Xenophobia: Buhari Has Lost Us Respect In The Eyes Of The World
Until at least the last 48 hours,there were videos online of Nigerians being killed in South Africa almost on a daily basis.The only crime this men along with other African nationals committed was to be in South Africa and be prosperous enough to become a threat.A threat the South African Deputy Minister of Police,Bongani Mkongi clearly pointed out in justification of the killings-“there are many foreigners and one day,they could take over the country”.
Our Nigerian brothers and sisters lucky enough to escape being clubbed or macheted to death,sought refuge in the Nigerian embassy but were shut out.Yes,the Nigerian embassy shut its doors to Nigerians for them to go and be killed.Government didn’t issue a press release to deny or state why.Instead it serenaded us with some very uninspiring ‘It is doing’ stories.
Nobody in government talked about flight arrangements for Nigerians willing to return or promised to look into how the South African law enforcement agencies allowed the crisis degenerate to this level.
Finally,we were hit with a bombshell; Buhari wasn’t even going to travel down to South Africa until October.Normally when lamenting government’s inaction or non-responsiveness, we ask ‘Is it till Nigerians are being killed?’Nothing could be worse than Nigerians being massacred in the most godless ways and filmed for the world to see.Is it because there is a virtually non-existent possibility of any of those killed being Fulani?
Other governments preceding Buhari’s may also not have given Nigerians the sort of leadership they deserve but under them,we commanded a great deal of respect.In 2012 when South Africa sent back 125 Nigerians for presenting fake yellow fever vaccination cards, President Jonathan responded in kind by deporting 84 South Africans in just two days.
The then Minister of Foreign Affairs,Olugbenga Ashiru boldly referred to the conduct of the South Africans’ as ‘Xenophobic’ and warned them to not take the conducive business environment availed them here for granted. Nigeria demanded an apology and that the yellow fever policy be reviewed.
Just days later, the South Africans apologized to Nigeria through their Deputy Minister of foreign affairs who said deportations from then henceforth would be handled by the foreign affairs ministry.He also quite interestingly, added that they were not expecting an apology in return for the deportation of their 84 country men.
That was when we still had our reputation abroad intact.Jonathan may be a lot of things but Nigeria under him was more respected globally.He never travelled overseas to go and lament over how Nigerian youths were lazy or how the US and UK countries didn’t want us there because we were criminals.There is nothing Nigerians are being accused of today that they weren’t under President Jonathan but no one had the privilege of being able to refer to any corroborative remarks from our President.
South Africa was one of the very first places Buhari visited as President and he is on record as saying there that he was proud Nigerians wherever they were in the world would make both ‘positive & NEGATIVE’ impact.Today,any South African not sounding preposterous with the claim that their land is being taken over is conveniently falling back on the notion that we are all drug dealers and fraudsters.
Buhari,perhaps forgetting he was proud of the ‘negative’ impact,then said in the UK months later while warning Nigerians to desist from citing the Boko Haram crisis as a reason for seeking asylum there that our reputation for ‘drug and human trafficking’ had made it difficult for the US or the UK to accept us because they had too many already in their jails.Our global image has suffered a serious dent under a President more interested in piling up the dirt than laundering our image.
His tame response to the killing of our brothers and sisters abroad begets an undesirable impact on the travails of the every day Nigerian there.To add that countries aren’t bending over backwards to ensure they prevent our citizens from getting slaughtered,these satanic elements can wake up before his October visit to pick up from where they left with Garba Shehu issuing statements the South Africans ordinarily should on how it was an isolated breach.
There may be reasons to think even South African leaders themselves are xenophobic and may have allowed the problem thrive but there was a time when they would in the best interest of their country,ensure the safety of Nigerians living there.That is no longer the case.At the risk of sounding immodest,we are now no different from the Tanzanians,Zimbabweans,Zambians and others that have run there for a better life.
Nigerians down here that have quite regrettably, resorted to vandalizing Shoprite and MTN outlets across the country do so because there are practically no South Africans to kill.They are in a more comfortable position.
I remember saying when MTN was fined N1 trillion for an infraction that despite our sad financial state, we must thread with caution so we don’t frustrate a key player in our business community and one of the highest providers of labour in the country. Government did eventually take the right step by cutting down the fine to N330 billion but only after the company had reportedly spent a lot on bribes. Notably the N500 million allegedly paid to President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
Even if the South African President called or visited Buhari to intercede,he would have heard every story MTN also had to say.Why bother saving a South African company money that would subsequently go into bribes? Whatever power any threat would have on their government had been severely watered down.
We have never been this powerless towards South Africa and instead of Buhari to try and adapt to the climate he has created by making a sit down with the South African President a matter of national priority,he is sending people that will go and start whatever they say with ‘Sir’.
It is our hope that the killings stop but ultimately, Nigerians will need to command the respect it deserves. If not for anything, for the good of its citizens in the diaspora.
Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano; Twitter-@Alaye_100; Emailemail@example.com