‘’I think that the only way by which we could achieve understanding among ourselves, when we meet on an occasion like this, is to try to tell each other the hard facts, the truth about matters, instead of speaking about them behind. ‘’It is most important that we become frank in Africa’’ –Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; in his speech at the inauguration of the Organization of African Unity – May 25, 1963.
Passions have been inflamed on account of the pronounced jungle justice and show of shame engaged in by some misguided South Africans who have continued to terminate human lives in very sad and questionable circumstances. The development has been occasioned by the irrational desire of several thousands of South Africans to remove Nigerians and other legal and illegal residents from their country. While South Africa has every right to dictate who resides or comes into the country, the country on which Nigeria expended enormous resources definitely has no right to continue to watch idly, the massacre of human lives of fellow Africans that has become daily occurrences on the streets of the country. Ironically, Nigeria is one of the most hospitable countries in the world where foreigners are treated warmly. Nigerians are very welcoming.
DISTORTED OPINIONS: A few years ago, this writer on a visit to South Africa had a very good opportunity of lecturing one South African driver who expressed some negative sentiments about Nigeria and Nigerians in Durban. As we got inside the vehicle, he remarked: ‘’Nigeria …… Bad, bad, bad country’’ to which we requested to know why he nursed that opinion to which he, however, was perfectly entitled. The explanation that came forth was his resentment of how Nigerians in South Africa were snatching girl friends of some citizens of the country. We told him point blank that if ladies preferred Nigerian men on account of hard work that enabled them to invest in ladies’ welfare, it was better for whoever wanted to control a woman to work for the resources to do so; and not engage in drinking spree when a normal human being was supposed to be working. We added that even women who enjoy legal status of wives love to be pampered. It is a universal demand that might not be made directly.
Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey sang about that in one of his memorable records titled: ‘’SECURITY – You cannot love ONLY with words of mouth! Indeed, there is no free lunch and there must be encouragement and incentives. (I love my darling lenu lasan may not work for long) The South African driver also complained about sharp practices to which we counselled that such be reported to security agencies. But there are many of such people with warped reasonings in that society on account of the level of education. Two other friends who went out at night reported back the same general impression. We predicted it wouldn’t be long before negativities started occurring.
ARE THEY CONSCIOUS OF HISTORY? We discussed among ourselves if Africans indeed know anything tangible about the role played by Nigeria in decolonization of Africa. Very fresh in memory is the pragmatic and brilliant diplomatic maneuvers of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime from 1976-1979, which helped a great deal in liberation struggles of Zimbabwe, the Frontline States, and later South Africa itself. Our diplomatic efforts, sheer size and potentials easily make Nigeria a force to be reckoned in the international community. Nigeria’s preeminent role in sub-Saharan Africa (and in Africa as a whole) makes it mandatory for it to show keen interest in the activities of member nations of the African Union. Africa is a continent afflicted by poverty, disease, illiteracy and under development. Over the years, Nigeria has played the big-brother role, offering aids and assistance to African countries in need.
COMMITMENTS: Famed Nelson Mandela who must be turning around in his grave as a result of negative development had commented that: ‘’The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence. Nigerians love freedom and hate oppression. Why do you do it to yourselves? ‘What do young Nigerians think about your leaders and their country and Africa? Do you teach them history? Do you have lessons on how your past leaders stood by us and gave us large amounts of money? You know I hear from Angolans and Mozambicans and Zimbabweans how your people opened their hearts and their homes to them. I was in prison then, but we know how your leaders punished western companies who supported Apartheid’. I reminded him that we had elected governments since 1999, and he knew some of our leaders in person’’
Years before Nelson Mandela’s remarks, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had, at the inauguration of the Organization of African Unity on May 25, 1963 stated the commitment of Nigeria to noble ideas concerning Africa: ‘’We feel that it is very important for the nationals of different African countries to have the opportunity of mixing at all levels, not only at the Heads of States and Governments level, not only at the Foreign Ministers level, but also at all other levels. Let our peoples travel different countries in Africa; let them get to know themselves d to understand themselves. This, I am sure, will bring great understanding among all the peoples of this continent. On the decolonization of the continent, I want to say that we in Nigeria are prepared to do anything to secure the freedom of the continent of Africa’’
DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVES BY NIGERIA: DECOLONIZATION & NIGERIA’S GLORIOUS YEARS: Nigeria has indeed contributed most significantly to the pursuit and promotion of peace through diplomatic efforts, which have guaranteed several African nations, specifically the frontline states of South-Africa freedom and autonomy. Liberation movements benefited substantially from Nigeria’s donations. Thus, in December 1976, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the South African Relief Fund, to administer relief assistance to the citizens of South Africa through scholarships, emergency material, social assistance and the amelioration of the conditions of the civilian population. The Murtala/Obasanjo regime pursued a virile foreign policy through shuttle diplomacy. The regime did not stop at declarations; it set about matching them with appropriate policies and actions. In Africa, the primary focus of attention remained the problem of decolonization in Southern Africa.
