On the Xenophobic Attacks against Nigerians in South Africa

By Pius Adesanmi

A friend asked me today why I have not weighed in on the recent wave of xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa.

I told him that I am not indifferent to the situation. On the contrary, I’ve been monitoring it quite closely. It’s just that I’ve written condemnations and analyses during every wave and cycle of violence against Nigerians and other “foreigners” (read: black African immigrants, never Europeans or white immigrants) by our friends in South Africa that I feel that everything I have written about that open sore of a continent (apologies to WS) remains valid.

I told my friend that I was recently told by an elderly South African colleague who admires my work a lot and has invited me a few times in the past for lectures in South Africa that they would love to have me over again this summer but it breaks that person’s heart that this is no time to contemplate inviting a Nigerian academic as the xenophobic sentiment is so toxic – even in academe.

My South African colleague would not want to expose me to such shame and the consequences both psychological and emotional for me. We agreed that I would come at a more auspicious time. Whining about being disinvited for a lecture doesn’t of course come close to the real life situations that our brothers and sisters are facing down there.

Imagine what Nigerians on the ground yonder are going through…

I have not been indifferent. I am just numb. Besides, I have been reading and quietly endorsing Gimba Kakanda’s commentary on the situation at 99%. The 1% I am withdrawing from him is only because there are times I encounter a thought here and a word there and I chuckle and say to myself: “Gimba is holding this fanciful opinion or is imagining things along these lines because he probably has never been to SA.” In the main, he has been offering brilliant perspectives.

My brother, Abdul Mahmud, also weighed in today with recommendations that I fully endorse. Abdul recommends the following immediate measures:

“1) Recall our High Commissioner in South Africa; 2) Withdraw accreditation to SA High Commissioner to Nigeria; 3) Close down Nigeria’s High Commission and begin earnest evacuation of Nigerians in South Africa; 4) Close or nationalize South Africa investments in Nigeria.”

However, Abdul’s recommendations are predicated on the assumption that a 21st-century state exists in Abuja which understands that the first moral justification for the existence of a state is the ability to move mountains because of the life of a single citizen.

I gave up on the Nigerian state in terms of her perception of the value of the life of a citizen about six years ago when Somalian pirates hijacked a Nigerian boat and took the crew hostage. Because they are used to kidnapping Europeans and Americans and immediately getting the attention of states worried about their citizens, the Somalians had expected somebody in Abuja to be bothered about their Nigerian hostages. They learned a very serious lesson: a Nigerian has no hostage value because no state really worries about him.

After detaining the Nigerians for more than three months, the Somalians cut their losses and freed them. It was not economically viable to hold on to and continue to feed hostages nobody in Abuja was asking about. Even the US State Department made some perfunctory noise about the Nigerian hostages at the time. Not Abuja.

That is why this nonsense has persisted for so long in South Africa. Apart from diplomatese and whining and issuing perfunctory statements and meetings between Abike Dabiri and the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, there is really nothing concrete that Abuja has done. But can a state which pointedly refuses to do anything about the sanctity of life domestically – Southern Kaduna, Agatu, and Enugu previously – do anything externally?

Nigeria has the capacity to practically shut down South Africa’s economy. Do something drastic to South Africa’s immense economic assets in Nigeria to show that you mean business and they will receive sense in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Gimba Kakanda is always retailing Nigeria’s long history of investment in the anti-apartheid struggle. Unknown to him, we did more than pump funds into that struggle. We did more than offer University scholarships to black South Africans during the Apartheid era. We even declared African juju war on Apartheid as Olusegun Obasanjo mobilized Nigeria to deploy juju against President Pieter Botha in the late 1980s. A desperate African situation called for a desperate African solution and President Obasanjo called for Nigeria’s national use of juju against Apartheid!

Until Abuja values the life of the Nigerian the way modern states value the life of a citizen, there will always be the sentiment across the continent that a Nigerian can be treated anyhow.

When my American friends mouth patriotism and do all their star spangled banner talk, I chuckle in amusement. Patriotism in America, Canada or Europe is easy. Why will you not be patriotic? Why will you not love a country which always has your back and will not hesitate to mobilize seals and tanks to secure the life of a single citizen in danger abroad?

American patriotism is easy because the state has your back when your life is in jeopardy.

Nigerian patriotism is superior patriotism. Despite all our differences, we are passionate and obsess about a state that does not have our back. Being patriotic to a state that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your life is the real deal.

Abuja does everything to tell you that you are on your own.

Abuja does not value your life.

Yet you persist in your passion for Nigeria. That is superior patriotism. Being patriotic to Nigeria is morally superior.

If you ask me, I wish Nigerians in South Africa were stateless.

If they were stateless, the UN, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International would take up their cause and do far more about their plight in South Africa than Abuja is currently doing.

So long as there is the illusion of a state in Abuja, international human rights organizations will not come to the rescue of Nigerians in South Africa. For our compatriots in Azania, it is double wahala.

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