Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Attitude and Containment of South Africa’s Recidivist Xenophobia


South Africa’s recidivist xenophobia necessarily raises the extent to which there is a Nigerian foreign policy on, or foreign policy attitude towards, South Africa. If Nigeria has any policy on South Africa it is undoubtedly that of ‘no compromise with apartheid,’ as propounded in 1963 by Dr. Jaja Wachukwu, the then Minister of External Affairs. Apart from that, it can only be rightly argued that Nigeria has a reactive policy which is more declaratory and less retaliatory, more of acquiescence and less of focus and programming.

Grosso modo, Nigeria’s foreign policy is routine in feature and character. It is hardly predicated on strategic calculation. There is nothing to suggest any Nigerianess in the policy. Even when it is observed that foreign policy is in pursuit of the national interest, the interest is hardly made clear. What is, however, clear and good about Nigeria’s foreign policy is its bureaucratic routine that only responds to international protocolar concerns. But this is still most unfortunate and this is why the South African government has always afforded the luxury of speaking from both sides of its mouth in the face of xenophobic atrocities of its citizens against foreigners.

The South African government is always prompt in explaining that xenophobia is not in any way South African in character and that all those involved in the xenophobic acts would be brought to book. Unfortunately, the world is yet to be told who were responsible for the first xenophobic attacks and how many of them have been tried. There is no information on why the victims of the first xenophobic attacks had not been paid any compensation.

What is important here to underscore is the fact that the target of South Africa’s xenophobia even included the people of Nigeria which shouldn’t have been. One truth about the agents of xenophobia, and particularly the government of South Africa, is their conscious adoption of short memory which has largely induced the many irritants in Nigeria-South African relations.

As noted above, Nigeria’s notable policy on South Africa was the unwavering support for anti-apartheid struggle but the understanding of this support has also been the bane of the relationship. Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, former Military Governor and Nigeria’s High Commissioner to South Africa, once drew attention to a radio/television discussion programme during which the roles of African countries in the anti-apartheid struggle were discussed. For Nigeria, it was submitted that Nigeria’s contributions were essentially for economic motivation and gains. Nigeria’s role was never seen as altruistic. As such, the arguments were, at best, most foolish and ludicrous.

It is most foolish because, apart from the fact that the Government of Nigeria compelled the deduction of monies from the salaries of civil and public servants for the purposes of the liberation movements, it was, indeed, the enormity and constructiveness of Nigeria’s contributions that prompted the consideration and admission of Nigeria as one of the Frontline States, even though Nigeria was not territorially contiguous to South Africa, but also why Nigeria was made to chair the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid until the dismantlement of the obnoxious policy.

Is it that South Africans did not and do not know the truth? Were Nigeria’s contributions for selfish economic motivations? If they were not, how do we explain the unnecessary very hostile attitude of the people of South Africa towards Nigerians in their country? How do we explain the claim of African unity and the sponsorship of xenophobia? South Africans can be hostile to foreigners but Nigeria ought to be an exception in their agenda. South Africans, no matter their grievances, cannot have any legitimate animosity vis-a-vis Nigeria and its people who did what was humanly, financially, educationally, materially, diplomatically and culturally possible to support the liberation of black South Africans from the shackles of domination and exploitation of the racist segregationists that the white South Africans really were.

Perhaps most disturbingly, when the attention of the Government of South Africa was drawn to the radio/television programmes during which Nigeria’s role in the anti-apartheid struggle were misrepresented, the only explanation offered was that the opinion of the discussants in the radio programme was private and did not imply the position of Government. The Government made it clear that it had acknowledged the positive roles of Nigeria. In this regard, if the Government of South Africa had truly acknowledged Nigeria’s roles, again, why is it not reflected in the diplomatic practice of South Africa? For instance, why is Nigeria not always recognised like others during protocolar observations during official functions?

There is another explication, scholarly and tenable, which has it that there were two categories of African National Congress: domestic and external. Nigeria was not well known to the ANC at home (domestic) but to the international ANC. It is the ANC members at home that are currently dominating political governance in the country. Consequently, it is argued that there is no conscious attempt to undermine Nigeria’s roles.

As good as this argument may look, there is no disputing the visible animosity of many South Africans towards Nigeria. When I first drew attention in this column to South Africa’s politics of magouilles, the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria then explained that there was no South African xenophobia towards Nigeria but there was ‘Akinterinwa’s xenophobia for South Africa.’ Most unfortunately we only deal with issues and not with people. If the Government of South Africa is finding it difficult to know that its people are xenophobic, there is the need to assist it to acknowledge it by always drawing attention to it.