Rhodesia was at the top of the list of intervention followed by Namibia and South Africa. The Obasanjo regime massed all the diplomatic and material forces at its disposal in support of peaceful change of policies in the then existing colonies in Africa. Of these, “the most dramatic leverage was the nationalization of the assets of British Petroleum (BP) on the eve of the Lusaka Commonwealth summit, a move which softened British intransigence over Rhodesia” (A.B. Akinyemi et al)
NIGERIA’S INCREASING INFLUENCE: Arising from all the above, Nigeria has evolved a robust foreign policy through the solidification of relations with her immediate neighbours. This step has been gradually followed by the country’s commendable efforts at decolonization and frontal attack on apartheid and racism actions, actions that have given us more visibility on the international scene. Of course, all these activities have been made economically affordable by oil revenue, of course. Nigeria’s Peacekeeping efforts are not restricted only to policing peace through containing armed conflicts. From the strategic position Nigeria occupies, it needs not be stressed that a problem in Nigeria means a problem for the entire African region, and indeed the whole world, because of the influence of this great African nation. In recognition of this great role, it is incumbent on the emerging political leaders to continue to guarantee stability and create feelings of empathy, especially in the African region. Given the increased prominence of ethnic conflicts in recent years and the foreign policy of Nigeria which makes Africa its centre-piece, it should naturally be expected Nigeria would be greatly involved in facilitating the settlement and resolution of conflicts, especially within the African continent plagued by underdevelopment and poverty.
The military coup of July 16, 2003, when Major Fernando Pereirci sacked the democratically elected government of Sao Tome and Principe, saw Nigeria intervening to sort things out. President Fradique de Menezes who was then in Abuja on a state visit to Nigeria returned to power shortly after the successful trouble-shooting effort by international mediators led by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Another instance was the period immediately following the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo. That country’s parliament amended the country’s constitution without following due process. The beneficiary was Late President Eyadema’s son, Faussi, who was named Togo’s new head of state amidst protests and stiff opposition from opposition forces. Nigeria knew the implication of this development and therefore waded in, requesting for a return to status-quo-ante, a move which was respected by the parties involved.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The country’s efforts in the area of the creation of the New Partnership for Development in Africa (NEPAD), are a step in the right direction. Such partnerships have assisted tremendously in dissolving international barriers while also contributing to the forging of a new global agenda, inspired by the needs of contemporary Africa. As at today, Nigeria is the chief motivator of the African Union. The Charter of the defunct Organization of African Unity has as one of its cardinal principles “the respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each State and for its inalienable right to independent existence.” The Charter also recognizes the importance of “the peaceful settlement of disputes by mediation, conciliation and arbitration.” Experiences in the past, especially in the West African States of ECOWAS (consisting of sixteen nations) have shown that effects of disturbances in other nations reverberate across Nigeria. The fact is that if Nigeria fails to keep peace in these nations, she would be the major recipient of refugees from them. There are indications that the new world order, if not properly addressed, poses a grave danger to the continued survival of the developing world.
THE FUTURE: Whatever affects Nigeria has the attendant possible effect of spreading to other parts of Africa. It must also be realized that if Africa is not at peace, other parts of the world cannot afford to sleep with their two eyes closed. Africans live in a world of pervasive extreme poverty whose economic lopsidedness could be politically dangerous. Of the estimated 1.2 billion people living in abject poverty all over the world, Africa is host to about 300 million, which is grossly disproportionate to the overall population. Nigeria, the most populous black nation and the Giant of Africa has a great role to play in leading the African continent to political and socio-economic advancement. Nigeria must therefore continue to propel other African nations to move from the back row to the front by recording greater and impressive socio-economic developments.
That role has certainly not been an easy one, considering the fact that huge resources, financial and material, are required to get us out of our political and economic distress. But that is not to say that the situation is hopeless. For now, Nigeria assists other nations in the African region and beyond to solve their manpower problems through the Technical Aid Corps Scheme administered by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign affairs. Again, it is important to highlight the fact that there are thousands of Nigerian specialists in different fields in Diaspora, contributing their quota to the development of other countries of the world. This gesture is apart from grants and loans occasionally disbursed to African sister-states by Nigerian.
RECIPROCITY: The nation’s foreign affairs handlers are experts who have access to records and are, therefore, in a better position to advise Nigeria’s chief diplomat, President Muhammadu Buhari on the best steps to be taken to halt this savagery. Nigerians are naturally hard working and adventurous people with a Midas touch. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in the speech cited above asserted that: ‘’I think that is the only way by which we could achieve understanding among ourselves, is important that when we meet on an occasion like this, we try to tell each other the hard facts, the truth about matters, instead of speaking about them behind. ‘’It is most important that we become frank in Africa’’ Those video/film reports from South Africa tell the story of heartless, cruel and crude people left to perpetrate heinous crimes while their security officials look on.
