The chickens from South Africa

[FILES] President Muhammadu Buhari (right) and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

While Nigerians are rightfully feeling angered by the xenophobia going on in South Africa resulting in the killing and harassment of our citizens there and the destruction of their businesses, I’m hoping those at the very top of leadership in Nigeria are by now learning the right lessons from these attacks.

Despite the recent meeting between Presidents Muhammadu Buhari and Cyril Ramaphosa in Japan on the sidelines of the TICAD meeting to discuss this, and the South African president’s promise to deal with the matter, we now have more reports of attacks against Nigerians and Nigerian businesses.

In the not-too-distant past, we had what we called Citizen Diplomacy, which was a Nigerian foreign policy objective with the welfare, security, and wellbeing of the Nigerian citizen abroad placed at the centre of foreign policy. It was initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2007, amplified by the Umaru Yar’Adua government and continued by the Goodluck Jonathan administration; but the Buhari government seems to have effectively killed it off for whatever reason. From what we are witnessing now, the Nigerian citizen abroad is not part of the consideration of any foreign policy objective because if he or she were, we wouldn’t have these killings still going on in South Africa.

Okay, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama is now blowing hot saying enough is enough and promising government will do something about it. Also, a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Kingsley Chinda from Rivers State is already calling on the Speaker, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila to recall the House from recess to discuss this matter immediately. We’ll wait to see what they’ll actually do if they do. I have a few suggestions, but instead of stating them in detail at this moment, I’d rather we do a little bit of self-reflection as a nation because such honest self-reflection will invariably provide us the best way forward. That self-reflection must start with us looking at what is going on in Nigeria.

When we have Fulani herders going around and killing Nigerians in their homes and in their farms without the security services dealing with them or the state prosecuting them, when we have these people killing at random and the Miyetti Allah and the presidency justifying or excusing their actions, how do we expect others in other countries to treat our citizens? A few days ago we started seeing a picture of the governor of a state meeting with bandits and killers in the company of military officers ostensibly to negotiate with these bandits to stop the killings and kidnapping they’ve been engaging in for quite a while now. Some were justifying and defending this meeting on the basis that these bandits may have some hostages and that all the governor was doing was possibly negotiating for the release of these hostages.

Of course, this is just conjectural as no facts or any form of evidence were tendered by these defenders to support their speculations as per the reason a governor would be seen in a picture with killers and bandits. Well, whatever the reason, I just know that the optics of a governor smiling on meeting an armed bandit in the company of an unarmed army officer to negotiate anything is the worst case anyone can make for the security of citizens in Nigeria.

And it’s obvious the world isn’t impressed with us. The international community as a whole sees what we are doing to ourselves and are not impressed. For instance, no one outside Nigeria and the other nations whose nationals are affected by the South African killings is discussing it anywhere in the international scene.

Yet, on Monday, 1st of September 2019, a day after the latest spate of killings started in South Africa, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, Dr Agnes Callamard was calling on Nigerian authorities to take urgent actions to end the killings and violence in Nigeria. She is worried that Nigeria’s inability to tackle this matter will allow the killings to spread throughout the sub-region, due to the nation’s important role on the continent. Yes, our citizens are being killed in South Africa and the world is discussing us killing ourselves and they’re asking us to stop! That is the irony we need to deal with – the irony that our own killing of ourselves makes better international news and raises more concerns in the international space than the killing of our own people in another African country!

Of course, this isn’t to blame the UN or other nations for not intervening on behalf of our citizens in South Africa. After all, in international relations, every country takes care of number one and every country is left to take care of its own interest as it deems fit within the international system.

At all material times, every country is on its own. So, all I’m saying really is that others around the world see how our leadership treats the life of the citizen within Nigeria and their governments and citizens would not on the basis of what they see feel that they have an obligation to treat our own citizens in their countries better. So, when we see these things in South Africa before we begin to fume in righteous indignation, we must first reflect deeply on what we are doing to ourselves at home. If we cannot hold our own government responsible for the many avoidable deaths through citizen-on-citizen killings in Nigeria, how do we hope to hold another government and citizens of another country responsible for the killing of our nationals in their country?

Again, let me point out that this is not in any way condoning or underplaying the seriousness of the xenophobia and the resultant killings going on in South Africa. This is not saying the Federal Government should not act tough on the matter.

In fact, I believe they should have acted firmly from the very beginning of this crisis this time around because this isn’t actually the first time. Whatever the socio-economic problems in South Africa, Nigerians cannot be used as scapegoats or morbid exhibits of misplaced aggression.

Indeed, I was watching a clip of a comment by Mr Bongani Mkongi, the South African Deputy Minister of Police Affairs and I was shocked that a Minister in an ANC-led government can say the rubbish he was saying publicly, which was effectively a defence of the xenophobic attacks. The Minister said: “The question arises and we must investigate also what is the law of South Africa says. How can a city in South Africa be 80 percent foreign nationals? That is dangerous.

To be continued tomorrow

Emetulu, formerly of The Guardian, wrote from London.

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