Without doubt, some rationalisations have been advanced for the attacks. Nigerians are reported to have been engaging in drug trafficking and other crimes. But it is good enough that offences they committed have been identified. Why are they not prosecuted as provided for in law? When have xenophobic attacks replaced the rule of law?

And true enough again, in many ways that Nigeria fought for the cause of Black people, the international community never forgave Nigeria. When Nigeria critically opposed French atomic tests in the Reggane area of the Sahara in 1960, France ensured that Nigeria’s application for associate membership of the European Economic Community was frustrated in 1966. When the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo nationalised the Barclays Bank (now Union Bank) and the British Petroleum in the late 1970s, Britain frustrated Nigeria’s national interests in many ways.
These are hard facts that South Africans should not be in a haste to forget. No one is saying that South Africa should begin to worship Nigeria for whatever help that might have been rendered. If Nigerians offend the law in their host country, let the rule of law prevail. But under no circumstance should Nigerians be subjected to jungle justice. That cannot be acceptable. South African businessmen undermine Nigeria’s law on daily basis in Nigeria. The case of the MTN is a good illustration of this observation, but there has been no jungle justice in solving the problem. No xenophobia for South Africans in Nigeria in spite of the fact that MTN had disregarded the laws of the land. What Nigerians simply did was to condone the federal government’s sanction of fine handed over to the MTN.

On the contrary, South Africa has always been on the aggressive path. It should be recalled that the South African government deported Nigerians with very valid visas and vaccination cards. This became another critical issue in the bilateral relations between the two countries. But thanks to the sagacious diplomacy of Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, MFR, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, the matter was quickly laid to rest. He underscored the rule of retorsion and reprisal under the principle of reciprocity, which prompted the South African government to quickly retrace its steps. That was the language the South African government could understand by then.
The people of Nigeria do not appear to mean much for South Africans. Nigeria is not seen as a former Frontline State or a big brother having any big stick to wield or even the carrot to dangle. This is precisely why the most recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians cannot but be quite worrisome because there is nothing to point to an end to xenophobia in South Africa or to the fact that the Government will be able to prevent its future occurrence.

One bitter truth that people may not want to quickly admit is that apartheid, in its most crude form, might have been thrown into the dustbin of history, its human exploitation is still staring everyone, especially the black man in the country, in the face as at today. Put differently, the levers of the economy are still under the control of the white minority. The roots of Apartheid are yet to be completely done away with. And true, the African National Congress only has political power but not the economic control, without which political power only creates a vacuum of irrelevance. It is largely the economy that matters and this is why xenophobia remains the last tool of complaint by the people.

The Government of South Africa cannot fully eradicate the remnants of apartheid by fiat, not much so when corruption charges levied against the leadership are neck-deep. Nigeria will need to address the problem beyond self-pleasing arguments of strategic partnership. There is absolutely nothing strategic in a partnership in which the beneficiaries of the partnership are allowed to be recklessly killed or aggressed or allowed to be taken to the altar of diplomacy for cover up.

Dimensions of Reciprocity
From the perspective of polemology, the causal factors of South Africa’s xenophobic attacks are traceable to a multi-dimensional issue: misperception of the dynamics of unemployment in South Africa. As reported by Aljazeera, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, the spokeswoman for the South African police, ‘there are allegations that those shops (owned by victims of the xenophobic attacks) belong to foreign nationals’ and that ‘these shops were used for drug dealing.’ It is also reported that South Africans ‘are sick and tired of foreigners who are coming to sell drugs and kill our people, we can’t let the community go down like this.’

Xenophobia cannot but exist when it is perceived that foreigners have shops that are used for drug peddling, that drugs are not only sold but also kill people. Xenophobia moves from the level of existence on the minds of the people to the level of translation into action when nothing is visibly being done by Government. Consequently, an act of xenophobia is generally a resultant of extreme frustration as shown in the preceding paragraph.

In the first case, there is the grievance as a result of alleged use of commercial shops for drug peddling. This can be a source of anger for the people but the anger must not go to the extent of generating a new anger at the level of the victims. In the same vein, if the South Africans are sick and tired of foreigners, the problem can no longer simply be that of application of rule of law. It is the political factor that needs to be first looked into.

