AYIM: CHARITY BEGINS IN COTE D'IVOIRE
MANY have come across the saying 'charity begins at home', and my bet is that majority of them don't need an English language expert to explain to them that it implies that one's family or country comes first before others. When those words come up in a conversation, they serve as a reprimand for the hearer to remove the log in his eyes before extending help to remove a common speck in his neighbour's eyes. But yet, despite how famous and widely circulated this saying has become, our leaders, both past and present, might be having problems understanding it.
It is a common knowledge that the focus of Nigeria's foreign policy is Africa. This foreign policy while commendable in the sense that Nigeria has played a key role in countries like Congo, Angola (where it garnered support for MPLA), Namibia (SWAPO), Mozambique and Zimbabwe, it has proven to be a financial trap for the country. At the behest of organisations like the U.N and Western powers which prod the country into committing billions of dollars as well as precious Nigerian lives to trouble spots on the continent, Nigeria is lured into wasting time and money on unprofitable ventures in the name of maintaining peace on the continent. And all for what? Nothing. The quality of life in Nigeria is getting worse with each passing day, and our reputation is not getting any better. So why are we allowing ourselves to be used?
What amazes me is that Nigerian leaders keep falling for this ruse. Maybe it is their love for empty praise songs that keeps them going. Maybe it is the need to redeem the already battered image of the country that keeps them tidying up foreign lands while their own house is in total disarray. Whatever it is, our leaders have become the unbeaten masters of misplaced priorities. In July 2003, former president Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted to have stated that Nigeria lost 12 billion dollars as well as 1000 soldiers in 12 years of peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The former president bemoaned the fact that most of these contributions went unnoticed, and that not even in the form of debt relief was Nigeria compensated.
While I am tempted to nod my head to the former president's complaint, I fail to see how he has been able to contribute to making sure that this ugly trend does not repeat itself. How have we learned from this? I will tell you how. Fast forward to 2010, Nigeria was set to walk down the same road again, and this time, we have gone swashbuckling into Cote d'Ivoire, telling an incumbent president to leave power or face the consequence of an ECOWAS wrath or maybe I should just say, our wrath. After all we are the ones who are foolish enough to throw money around for the sake of people who later turn around to spit at us.
The November 28 2010 presidential runoff election in Cote d'Ivoire that saw Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo pitted against rival Alassane Ouatarra has been embroiled in controversy that has gotten the whole world fixated on the world's biggest producer of cocoa. The once flourishing West African nation seems to be split into two between the two leaders who coincidentally have sworn themselves as presidents in two different ceremonies. The result being that Cote d'Ivoire might be one of those rare countries in the world with two presidents who are not in any sort of power sharing deal. As we watch the drama unfold in Cote d'Ivoire it is not farfetched to say Nigeria is deep in a quagmire of its own. As we tumble into presidential election with the rapid growth of terrorism, kidnappings and political assassinations in the country, Nigeria has no business mediating in Cote d'Ivoire or threatening an ECOMOG intervention in that country.
President Goodluck Jonathan needs to ensure that he keeps himself away from this culture of wastage. Nigeria has enough problems to contend with. The constant eruption in Jos where hundreds of Nigerians have lost their lives is a festering boil that the president cannot ignore. The increase of kidnappings in the South Eastern part of the country, the recent bomb attacks in some parts of the country, including the nation's capital, the decline in security and basic amenities is enough to give Mr. president sleepless nights. Nigeria has been made a laughing stock by her African brothers. One only has to befriend some citizens of the same countries Nigeria spent millions of dollars liberating to hear the derision in their voices when they talk about Nigeria. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are losing relevance in Africa as well as the world.
The rising profile of Ghana, an unspoken rival of Nigeria should be enough to make our leaders buckle up if they have any sense at all. Ghana has shown itself more worthy of international recognition. With the discovery of oil at its jubilee oil field, one can only imagine how bright the future is for a country that knows how to manage itself better than Nigeria. Geographically closer to the embattled Cote d'Ivoire, our smart Ghanaian brothers are sitting on the fence on this one. They of course will not take sides. And in not taking sides, don't expect them to commit their hard-earned money to send troops to Cote d'Ivoire without good reason.
The time has come for Nigeria to re-examine its so-called foreign policy in order to channel its already meager resources towards turning the country around. We are not the political saviours of Africa. Like one of the protesters who gathered in front of the Nigerian embassy in Abidjan on December 27, 2010 with a placard saying that Nigeria should let Ivorians solve Ivorian problems, I call on the Federal Government to remove the tree in its eyes before doing anything about the speck in Cote d'Ivoire. It will be the height of stupidity for Nigerian leaders to continue to rape the country of its resources and then generously give out huge sums of money to other African countries for the sake of maintaining a big brother image. In saner societies where charity begins at home, the governments will never risk the comfort of their citizens for foreigners, but in Nigeria, charity begins anywhere but home, and this time it even begins in Cote d'Ivoire. Like the naked emperor, the self acclaimed colossus of Africa strides with delusional imaginations of grandeur while flaunting its nakedness for the world to see.
• Ms. Ayim, a legal practitioner and novelist, lives in Abuja.