I have watched with absolute horror the videos coming out of South Africa showing shameful and shameless xenophobic attacks by stupid South Africans on Nigerians and people of other nations as well as their businesses. This is extremely reprehensible. What is even more reprehensible is the unfortunate attitude or comments of a top South African government official giving the impression the attacks are backed by government albeit tacitly. Every right-thinking human being must express disgust for and condemnation of the attacks as well as the seeming complicity of the government of South Africa. I am extremely angry right now.
That said, one must, however, caution against an angry response, because it has never proved to be the best. It is most prudent never to respond or react in anger. I have read with utter dismay and, sometimes, amusement some of the responses even from those who otherwise should know better. Some people are saying Nigerians should boycott South African companies and their products and services. Others want the Federal Government to shut them down and ask them out of Nigeria. Yet, some want to retaliate by attacking South African nationals in Nigeria and invading South African businesses. Perhaps, the most ludicrous, if not stupid, is the one that says “our” Boko Haram should attack South Africa, a totally insane suggestion, to say the very least.
Nigeria is not officially or otherwise at war with South Africa. Some misguided people, in their crass xenophobia, are misrepresenting the rest of South Africans. The Federal Government has issued stern warnings against the attacks. It has also summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria. This is in accord with normal, diplomatic tenets. After hearing from the envoy and monitoring the situation in South Africa, the government can then take some necessary actions – which may include suspending diplomatic ties with the erstwhile “sisterly” country.
One can understand the angst of Nigerians. To say we, Nigerians, literally fought for the emancipation and independence of South Africans – and this is happening! And it has been happening. This has got to be the very last time. The Federal Government must demonstrate sufficient prudence, temperance and fortitude in managing the situation, but must also be prepared to bare its fangs, if the situation remains unabated.
All things considered, Nigerians must show we are more mature and more disciplined than South Africans. In actual fact, as I earlier said, these xenophobes do not represent the majority of South Africans, some of whom I have worked with and even went to school with it. My brother and friend, Clarence Kwinana, a former ANC freedom fighter, was my classmate in the Department of Mass Communications, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is a very good man. Lawrie Golden and Lawrence Molai, my former colleagues in Econet and later Vmobile are absolutely great guys. And that’s my point. We can’t stereotype South Africans because of the misbehaviour of a stupid few.
Now, let’s face some facts. For those who want DSTV, Shoprite and MTN to leave Nigeria, what are our alternatives? This is a case of Balance of Terror or Mutual Assured Destruction. No. Nigeria stands to lose more from her disadvantaged position. Their businesses in Nigeria are helping to drive our economy and employ 99% Nigerians! What would we even watch, if DSTV leaves? How many other malls have as much capacity as Shoprite? Let’s not even talk about MTN, with its strength and capacity. If we attack their businesses, we will injure our own people. Yet, our people are the ones being injured over there.
So, the situation calls for caution, extreme caution and street-smart diplomacy, which I believe the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama, and Head of the Diaspora Office, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, should be able to handle working with the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa. I urge speedy engagement and even speedier resolution to avoid a degeneration of the situation. I think the Federal Government must be more aggressive in dealing with this extreme act of provocation. This is not a time to be overly cool and gentlemanly. Nigeria is not alone – and so the African Union must also get involved.
We must make it clear that nothing less than total recompense and unreserved apology will be adequate to placate Nigerians over this dastardly act by these misguided xenophobes. It is also a time for sober reflection on how quickly we are developing our country. We are definitely not yet in an osmotic condition, where our country (of higher socio-economic concentration) will attract people and businesses from lower concentration. What is happening is that we have the population but lack the capacity (and even willingness) to develop our infrastructure. So, we are sort of caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Oparah writes from Ikoyi, Lagos