S’Africa and the Flawed Nigerian Diplomacy – By Dr. Phil Tam-Al Alalibo
The recent battle of diplomatic wits between Nigeria and South Africa, the self-acclaimed giants of the continent, only goes to reiterates the severely flawed Nigerian diplomacy that is compromising the wellbeing of its citizens in Africa and around the world. Countries like Togo, Gabon, Tanzania, Zambia, Ivory Coast and the likes have now been collectively emboldened to make the lives of Nigerians in their shores utterly unbearable and with great impunity. This is largely due to an over-zealous and seriously flawed foreign policy of Nigeria that embraces Africa as its centerpiece at the expense of Nigerians and the acute cavalier disposition of our leaders even when the welfare of Nigerians in other lands is at stake. This mis-directed foreign policy has amply provided the impetus for the mistreatment of Nigerians in many foreign lands. Therefore, the South African deportation of 125 Nigerians should serve as a wake-up call to the Abuja government and should provoke an ardent and deliberate restructuring of Nigerian foreign policy to reflect the current mood of a continent that has gone berserk on the Nigerian. In the face of current realities, it is no longer fashionable to continue to make Africa the focal point of a foreign policy when the Africans, the supposed benefactors, have no regard for the Nigerian. It’s of interest to note that many of these countries that have assumed the gauntlet against Nigerians were once beneficiaries of Nigeria’s largesse eating freely from the fruitful palms of Abuja. While we do not expect them to repay the sacrifice Nigeria endured on their behalf, they can at the very least protect Nigeria’s interest and respect her citizens. Many of them do not have the citizenry that can march the intellect and savvy-ness of the average Nigerian on the street, yet due to the vexing insensitivity of our leaders who are treating their own citizens like orphaned lepers; these countries regard the Nigerian with great venom.
The case of South Africa becomes intriguingly irksome given the fraternal relationship both countries have shared predicated on the enormous sacrifice of Nigeria and her citizens to unleash it from the perilous claws of apartheid. Then, Nigeria committed huge resources to finance the African National Congress (ANC) in its costly fight against apartheid. At the height of the rogue apartheid regime in Pretoria when the minority white racist government refused ANC operatives and their children to attend South African universities, it was Nigeria, not Ghana, Cameroon or Zimbabwe which offered to train those South Africans at the Universities of Ibadan and Ife, two of Nigeria’s elite universities at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayer. It was Nigeria that offered 300 ANC operatives Nigerian passports to enable them canvass the world to seek support when the white minority government refused or revoked their passports. Nigeria, even risked its membership at the Commonwealth in a face-off with Britain over South Africa and Nigerian leaders displaying rare bravery, went a step further to boycott the Commonwealth games in a certain year as a stern protest against Britain in its lukewarm disposition towards the suffering of the South African blacks.
Since independence in 1994, however, South Africa has sought with jealous ferocity to unseat Nigeria as the perceived giant of Africa. For whatever reason, it has demonstrated severally to Abuja and indeed the rest of the continent that there is another power to be reckoned with, a new kid on the block. This was evident most recently when the Pretoria government blasted the Jonathan administration for siding with the USA, France and Britain in calling for the late Libyan despot to step down in the interest of peace. South Africa dismissed Nigeria as a Western stooge and called its actions un-African. In spite of this undeserving pontification against a sister nation, Nigeria appeared to have won this battle given the inevitable demise of the Libyan strongman and the eventual recognition of the National Transition Council (NTC) by the AU against the wishes of Pretoria. Again, the clash of egos, rivalry and competition between the two African giants spiraled to the fore at the recent AU meeting of Heads of States in the Ethiopian capital. Nigeria had a golden opportunity to avenge the excesses of South Africa when it blocked a move by its president, Jacob Zuma, to have one of his harems of wives or women chair an AU committee. Abuja won this battle with a majority of the African states siding with Nigeria.
Floored too many times at the African stage by its arch rival, Pretoria sought to embarrass Nigeria with this latest well calibrated diplomatic recklessness that had little to do with yellow fever cards and more with settling old scores. From all viable indications, the Abuja government has the right to be indignant given the investment in human and financial capital to free South Africa from the throes of racism. It has a right to expect a modicum of respect and not to be preyed upon in such disparaging manner. If indeed, the yellow fever cards were invalid, as claimed, there are stipulated international standards and accepted norms of addressing such lapses than to dabble in whole scale deportation of 125 nationals of a sister nation including a high-ranking senator. The deportation of the senator is at the core of this row and a driver for Nigeria’s knee-jerk reaction as it appeared that South Africa had touched the lion’s tail and must be punished. Such reaction, thus, can be viewed not from the prism of national interest or a genuine concern for its citizens, but from that of self-preservation reeking immensely of spurious intensions. How else do we explain the stark silence of the same Abuja government that was so enlivened by the South African deportations of its citizens at the recent deportations of 120 Nigerians from UK just a few days after the saga with South Africa? In spite of its rambunctious proclamation of a tit-for-tat diplomacy moving forward, nothing has been heard from Abuja and this clearly underscores the point that its reaction to South Africa was self-serving, egotistic, selective and grossly unconnected with the welfare of the common Nigerian.
