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Xenophobia: A deadlier apartheid is here!

By Abdulrazaq Magaji

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 better life. That was the Buhari/Idiagbon administration he headed created the award-winning television jingle, ‘Andrew’. The popular ‘Andrew’ jingle underlined the administration’s campaign to discourage Nigerians from ‘checking out’.

Beyond ‘Andrew’, the administration embarked on a re-orientation programme and proceeded to erect formidable socio-economic structures meant to lay a solid foundation for positive economic diversification and transformation. It soon became clear then, as it is has become even clearer today, that Nigerians were not prepared to change their ways. As it is today, there were open-air inter-denominational prayer sessions where divine intercession was sought to rid Nigeria of a corrective, incorruptible leadership! Strange?

A little over three decades on, the fear of xenophobic attacks that bothered the Buhari/Idiagbon administration has become real. It has become a regular pastime for gun- and panga-wielding misguided South Africans to dance weirdly in public as they hack down and shoot foreigners at close range before proceeding to loot their property. The grouse of the rampaging South Africans is that foreign nationals have taken their jobs and pauperised them in the process.

Aside accusing foreigners of snatching their jobs, the rampaging black South Africans also talk of their women being seduced by foreigners. At least, that was the second reason given when the South Africans went after their hosts in 2015! Taken on their merits, each of the two charges levelled against foreigners are weighty. Denying a people their means of livelihood and taking their women are some of the infractions that quickly raise the adrenalin level of rights groups. To that extent, Africans share the concerns of South African leaders!

And those concerns are valid. Although there has been progress in 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 under apartheid. Under black majority rule, it is true that more South Africans have joined the army of unemployed over the past decade even as social amenities remain over-stretched. Back home, Nigerians in South Africa may see nothing wrong with power outages but for average South Africans, long unused to the phenomenon, its sudden appearance was a direct invitation to anarchy.

It is good that President Jacob Zuma confirmed the suspicion of Africans when, the other time, he called on African leaders to do more for their citizens. To a large extent, the South African government is right in considering foreign nationals as an unnecessary burden. But, rather than inciting criminals to go after the lives and property of foreign nationals, all the South African government could have done was to order their expulsion! It was for similar reasons that Ghana expelled Nigerians in 1969. It is also for similar reasons that Nigeria retaliated against Ghana in the 1980’s.

Africans are justified to show deep anger at the South Africans. Many of them, especially those in the frontline states bore the brunt of the decades of bombings, social and economic dislocation and despoliation by the Western-backed white minority government in South Africa. 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, alongside Libya, Ghana and several African countries was a colossus in the anti-apartheid struggle. As a matter of fact, Nigerians are unsparing when it comes to accusing their leaders of treasury looting. But Nigeria’s huge investment in the liberation struggle has never been considered part of the waste Nigerians accuse their leaders of. Despite the anger in the air, the most uncreative Nigerian critic would not demand for a forensic audit of the resources the country committed to the liberation struggle in South Africa because, to many Nigerians, it was money well spent.

It was on the basis of Africa’s collective sacrifice in the liberation struggle that Africans 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: 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 shop in Nyanya, a sprawling Abuja suburb only to ‘check out’ to operate same in Soweto as South West Township is well known? Why would a second degree holder in Port Harcourt choose to travel to Johannesburg to take up cab driving?

It all boils down to the accusation of incompetence that President Zuma levelled against his peers. The man is right, if only he can convince his audience that his intention was not merely to blame the victim! And, rather than getting red in the eye, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa should be a wake up call to bungling African leaders to sit up. But for years of poor quality leadership in Nigeria, few professionals would have contemplated going to do menial jobs in South Africa!

History beckons! As the attack on foreigners raged in South Africa, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, will no doubt be reminding himself of the patriotic message his military administration intended ‘Andrew’ to be. If anything, the latest xenophobic attacks, occurring mid-way into the Buhari/Osinbajo administration should be a major challenge for an administration that is decidedly committed to changing Nigeria for the better!

Ordinarily, Nigerians should have no business to ‘check out’ to South Africa only to suffer the new apartheid that has gripped the former apartheid enclave. It all boils down to getting a parlous economy out of the woods. But, turning round a criminally-plundered economy, like the one inherited from the larcenous Goodluck Jonathan administration, will not happen overnight. It is also delusional to assume that a turn-around will come without pains!

Thankfully, Nigerians have a committed, austere and incorruptible duo at the helm of affairs. In trying moments like this, what else could a people wish for?

Magaji is based in Abuja and can be reached at < [email protected] >


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