In his first coming as military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari foresaw the possibility of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians who ‘check out’ in search of the Golden Fleece. That fear must have prompted the government to create the award-winning television jingle, ‘Andrew’ which featured late actor Enebeli Elebuwa. The popular ‘Andrew’ jingle underlined the administration’s campaign to discourage Nigerians from ‘checking out’.
Aside ‘Andrew’, the then Buhari/Idiagbon administration embarked on a re-orientation programme with its WAI or War Against Indiscipline campaign. The administration also proceeded to erect formidable socio-economic structures meant to lay a solid foundation for economic diversification and transformation. It soon became clear that Nigerians were not prepared to change their ways as Muslim and Christian prayer warriors organised open-air prayer sessions to seek divine intercessions to rid Nigeria of the corrective and incorruptible Buhari/Idiagbon administration! God, in His munificence, answered those prayers and Buhari was sacked after 20 months in office.
Nigeria is back to square one! Three decades on, the fear of xenophobic attacks that that birthed ‘Andrew’ has become real. It is now a common sight to see red-eyed panga-wielding South Africans dancing weirdly in the streets in search of the blood of their former benefactors. Beginning from 2008, misguided South Africans have regularly taken to the streets to hack down their guests, make bonfires of their bodies before proceeding to loot their property. The excuse, as usual, is that African immigrants have pauperised South Africans by cornering available jobs. We hear some South Africans are angry that immigrants flaunt their newfound wealth to seduce South African girls!
South Africans also accuse their guests of turning the former apartheid enclave into a drug hub and turning their youths into incurable drug addicts. Related to this is the accusation that the illicit drug trade has pushed South Africa to the top of the world most violent countries ranking. Taken on their merits, the charges levelled against foreigners are weighty. Denying a people their means of livelihood and foisting a drug-driven gun culture on a people should raise the adrenalin level of right-thinking individuals. To that extent, Africans share the concern of their South African brothers!
And those concerns are valid. Although there has been progress in the provision of houses and education for black South Africans, official statistics remain scary as they tend to suggest that the South African economy was better managed by apartheid high priests! Under black majority rule, more South Africans have indeed joined the army of unemployed even as social amenities are over-stretched. For many South Africans not used to power outages, the sudden appearance of the phenomenon a little over a decade ago was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Some people have to pay the price for the turn of events.
Former South African president, Jacob Zuma, confirmed the suspicion of Africans when, after the 2015 xenophobic attacks, he called on African leaders to do more for their citizens. It was an indication that the patience of South Africans was running thin in the face of a massive influx of immigrants. Since then, several top and not-too-top South African politicians have jumped into the fray by alluding to the fact that immigrants have become an albatross.
There is no denying the fact that many Nigerians do very terrible things in the name of hustling. Mention it: drug peddling, cybercrime, armed robbery, drug-related killings etc are some of the things some Nigerians jet out to do without minding the consequences to themselves or to the damage they do to the image of their fatherland which many of them gleefully refer to as a zoo.
While law-abiding Nigerians are united in condemning these despicable acts of their compatriots, one would have thought there are laws in South Africa to put away deviants. Besides, rather than inciting criminals to go after the lives and property of their guests, South African politicians could have considered the mass expulsion option if they truly believe their guests have become a drain on the economy. After all, it was for similar reasons that Ghana expelled Nigerians in 1969. It was for similar reasons that Nigeria retaliated against Ghana in the early 1980s.
Africans are justified to show deep anger at the South Africans. Many Africans, especially those in the frontline states bore the brunt of the decades of bombings, social and economic dislocation and despoliation by the white minority government in South Africa and their backers in Western Europe and North America! It was the frontline states that served as home to many South Africans aside providing the liberation fighters ‘safe haven’ to plan and launch the attacks that eventually forced the hands of apartheid high priests.
Nigeria was a colossus in the anti-apartheid struggle. It was based on Africa’s collective sacrifice in the liberation struggle that many Nigerians embarked on the ‘great trek’ to South Africa with the misplaced hope that they would feel at home there. But, let’s say this for Nigerians: the fact is, many of them who dared it to South Africa had no business leaving Nigeria in the first place! Why would a Nigerian close his barbing salon in Nyanya, a sprawling Abuja suburb and ‘check out’ to Soweto or South West Township to cut hair? What sense is there in a second-degree holder in Port Harcourt ‘checking out’ to Johannesburg to become a cabbie?
If truth be told, xenophobia is the new face of apartheid in South Africa. It is as sad as it is ironic that a people who suffered collective discrimination for more than three centuries based on skin colour could, so soon after independence, have any cause to justify discriminating against others. Ordinarily, Nigerians should have no business checking out to South Africa to suffer the new apartheid that has gripped the former apartheid enclave. It all boils down to getting Nigeria’s parlous economy out of the woods. But, turning around a criminally-plundered economy, like the one inherited from the larcenous Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2015, will not happen overnight.
It is delusional to imagine that a turn-around will come without pains! Still, the latest xenophobic attacks, coming so early into the second term of the Buhari/Osinbajo administration, should be a challenge for a government that is decidedly committed to changing Nigeria for the better!
Hope is not lost!
Magaji <email@example.com> is based in Abuja.