In the last decade, Nigerians have suffered several xenophobic attacks in South Africa. In all of these attacks, neither the Nigerian government nor the South African government have made any form of compensation nor reparation respectively, nor have the people of South Africa restituted in one form or the other to the Nigerian victims. Sad as this may be, it is even worse to think that the Nigerian government still holds very strongly, the bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the South African government. A relationship that should have been badly damaged by these attacks, more so, these attacks were instigated by naïve South African politicians; a situation the Nigerian government should have taken advantage of.
In advanced societies, actions like this are not treated with levity. The country whose citizens are victims of such crimes more often than not, call the erring country’s ambassador for explanation or give the ambassador an immediate exit from their country while recalling their own ambassador from the erring country. Nigeria reviewed its foreign policy focus from Africa being the centre piece to citizenship diplomacy with Africa as its centre piece. However, in these cases of xenophobia, the Nigerian government has not shown that it understands the concept of citizenship diplomacy. It only keeps playing “Big Brother Africa” while abandoning its citizens – Nigerians – to their fate. What government does that? I tell you: the Nigerian government.
Looking at the most recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, one begins to wonder what is actually wrong with the Nigerian administrators. The Nigerian government was mute on the matter, not until the people of Nigeria started making threats to South African investments in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs after much pressure from the National Assembly, decided to go on a field trip to South Africa. Getting there, he met with his South African counterpart. They brainstormed and came up with the brilliant idea of a joint commission (Nigeria and South Africa) to see to the prevention of further xenophobic attacks and any other issue that may arise.
The absurdity of this commission continues to beat my imagination. Normally, the function of the South African government is to protect the lives and properties of both citizens and non citizens living within its borders. Also, it is the function of the Nigerian embassy to protect Nigerians in South Africa and ensure their welfare and good treatment from the host country. What then is the function of this commission? This is Nigeria’s usual style – duplication of functions. This is tantamount to corruption, to be seen working and lack of commitment to the Nigerian people.
Again, the Nigerian House of Representatives sent some of its members to the erring country to carry out an investigation on these attacks. Up till now at this time of writing, no news on the outcome of their investigative visit to South Africa. Now, what happens to the Nigerians whose properties worth millions have been destroyed? The Nigerian government has not held the South African government accountable. This should have been the discussion at this point but no it is not worth it. Again, if even the Nigerian government decides to compensate its citizens for their loss, corruption will creep in and the final sum allocated will not get to the victims but end up in the hands of individuals.
Considering the role Nigeria played during the days of apartheid, South Africa should be an extension of Nigeria but the reverse is the case. South African businesses have flooded the Nigerian business environment whereas Nigerian businesses are not much in South Africa. In addition, Nigerians should be treated as first class citizens in South Africa and opportunities open to the indigenes should also be open to Nigerians. The relationship between Nigeria and South Africa should be like that of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Since that is not the case, Nigeria should ensure that the South African government pays the Nigerian victims of all these xenophobic attacks. In diplomacy, the use of force is allowed. According to Dr. Noam Chomsky, a Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said: “Choices have to be made in this world, not some world of doctrinal fantasy, and this world is governed by the rule of force. It is only in children’s stories and the pages of journals of intellectual opinion that justice and law are the guiding principles of law and order.” Knowing this, is it not right for the Nigerian government to take the necessary steps in making South Africa pay for its sins?
Only recently in the neighboring West African country of Gambia, Nigeria displayed its ability to use force to achieve what it considered the right thing. This was a situation where the major actor had not harmed any Nigerian nor had he destroyed the property of any Nigerian. Yet, the Nigerian government deemed it most important to use our scarce resources to fuel our C130 to carry troupes, and Jets to the country to terrorise a man who had done us no harm. This is not to absolve the man of any wrong doing; this is just to say that our priorities and choices should be properly made. By now, the South African government should have been begging seriously. There are many things which the Nigerian government could use in arm twisting the government of South Africa to its knees or at least to a point of calling for negotiations with the Nigerian government. Our diplomacy is a typical example of how not to run a country’s foreign relations in this modern world.
With the posting of the newly screened ambassadors, it is expected that the interest and welfare of Nigerians in other countries will be properly and keenly protected.
Jereaghogho Efeturi – Ukusare is the Publisher & Editor In Chief, St. Hilary’s Magazine and an Entrepreneurship Training Facilitator.