Surely, the argument can be made that South Africa was emboldened by the Nigerian political elites to ignore diplomatic niceties in such an impetuous manner. Many of our leaders, in spite of the violent crimes in South Africa and its high HIV/AIDS infection rate still prefer it, over Nigeria, as an investment destination. Many of the Nigerian political elites own exorbitant properties in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and other choice South African cities. Of late, Nigerian elites have been sending their wards to South African universities that compete favorably with Western universities. This is in addition to the countless so-called medical vacations Nigerian politicians and elites take to South Africa spending enormous sums to boast that country’s healthcare sector and economy. The attraction to South Africa is vested in its robust economy, infrastructures and institutions that readily dwarf those in Nigeria. South Africa with a strong economy is a major hub for manufacturing; South Africans enjoy constant electricity and basic amenities that continue to be a rarity in Nigeria. World institutions such as FIFA have since reckoned this by rewarding South Africa with the 2010 World Cup while Nigeria, an independent nation for 51 years, continues to host inconsequential junior world tournaments that pale in comparison. Nigerian leaders, in all their rage and noise-making could not have taken this tit-for-tat diplomacy too far with the knowledge that it may very well threaten their own vast investments in South Africa and hinder their ability to travel to that country to advance their personal interests.
South Africa on the other hand is also mindful of its high dividend yielding investments in Nigeria and will not exacerbate this recklessness any further than necessary, thus, its hurried capitulation. It stands to suffer great economic loss if Nigeria were to scrutinize how it flaunts immigration expatriate quotas by bringing in half-baked South African graduates with inferior mental acumen to supervise highly qualified Nigerians. In a country where jobs are scarce, it behooves us as to why the Nigerian government would overlook such egregious violations of its immigration laws by nationals of another African country. South Africans come in on visitor’s visa and once in the country begin working for one of the major South African companies that engage in profitable business in Nigeria such as MTN and Shoprite, this is a well-known fact and the Abuja government has chosen to ignore such bold-faced affront on its sovereignty. Meanwhile, in South Africa, Nigerians are deported daily for immigration violations and at the slightest provocation. They are intimidated daily by the police authorities and even recently, the South African police mustered the effrontery to defiled diplomatic protocol by invading the Nigerian embassy and accosting the Nigerian security guards. It would never dish out such treatment to the American embassy without risking its wrath, so why the Nigerian embassy?
South Africa, a society amply drunk with corruption of its own, burdened with the yoke of HIV/AIDS infections of almost half of its adult population and awash in violent crimes such as rapes and murders cannot claim the high moral ground to engage in sanctimonious entreaties vis-à-vis Nigeria. Yes, some Nigerians are corrupt and they must be dealt with according to the dictates of the law of the land, but such cannot constitute the basis for the overt revulsion of Nigerians in South Africa. The truth is, South Africans, like other Africans, are threatened by the Nigerian enterprising spirit and ability to succeed no matter the circumstances they find themselves. They are threatened by their unparalleled intellectual sagacity and the obvious natural reaction is to wallow in defamation. Generally lacking in education, skills and training in large due to the lingering effects of apartheid, the Nigerian in their midst presents a real threat on a number of fronts. Thus, many black South Africans who have bared their fangs against Nigerians and have exhibited acute xenophobia as we saw in 2008 when many foreigners were murdered in cold blood do so as a measure of self-preservation. It is noteworthy that the unwholesome contempt for Nigerians in South Africa led to the early demise of one of its favorite sons, reggae icon, Lucky Dube. Gunned downed at the age of 43 on October 18, 2007 in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville, his killers, intending to hijack his Chrysler 300 car, mistook him for a Nigerian.
Apology or not, Nigeria must discard its big brother disposition and begin to reassess its relations with African countries with inimical inklings towards its citizens. The Abuja government must disabuse itself of its guile diplomatic posture and dig deep to excavate ways to be proactive, to serve as a stern reminder to those countries that take delight in maltreating Nigerians. If Nigeria wants to be respected on the global stage, if it wants to be reckoned with as a giant in the continent, if it truly wants African countries to pay it its dues, the time is now to get it right by making the boldest statement on the diplomatic front that Nigerians all around the globe must be treated with dignity and their human rights respected. This resolve must be backed with meaningful and far-reaching actions that would truly signal the beginning of a new diplomatic era for Nigerians.
Dr. Alalibo is a professor of political science, an author and a frequent commentator on Nigerian politics.
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