It is important to recall the immediate genesis of the attacks as reported. Some residents of Rosetenville, a suburb of Johannesburg, reportedly decided to torch the properties belonging to Nigerians and other foreigners in the belief that such properties were being used for both drug and human trafficking. The attacks were a follow-up to the unrest in Pretoria West during which ‘those who are living in the area are (not only) advised to be careful (but also where) cars and houses are set alight by angry residents claiming to get rid of drugs and prostitution.’ If the issues at stake are drug and human trafficking, as well as prostitution, the resolution of the problems cannot be by way of xenophobic attacks or the people resorting to the use of violent self-help. This is why the reaction of the Government of Nigeria is, so far, in order.

Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Special adviser on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, said the attacks on Nigeria were ‘unacceptable to the people and Government of Nigeria’ and that ‘further attacks without reprimand may have dire consequences.’ Already, the students have taken the laws into their hands by not waiting for the dire consequences at the governmental level.

For instance, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) organised a peaceful demonstration in protest against the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in some South African companies (MTN, DSTV, Shoprite, etc) on Thursday, 23rd February, 2017 in Abuja. What is noteworthy about the protests is that, in order for ‘enough to be enough,’ the president of the NANS, Mr. Kadiri Aruna, issued a sort of manu militari ultimatum to all South Africans to leave Nigeria or else their security would not be guaranteed. As such, South African businesses in Nigeria would be made to bear the brunt.

In the words of Kadiri Aruna, ‘all the South African business empires in Nigeria and their collaborators in Nigeria will be affected… (Students) will not be lawful in (their) actions … and will do it and face the consequences… In science, they say you use malaria to cure malaria, now you use madness to cure their madness, and that is why we are advising them to leave Nigerian soil before 48 hours… This is the time to place South Africa where it belongs.’

The implications of the position of the students are quite serious. First, the students promised to bring down MTN installations. Secondly, they are asking for severance of diplomatic ties. Third, they want to confront madness with madness. Fourth, they want to act contrary to law and damn the consequences. Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, they want to involve the whole community of students in the country to protest. This clearly shows that there may be a serious situation of disorderliness in the foreseeable future.

This cannot but be so because sooner or later, there will still be fresh xenophobic attacks because of the factor of misperception of who and what is responsible for South Africa’s domestic problems
Explicated in other words, is the engagement of foreigners in prostitution the main dynamic of xenophobia? Is it really drug and human trafficking? If the problem is corruption, how do we also explain the corruption charges levied against many leaders in South Africa and particularly Mr. President?

South Africa’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Mnguni, made the good point that there is no need allowing ‘the misadventure of a few to affect the historical relationship Nigeria has with South Africa. Every country has good and bad people.’ Very true! But how do we explain the mistreatment of Professor Wole Soyinka by immigration officials? What about the obstacles put on the refund of deposits paid by Nigerians travelling to South Africa when applications for visas were made? Should we also be talking about good and bad governments in Africa?
The High Commissioner merits special commendation for at least admitting that ‘it is very painful when Africans are being attacked in South Africa and the Western media are reporting as blacks being against each other. If anything happens to the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, it will affect all of us because we are pillars of Africa.’

Without scintilla of doubt, High Commissioner Mnguni cannot be more correct. In fact, the impact of South African businesses on national development in Nigeria may not be underestimated. They created jobs and opportunities. However, they also consciously undermine Nigeria’s law. National pride, national integrity, self-preservation and protection of the Nigerian person cannot but take the first priority in the management of the bilateral ties of the two countries. Consequently, under no circumstance should the person of the Nigerian be tainted. Some Nigerians might have committed some offences in South Africa, the ideal thing to do is to prosecute them in the spirit of fair hearing and justice. It should not be by wilful destruction of their businesses, not to mention taking their lives. This should be the main and first focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy in the conduct of her relations with South Africa. It is by so doing that xenophobic attacks on Nigerians can be nipped in the bud in the foreseeable future.

It will be most unacceptable and indecent for both Nigeria and South Africa to have the luxury of coming to tell the world about stories of new xenophobic attacks. For Nigeria, in the event Nigerians are subjected to new xenophobic attacks again, the principles of reciprocity must be applied in extenso and South Africa must be completely removed from all strategic economic calculations in Nigeria.

And for any damage to life and property, payment of adequate compensation must remain a desideratum. In the absence of South African investors, Nigeria is much likely to thrive better. This is how to put an end to the recidivist xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. In other words, not until a woman tries two men, she cannot be in the good position to know the difference.