SOLUTIONS: Those Xenophobic attacks in South Africa targeted at human lives are most condemnable ad reprehensible. You don’t terminate a life you cannot create. Nigeria is about the most hospitable nation in the world where this type of inhuman incidents would never occur. Here is Nigeria that in December 1976, launched the South African Relief Fund, to administer relief assistance to the citizens of South Africa through scholarships, emergency material, social assistance and the amelioration of the conditions of the civilian population. Those people on the streets of South Africa killing and maiming might not stop immediately. So, we owe it a duty to Nigerian citizens to get them reprieve very quickly.
OUR OBLIGATIONS: Let’s refer to the 2001 Kuru Declaration that embodies the vision of the Nigerian Government as: ‘’Building a truly great African democratic country, politically united, integrated and stable, economically prosperous, socially organized, with equal opportunities for all, and responsibility from all, to become the catalyst of (African) Renaissance, and making adequate all-embracing contributions sub-regionally, regionally and globally”. Furthermore, government is working strenuously to “create a Nigeria that Nigerians will be proud to belong to and grateful to inhabit; a Nigeria that rewards hard work, protects its people and their property and offer its children better prospects than those they may be tempted to seek in Europe or the United-States. All citizens, regardless of gender, race, religion or politics, should feel that they have a stake in Nigeria’s future and that their loyalty and diligence will be rewarded’’ This is the only way we could solve the problem of the exodus of our hardworking citizens.
We must appeal to groups in Nigeria to note that we are no barbarians so we should remain cultured in spite of provocations. Let us never forget that fulfilling these salient objectives is the responsibility of all Nigerians, and NOT that of government alone. It is very easy to shift blames when indeed, all of us contribute bits and pieces to our common problems. The 1976 treatment meted to British Petroleum by the Obasanjo government that nationalized the conglomerate may come in handy pertaining to the huge investments of South Africa in Nigeria.
Appreciatively, we have heard reactions from Nigeria’s Deputy Chief Diplomat, Mr. Vice-President, who roundly condemned the killing of Nigerians in South Africa. That is definitely the position of his boss the Chief Diplomat, Mr. President, since they cannot work at cross purposes, But, we must go beyond Declarations to match words with actions. Those people killed or maimed on the streets of South Africa may be more in number that the Nigerians engaged by their companies in Nigeria. Their mindset is largely irrational and corrosive.
All those thriving businesses in Nigeria service those violent South Africans on the streets of that country who daily engage in appalling acts. They must be made to enjoy or feel the impact of the actions of the primitive and senseless ones in their midst. Very stern measures are recommended because it is not likely they halt their condemnable attitude to Nigerians.
In the same vein, let all Nigerians in the Diaspora maintain excellent conducts that would justify the posture of the Nigerian government. A Yoruba proverb says: ‘’One slave causes caustic utterances against 200 slaves’’. Let them have their companies and their habitations. Let us protect our citizens who have the legal right to reside in any part of the world in accordance with statutes and conventions of the United Nations.
Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – You have our FULL SUPPORT to act decisively forthwith by presenting the viable options to Mr. President — our chief diplomat for decisive actions. We could summon a meeting of a few retired top experts in addition to the inputs of people like President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and Chief Emeka Anyaoku. Add Bolaji Akinyemi and Ibrahim Gambari to work behind the scene. From there, we decide the possibility of severing diplomatic relations. The mindset of the criminals is usually largely irrational.
ARREST & PROSECUTE SUSPECTED CRIMINALS: There is nothing wrong with adopting a very stern posture. We once in 1984 engaged the United Kingdom in a diplomatic row and came out of it without our heads bowed. That was the diplomatic row that ensued from the botched attempt to forcibly bring Umaru Dikko back to Nigeria by the. Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Earlier Gen. Murtala Muhammed had spoken fiercely at an OAU Summit early 1976 and asserted that we will not be teleguided by foreign interests. I see some insincerity on the part of South Africa, and would only be convinced when shown the figure of South African citizens arrested and prosecuted for murder and other criminal acts.
ENOUGH OF HOSTILITIES: From the position of a Nigerian who has limited facts beyond media accounts, may I out of patriotism and concern for Nigeria and Nigerians boldly request that we: NATIONALIZE THEIR ASSETS IN NIGERIA. We have competent people in Nigeria that could manage those sub-sectors ceded to South Africa. The loss of just one life of a Nigerian must be defended; otherwise the senseless carnage will not stop. In the words of front line nationalist Mbonu Ojike, let us ‘’boycott the boycottables’’ Enough is Enough!