Friday, March 10, 2017

Nigeria, Xenophobia And Afrocentricism

By Dan Amor
In 2005, a new diplomatic law was introduced in South Africa which compelled travelers from Nigeria and a few other countries to meet certain transit visa requirements before stepping into that country. Those other countries include Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone. Other countries affected by the law were India, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia, China, Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan and Kenya. Principally, the anti-visitor law was targeting Nigeria. This shows that xenophobia is an official state policy of the South African government.
 
*Zuma and Buhari
There is indeed nothing wrong with the idea of an independent country choosing who her visitors should be and who should not. Yet, it is not only a diplomatic shortsightedness but also a demonstration of chronic ingratitude for South Africa not to recognize her benefactors. It also shows, to a large extent, the limpid docility in the mindset of those at the commanding height of that country's diplomacy. Even when one can safely argue that the prolonged period of apartheid in South Africa virtually turned black natives of that country to psychopaths, it is a terrible malaise for black South Africans not to remember those who fought relentlessly for their freedom.
Of course, there is so much to say in the justification for the proclaimed Afrocentric foreign policy thrust of Nigeria. With about 180 million people, Nigeria's population is more than double of that of Egypt - the second most populous country in Africa; twenty-five times that of Benin Republic and thirty-five times that of Togo. This demographic edge is matched by comparatively high economic endowments, with Nigeria being, for instance, the sixth largest exporter of crude in the world. In terms of human capital development, there is no country in Africa that churns out the magnitude of graduates from institutions of higher learning like Nigeria.
It is, perhaps, in realization of this that the country has played a crucial role on the African political stage. For example, Nigeria helped in no small measure in dismantling apartheid in South Africa thereby earning the sobriquet of "a distant frontline state" during the struggle against white minority rule in the entire Southern Africa. She also played a decisive role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which metamorphosed into the African Union (AU) recently, and later the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of which she continues to be a central player. More recently, Nigeria was the chief architect of the ECOMOG, the military wing of ECOWAS, which has successfully checked military aggression in some countries in the West African sub-region, notably, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The truth, however, is that owing to some abiding negative attributes known under the generic term of 'the Nigerian factor', the country has not been able to reap the full benefits of her political and economic investments in Africa. Prominent among these attributes are: a consistently inept and retrogressive leadership, unbridled official corruption (brought about and nurtured by that leadership), and an absence of political consensus at home. Since the external relations of a country are ultimately determined by the realities prevailing internally, Nigeria's impact on the African continental policy has been far below expectation, its proclaimed Afrocentricism notwithstanding. 
Geared, as it were, towards playing the "Big Brother" without a commensurate effort to ensure that Nigeria retains the goodwill of those nations that have benefited from her generosity, our foreign policy needs re-examination. It would be recalled that in November 1997, barely three months after he was helped by Gen. Sani Abacha to win a premeditated election as president of war-torn Liberia, for peace to reign, Charles Taylor suddenly expressed preference for United States trainers of Liberian soldiers as against the initial arrangement that the Nigerian-led ECOMOG would handle the exercise.
All this happened in a manner that suggested a flagrant rejection of the August 19, 1995 Abuja Accord which incorporated a programme of disarmament of the warring factions, training of Liberian soldiers and the withdrawal of ECOMOG forces from Liberia, by the government of Charles Taylor. This ugly scenario has had to be enacted in Zimbabwe, Angola, and South Africa. For all her efforts, Nigeria reaped hostility from African nations as soon as they attained full independence. What is perhaps wrong with our management of 'successes' recorded in these countries is that Nigeria often acts as though she has sub-continental imperialist ambitions in these countries. We also fail to comply with the age-long wisdom that an intelligent actor leaves the stage when the ovation is loudest. 
Our Liberian experience testifies to this penchant for wanting to be humiliated out of countries where we have made enormous sacrifices. It is probable that these countries are usually disgusted with our domestic policy towards our citizens to such a point that they often choose to dine with us with a long spoon. What would stop South Africans from killing Nigerians in their own country when Nigerians are daily being killed with impunity by other Nigerians in Southern Kaduna, for example? Quite naturally, nobody will like to be associated with a hypocritical physician who cannot even heal himself.
While it is important for African countries who are beneficiaries of Nigeria's kind-heartedness to respect the natural law of reciprocity in dealing with Nigerians in their external relations, the lesson that we must learn from the above case studies is that there is no place like home. The duty of our government, in concert with the social contract theory advocated by Rousseau, is to make living worthwhile for our people here at home and to provide the enabling environment within which Nigerians can achieve their aspirations without having to emigrate to other people's land. Again, the moment the Nigerian government makes it a very grievous offense punishable by death, the killing of a Nigerian either by any Nigerian or even through extra-judicial killing by security gents, the moment we start respecting the sanctity of the human life, other nationals would stop molesting and killing Nigerians in their countries. 
But see what our rulers have done! Since the past eighteen years of the democratic dispensation, the economy has gone prostrate with poverty parading the Nigerian landscape in its true nakedness as prices of goods and services soar beyond the reach of the average honest Nigerian. All social infrastructure have gone comatose amidst an extremely polarized polity with a high prospect of a possible breakdown of law and order. If Nigerian rulers will stop playing dice with the collective destiny of the people and be firm-minded in their approach to governance, if they would treat all Nigerians as one, and make the people's survival their focal point, we would have sent the appropriate signals to the rest of the world that Nigeria will no longer accept the dehumanization of its citizens by any country.

 *Dan Amor, a public affairs analyst writes from Abuja

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