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Xenophobia and the challenge before Buhari

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XenophobiaI WOULD like to admit upfront that my take-off here is an inconvenient one. It is so because it violates, to a certain degree, a sacred norm in Africa that forbids us from ‘speaking’ ill of the dead. But I had to choose between slavish and dishonest worship of a global deity (Nelson Mandela in this instance) and embrace of a cold truth for the good of the living. Therefore, my walking the minefield in this treatise was a conscious choice predicated on my unapologetic leaning towards the holiness of ‘truth’ – and supremacy thereof.

There is no denying the fact that I did join the rest of humanity to rejoice when the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Messrs Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” It sure signposted the arrival of the rising sun for South Africa. The world celebrated the demise of apartheid essentially because of the boundless opportunities and foreseeable prospects it presented a liberated South Africa. But somehow, it did appear that Madiba was so concerned about not being seen as vindictive that he ‘diplomatically’ avoided constructive conversations that had any relationship with the galling economic inequality in his country.

Whilst I do not begrudge him for treading a path of whole-hearted forgiveness and conciliation – in fact, I adore him for that – I, however, feel he did less than noble by not boldly providing a template for gradual redistribution of income in the interest of justice, equity and fairness. I sure would not have subscribed to the Robert Mugabe model – its attraction notwithstanding, but Madiba, as an iconic leader, to an extent, failed (no apologies to those who would wish to dress him in an infallible garb) to adequately incorporate the imperatives of economic freedom for his people in his parting gift to his country. He should have at least done posterity the favour of sufficiently scratching the matter on the surface. The consequence of that omission has found expression in the tragic xenophobic attacks that were recently witnessed in parts of South Africa.

I also imagine that part of why Madiba found it appealing to do just one term of office was to enable him stay off the perimeter of that temptation. Because it is plausible to argue that had he done a second term, he would have unwittingly walked into that ‘economic inequality’ trap. When Madiba’s successor made attempts – however feeble – to push it to the front burner, the West roared. Looking back, I am not sure Mr. Thambo Mbeki did not feel ambushed. Yes, he backed down and in addition to other factors, Mbeki had to pay the price for questioning the economic status quo by losing his re-election bid. And because that lie of everything is alright in our land was allowed to fester, the short-changed South African poor (mostly unemployed and sadly unemployable, too) seem to be taking their destiny in their own hands – albeit the wrong way.

From a legal point of view, their racist savagery is both monstrous and justifiably punishable. But from the prism of criminology, an honest interrogation of the factors that predisposed them to the commission of such heinous crimes would reveal an equally culpable gang of conspirators that stretches from the domain of foreign business interests to local collaborators and political elite.

South Africa appears not to be as lucky as India. In the run-up to Indian independence in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi, India’s peerless moral monument, consistent with his belief in the universality of truth and justice, opted out of the formal termination of colonial rule because the evil of segregation and injustice he fought against in colonial India also loomed large in the foreseeable post-colonial India. Fortunate India! They had a Jawaharlal Nehru and a robust Congress who rose to the occasion to chart a definite politico-economic course for independent India. Perhaps Madiba was supposed to be South Africa’s Gandhi – simplicita, but the absence of a Nehru has inexorably led a severely deprived people into this cesspit of xenophobia! So it would appear.

Back home, that ominous curve on our map as exposed by the state-by-state results of the March 28, 2015 presidential election has reminded us for the umpteenth time that we are yet to attain nationhood. The Nigerian nation is a lie – a broad one at that. But the Nigerian nation project is a very doable one, in my view. The building blocks are available, but our preference for cosmetic oneness has continually hindered all the disparate efforts made by some patriotic Nigerians for the attainment of nationhood. (Maybe President Buhari, when he assumes office, would reverse this trend by galvanizing the critical mass required for sustainable concerted effort in this regard).

Nothing illustrates this truism better than our national anthem, which the first leg of the first stanza charges us thus:
‘Arise, O compatriots,
Nigeria’s call obey,
To serve our Fatherland…’

Which ‘compatriots’? Whose call are we to obey? Which ‘Fatherland’? Ironically, the discarded national anthem of 1960-1978 looks more like it with a very sincere opening line that says:

‘Nigeria we hail thee,
Our own dear native land,
Though tribe and tongue may differ,
In brotherhood we stand…’

Whilst line 3 of the first stanza of the old anthem humbly acknowledged our differences, which should truly be our starting point as an aspiring nation, the first line of the first stanza of the new anthem, in self-conceit, seeks to rally ‘compatriots’ to obey a national call. When did we come together to agree to become ‘compatriots’? Did the forced return of Biafra to the Nigeria homestead mean that all had become well eight years afterwards – 1970-1978 and a ratification of Lord Lugard’s ‘Decree No. 1 of January 1, 1914’?

Come to think of it, is it not sufficiently self-explanatory why we all stand like statues each time our national anthem is being rendered at public functions? What greater demonstration of lack of faith in it could there be? Pray, if our leaders who gave us the humorous, barefaced lie called the ‘1978 national anthem’ do not believe in it, how then can any reasonable person expect us to take it seriously? We need to be Nigerians at heart, not Nigerians merely geo-politically.

The President-elect, is on the strength of the foregoing, respectfully requested with the benefit of the South Africa experience, to consider developing, in concert with the legislature, a comprehensive governance model and leadership style that emphasize the imperatives as well as urgency of founding a nation properly so-called as opposed to the counter-productive policy of ‘enforcement of national unity’ by our leaders – even before the arrival of the desired nation, so as to avoid home-grown xenophobic attacks within our borders in the not- too-distant future! Your Excellency Sir, please do not let ‘this cup’ pass you by, as it did Madiba!

•Akamadu, a lawyer, is author of Voluntary Union: A Centenary Imperative.


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