports in the local and international press of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and several other African immigrants in South Africa, I have no choice, but to join others in calling on government to take immediate action against these attacks to forestall the backlash against Nigerians in other African countries. Coming at a time when Nigeria has conducted an election, hailed internationally as credible and free, this attack is an embarrassment that seeks to present Nigeria as incapable of defending her citizens in the face of unprovoked and unwarranted attack by citizens of a country which Nigeria spent human and material resources to emancipate from apartheid.
Irrespective of the fact that we have recently recalled our ambassador from South Africa, most Nigerians would be happy that our government takes immediate evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa. If the avowed responsibility of government is the protection of lives and property of her citizens wherever they may be, our government must do the needful and put its foot down by dealing decisively with the situation in South Africa as a deterrent to all such attacks from other Africans in the near or far future. This attack on Nigerians comes as one too many, particularly as South Africa, and indeed many African countries, have a disposition of belligerence towards Nigerians.
I call on the framers and formulators of our foreign policy to review the Africa-our-centre-piece policy and focus more on developing Nigeria and look inwards to strengthen the economy, build strong and virile institutions, empower our people and forge alliances that promote our national interests globally rather than being a big brother whose citizens travel to lesser endowed countries seeking greener pastures. Our economy is in tatters because we have allowed corruption to eat so deep into our political and economic fabric so much so that countries that have no business challenging us do so now at whim. If our economy were to be in shape, why would our people be thronging to other seemingly less endowed countries to eke a living and ending up with brain splattered over the streets and ending up on death row for smuggling hard drugs?
While the citizens condemn these unwarranted attacks on Nigerians, they abhor a situation where a government apparently decides to tow the path of docility in the face of these unprovoked attacks. Nigerians are not interested in our government telling her citizens in South Africa to stay at home. Based on this, the Nigerian government must demand an apology from the South African government and ask for compensation for the families of the Nigerians caught up in these dastardly acts. A failure to do so and a failure for South Africa to make arrangements to guarantee the safety and protection of Nigerians in South Africa, the Nigerian government must hand down stiffer policies that would affect vital South African interests in Nigeria.
In 1944, an America President, Franklin Roosevelt; forgot his dog, Fala, when he was visiting the Aleutian Islands. So he sent back warships to go back there to fetch the dog. He was ridiculed and accused of spending tax payers’ money on a Scottish terrier. ‘You can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog. He’s Scotch and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious’, he told his traducers. He told his fellow Americans as well that if he could send a warship to go get a Scottish terrier, a lost dog, they should imagine what he would do as President if it turned out that it was an American life that was at stake.
I think part of the philosophy in Americans, expecting to lay down their lives for their country, is in realizing what more their country would do for them in a moment of their adversity. I think Nigeria can look inwards more by developing her people than expect to be respected in being a big brother.
•Etemiku is communications manager with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Benin City. www.aneej.org.