Xenophobia: Why Nigeria Must Be Fixed Fast - by Ololade Ajekigbe

The Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithi, stoked the embers of discord and violence when he called for the deportation of foreign nationals living in South Africa, saying that it was unacceptable that locals were being made to compete with people from other countries for the few economic opportunities available. What’s with kings and unguarded utterances in recent times? In the meantime, what started as a form of growing discontent and grumblings among the people living in the poor regions of South Africa has quickly escalated into a full blown massacre of other black Africans, no thanks to the King’s statement.

It is no secret that South Africa is a top travel destination within the African continent due to its proximity and developed infrastructure compared to other African countries. It is the America of the African continent, as it is seen as a land of opportunity where many troop to in a bid to make something of their lives. The Rainbow nation as it is fondly called has become a magnet of sorts for other Africans as well as people from other continents because of its beautiful tourist attractions and multicultural diversity. The “Mzansi’s” are aware that there is something about their country that makes every other African country look up to them, which perhaps explains why they appear to have an air of arrogance which makes them look down on the rest of the continent.

The issue of xenophobia which has led to attacks on fellow Africans in South Africa and has got the whole world buzzing today isn’t new. It dates back several years. Hundreds of black foreigners in South Africa have been senselessly killed over the years, with the South African government doing little to put an end to the recurring incidents. In the latest attacks, a couple of countries whose citizens had been killed in the troubled areas of South Africa have responded by evacuating and repatriating their citizens from the country. Thankfully, no Nigerian has been killed in these attacks but we certainly do not need to wait until that happens before a proactive measure is taken.

Over time, the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa has become frosty, with a couple of diplomatic rows recorded between the two countries in the past few years. The problem of xenophobia only worsens the situation. In a fit of anger, some Nigerians have opined that all South African-owned businesses in Nigeria be shut down as a way of paying back the South Africans in their own coin. I tended towards agreeing with them at first until it occurred to me that that would be tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. The reality is that a majority of the employees of the South African-owned companies here in Nigeria are Nigerians and even though it is true that South Africa will lose plenty of revenue should the Nigerian government clamp down on their businesses, it is also equally true that Nigerians who earn a living from these organisations would be rendered jobless and thrown into the already saturated unemployment market, with the effect trickling down to their many dependants. Boycotting the services of these companies or shutting them down altogether only ends up creating another major problem.

In view of all this, the perfect response to the recurrent xenophobic attacks on other black Africans in South Africa is to develop Nigeria to the extent where South Africa no longer becomes an attractive prospect for the average Nigerian. For instance, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot have an alternative to MultiChoice that is enjoying a senseless monopoly at the moment. If the power and health sectors are properly attended to, then we will have a better country and our youths will not deem it necessary to search for greener pastures elsewhere. We really cannot determine how someone else treats us in their home but we can certainly do something about improving our home to a respectable level.

Interestingly, Nigeria and South Africa are similar in many aspects as both are the largest economies in Africa and both are multi-ethnic societies with a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions. However, Nigeria has an edge having just overtaken South Africa as the largest economy in Africa last year. Nigeria also has more human resources with a population that triples that of South Africa, besides vast natural resources that we are hugely endowed with. The question is what are we doing to harness our human and material resources to benefit the people?

There is no reason why a country referred to as the “Giants of Africa,” with all the resources at its disposal should not stand head and shoulders above or at least be at par with South Africa given all the indices, especially with the renewed hope that the just concluded elections have evoked. I am aware that the fact that things getting better in Nigeria does not automatically translate to people not migrating to other countries any more, South Africa inclusive. Those who have to live or work abroad will still do so, but this time round, they will not be “running away” or leaving Nigeria out of frustration.

Nigerians will only live abroad on their own terms and if for any reason they have to return to their motherland, they would do so without batting an eyelid and without fear or apprehension of what awaits them here. Because they will be coming to back to a country they can be proud of. A country where they certainly won’t be maltreated, harassed or treated like second class citizens, for there is no place like home.