REALISTIC RESPONSE TO XENOPHOBIA

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Nigeria should put its economy in order

The xenophobic violence that engulfed parts of South Africa in late August and early September this year may have subsided but its consequences and likelihood of repeat should not be wished away. The rationale for this assertion is established by the stubborn profile of this obnoxious phenomenon. Time has come for Nigeria and other African countries whose nationals were the main targets of the xenophobes to pursue long-lasting solutions that would enhance the economic opportunities and dignity of their own citizens.

Any further delay in this regard could put at needless risk the lives, livelihood and property of our teeming, energetic youths who are ever eager to launch out in search of the proverbial greener pastures. In the heat of the mayhem, we expressed concerns about the frivolity of the country’s authorities in their treatment of those grave outbursts. Although the killings, lootings, arsons and chaos have ebbed, it would appear that, in the manner of the perennial attacks, the last wave ended only after spending its natural course. With the fullness of the cycle, another round of cataclysmic bursts of hatred and destructive aggression could surface yet again.

The reason for what may appear to be a pessimistic, hard view is found in the public utterances of some members of the top notch of the South African elite. In a sad tacit endorsement of mob action as an instrument for fighting perceived criminalities, a former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, responded to the afflictions of concerned Nigerians thus: “The truth of the matter is that there are Nigerian criminals who are involved in drug dealing, that’s true. There are Nigerian criminals who are involved in prostitution, and that’s true. And you will find, like in this incident now in this area of Johannesburg, it was against criminals not Nigerians.” Coming from someone who is supposed to be among the continent’s elder statespersons, that ambiguous statement is a boost to the kinds of jaundiced communication which so often aggravate already tensed situations.

Also, in a dramatic degradation of diplomatic decorum, the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, was quoted as saying that, “there are many persons from Nigeria dealing in drugs in our country. I believe that Nigerian nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abusive practices.” Without exonerating criminal elements of Nigerian origin, such blanket claims are prejudicial and ready weapons in the hands of blood-thirsty hooligans on the streets of Johannesburg and elsewhere in the rainbow nation. Of course, the confession credited to the Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, that theirs was an “angry nation,” and that what was happening there could “never be prevented by any government” might be the most abdicating so far.

The options left for Nigeria are, fortunately, achievable if the right attitudes and resources are invested in them by the government, private sector and affected individuals. It is now clear that the refrain of Africa being the centerpiece of our foreign policy has outlived its validity and respect. A more pragmatic approach that reflects the yearnings of the people and the country’s status is needed urgently to address our external affairs deficiencies. But not even that should be a substitute for developing the type of environment that would make travelling out for substandard jobs less attractive.

Luckily, the capacity of the Nigerian people to rise to the challenges of patriotism and nation-building is not in doubt. This was demonstrated when Air Peace airline airlifted traumatised Nigerians from Johannesburg to Lagos free of charge. The comment of its Chairman, Allen Onyema, is instructive: “We want to send a signal to the world that Nigerians are their brothers’ keepers. When I stepped inside the aircraft to welcome them (returnees), they started singing the national anthem. There was nobody there singing about separation. They felt proud to be Nigerians; they rose in unison.”

Nothing can stop a citizenry united behind a government prepared to demonstrate visionary, productive leadership.