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Xenophobia and the waning influence of Nigeria

By Faith Berewa

There has been patriotic fervor in response to the xenophobic attacks against foreigners including Nigerians in South Africa. This is unfortunate, one too many, that has largely united Nigerians.

The attacks are, to say the least, outrageous, and the responses of some high profile South African government officials to the wanton destruction of lives and property of the innocent has been to say the least restrained.

It is so sad, that it is just two and half decades ago that the country was freed from the gripping evil shackles of apartheid and it was due largely  to the concerted role played by African countries, with Nigeria playing a very prominent role.

These attacks are therefore a sad reminder of the dark days of apartheid – man’s inhumanity against man. What are the underlying factors behind the xenophobic attacks?

According to the BBC, unemployment rate in South Africa stood at more than 27 percent at the end of last year and the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Despite steps made to uplift the living standard of the people, expectations, -post-apartheid has not been met, with widening inequality, not just between white and blacks but among blacks. Citing a World Bank report, CNN reports that South Africa is the most economically unequal society in the world.

If anything, CNN continues that the rainbow nation is even more divided now than in 1994. The result? The rise of an ‘angry nation’. This is indeed a hot potato for social infractions, with anger and frustrations meted out at foreigners who they believe are infringing on their rights and access to employment resulting in xenophobic attacks against “unwanted foreigners” with Nigerians among those targeted.

Nigeria’s economy is in doldrums. A large portion of our people cannot afford the basic necessities of life. From the period of the ‘brain drain syndrome’ of the eighties and nineties when our skilled professionals left the country in droves, to the present period where skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled citizens are leaving, ours is sadly a nation in decline.

The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, in a report this year says ‘Nigeria’s emerging middle class is leaving’. According to the Influential think-tank, Quartz Africa identified the fact that many of those who are tech-savvy or have other job qualifications in demand are leaving.

Many seek to raise their families abroad and do not intend to come back. Drivers of middle class immigration according to Quartz, include the breakdown of the Nigerian educational system at all levels, high unemployment and poverty levels, and a general disillusionment with the political leadership.

And about half of Nigeria’s population lives in ‘extreme poverty’, in absolute number more than any other country in the world. The poor can emigrate, but they more likely to cross an adjacent border in search of work. The report says.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2018 found out that nearly half of Nigeria’s adults(45%) say they want to move to another country within five years. By far the highest share among twelve countries surveyed.

We can’t take care of our own, not even the basic needs of food security, shelter and security to human life and prosperity. Emigration becomes inevitable for a number of Nigerians who are forced to leave because of the harsh socio-economic conditions in the country.  Our citizens can’t live in fear, insecurity and lack and we expect to carry influence in the world.

We should not bask in the glory days when Nigeria was indeed the Giant of Africa and Africa was the Center Piece of her foreign policy. There was no ambiguity about our foreign policy.  We were known as Big Brother, and big brother we were indeed: with our oil wealth as our bragging rights, and a burgeoning population, we were a force to reckon with.

We played pivotal roles among the Committee of Nations. When other countries looked unto us for leadership, we delivered. Nigeria had a robust foreign policy. She was a founding member of the African Development Bank, the AfDB, establishing the Nigerian Trust Fund, a component of the bank in 1976 to help poor African countries.

She was an influential member of the then Non-Aligned Movement, She led the crusade against apartheid in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and in South Africa.

She was a crucial member of the Front – Line States in the fight against the vicious apartheid regime in South Africa even when territorially we were not in the Southern African sub-region.

We played major roles in peace keeping missions in conflict spots on the Continent and around the world.  We were the force and main stay of the ECOWAS monitoring group, ECOMOG; a multilateral armed force, which we led for the restoration of peace and democracy in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

We dared Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by pulling out of the 1986 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh, Scotland, and many other countries followed suit because of her ‘sanctions does not work’ stance when she opposed the impositions of economic sanctions against the apartheid regime.

We had earlier pulled out of the 1976 Montreal Olympics because of our anti apartheid stance.

Ironically, our strong and vibrant foreign policy was in the days of military rule.

“Do you think South Africa is taking us serious?”Asked a friend from a fellow West African country, gauging Nigeria’s response to the xenophobic attacks. How can they? How can other African countries take us seriously anymore when we cannot put our house in order?

When we cannot battle or quell an insurgency in the North-East that has displaced millions of Nigerians making them Internally Displaced Persons in their father’s land, and refugees in neighbouring countries-two hundred and forty thousand refugees, according to the UNHCR.

Our neighbours and the world have watched in dismay and bewilderment as what was supposed to be a quick operation with the superior power of our supposedly mighty army; we are still at it, ten years later, with insurgency spreading to our neighbours of Niger, Chad, and Cameroun, due to our inability to contain it. In fact reports coming out of Nigeria paint the picture of a very unstable and unserious country. And unfortunately, we don’t seem to know what to do.

How can we be taken seriously when our citizens are killing fellow Nigerians here at home with bandits and kidnappers raiding and over running whole communities leaving in its wake death, mayhem and destruction with brazen impunity? How can we be taken seriously if we cannot address this?

Nigerians understandably want to express their outrage and anger by attacking the very few South African interests here in Nigeria. My friend wondered why we are not demonstrating against the killing of Nigerians by Nigerians, and the general state of insecurity which is abnormal and beyond comprehension.

The Nigerian Association of Nigerian students’ (NANS) call for protests against the xenophobic attacks is very patriotic. But why haven’t NANS called out students to protest against the carnage, waste of human lives at home? Lives that are their parents, friends, brothers and sisters?

I am not in any way downplaying the attacks in South Africa. The actions of the mobs are despicable.  All lives matter. Whether here, or in South Africa.

All those our politicians shouting themselves hoax, what have they done to stop the killings of our citizens here at home? Are they not making a mockery of themselves and the country?

If the Nigerian government cannot protect Nigerians in Nigeria, how do we expect a foreign government to do so against xenophobic attacks in their land? Even though they are duty bound to.

Ours is a pauperized society, with the inglorious tag of home to the largest number of poorest of the poor globally. Our huge population which we take pride in is now a burden.

Our bargaining chip in this standoff with South Africa is feeble. We are only ‘making mouth’, as my friend said.  Sad but true. As famed musician Davido posted in his twitter handle, “if our country good, wetin we go find go Southy?’’

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