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‘Major Factor Of Migration Is Unemployment’

By Laolu Adeyemi
24 April 2015   |   11:10 pm
Prof. Osita Agbu is a Research Professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Nigeria. Agbu who has consulted for several organizations including UNDP Nigeria, NEPAD Secretariat, South Africa, Transparency International, Kenya; and OXFAM UK spoke to LAOLU ADEYEMI on the recent xenophobic attack on Nigerians and other African citizens resident in South Africa.


CONSIDERING the colossal amount of money Nigeria spent on South Africa during apartheid, what is your take on this xenophobic attack on Nigerian citizens by South Africans?

It was not only the colossal amount of money, but time and lives, spent not just by Nigerians, but also by many other African Countries. As you will recall, Nigeria was recognized as a ‘frontline state’ in the struggle against the Apartheid regime in South Africa then. Indeed, Nigeria expended a lot of resources in catering for fugitive ANC leaders, supporting the struggle, lobbying at the United Nations, as well as, smuggling in arms when possible to the military arm of the ANC. Against this backdrop, the recurrent hatred and xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and citizens of other countries is most regrettable and unacceptable by international standards. No country should condone the mistreatment and killing of its citizens under this circumstance. A similar attack worse than the present one occurred in 2008, with 62 lives lost. Events like these show that South Africa as a country still has a lot of work to do, in respect of preparing has citizens to be responsible global citizens, and subjugating the lingering effects of Apartheid, liberation and the high expectations.

Are there policies in place to check this menace?

I wouldn’t know about policies on how to check-mate spontaneous attacks like this, however, one can say that a good Early Warning System can be of immense help, while continuous peace building measures will help reduce the intensity and spread of this kind of violence. Intolerance and xenophobia coupled with a feeling that ‘the government will do nothing to us’, exacerbates this kind of animalistic behaviour. It is important to note as severally opined by social scientists, especially psychologists that it is the inability of the ANC government, which has ruled South Africa since 1994 to meet the ‘high expectations’ of ordinary South Africans after their victory against apartheid, in respect of improved economic welfare and the ‘good life’, that has led to extreme frustration and projected violence. There is therefore, a dissonance between the ‘expectations’ and ‘reality’, leading to frustration and aggression on the part of South Africans. Matters are not helped by the fact that the point of contact between South African citizens and the thousands of foreigners seeking the good life, including Nigerians are on the streets of the major towns with economic opportunities in South Africa, Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and others. With the influx of foreigners, seeking and engaged in small businesses on the streets, which ordinarily creates the largest amount of jobs with South Africans unable to effectively compete, the stage was laid for this kind of mob violence. Violence against White South Africans is much reduced is the opportunity for violence is much reduced, or put in another way; the points of contact are limited. Majorly, Whites live and do business in neighbourhoods different from those of disadvantaged Black South Africans. Whilst not excusing this kind of abominable, animalistic and violent behaviour on the part of frustrated South Africans, understanding the genesis and trigger factors is important in designing a solution. The only visible policy one can see is the effort made by the ANC Government to build homes for the South African masses still living in makeshift structures. At the last count, it was said that about 4 million of the promised 10 million homes had been delivered. Obviously this effort was not enough to prevent the kind of anger and violence we see with this attack on foreigners.

What are the factors responsible for the persistent migration of the Nigerian youths to other country, even African countries and what can be done to check this?

I believe the major factor is unemployment. Many secondary school graduates and University graduates who are frustrated due to inability to either get a job or a good paying job, often, believe that it is better out there. Many Nigerians youth believe life is better out there whereas it not that easy. Secondly, ignorance could play a role, as some do not seek the necessary information before getting out of the country. There are therefore, push and pull factors. However, I believe that the push factor is more to be blamed, because over the years, successive Nigerian Governments had failed Nigerians, and for many there is very little hope of things improving.
What can be done? There is little you can do for those who left because of the ‘pull factor’, except to extend protection for them abroad. However, for those who left due to ‘push factors’, one magical way to do this is through good governance, in which the interests of the youth are addressed through job creation. Reducing public corruption and providing efficient social services will also go a long way in reducing the exodus of young Nigerians. A major ‘pull factor’ for many Nigerians leaving the country, especially the financially capable the efficient infrastructure, governance and orderliness you may enjoy abroad that is lacking in Nigeria. Nigeria has the human and material resources to reproduce this state of affairs – only capable and good leadership is required. We should all work harder towards achieving this. And I believe that we are on the right, because now our votes count, going by the conduct of the 2015 General Elections. And we can all collectively seek and enthrone such leaders.

With this recent happening in Africa, how realistic is the African Union?

The African Union project is a long-term project. Short-term obstacles should not be allowed to deter the dream for a more integrated, efficient and prosperous Africa. Lessons can be learned from the experiences of developments like this case of South Africa. Overcoming this kind of obnoxious and divisive behaviour can only strengthen, not weaken the mechanisms for African integration. Remember, we must achieve economic integration, before political integration.

How would you advise some Nigerians that are already threatening to destroy some South African investments?

My earnest plea is that we should not even contemplate that line of action. Yes, we can peacefully protest to send a message to the South African Government to do more in terms of reigning in its citizens, and compensate those foreigners who have lost limbs and property in the mayhem. Attacking South African businesses is a double-edged sword. It will exacerbate an already bad situation, and also result in the loss of jobs by Nigerians.

Like I said, the South African government needs to do more in terms of educating its people to embrace tolerance, and learn to live with other peoples no matter the circumstance. Again, South Africans generally, but more especially those born after 1994, need to be properly educated on the role Black Africa (Nigeria, Angola, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique etc.) played during the struggle to free them from oppression and Apartheid rule. The history, role and contributions of Black Africa and the global community need to be thought in South African Schools. Further, the South African government should be more proactive, and actually deploy the military as a back-up to the regular police were these xenophobic attacks to occur. A desperate situation requires desperate action. And I am glad the South African government has now seen the wisdom in this line of action. Indeed, we should also be lenient on the South African government, considering the enormity of the migrant issue and the expectations from the Government and people of South Africa. We should assist South Africa get around this problem, not crucify them. A post-conflict environment is often difficult to manage, and building society up again is very expensive, indeed, more expensive than the war itself.