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Maybe President Zuma and his xenophobic countrymen are right, after all. Why would a Nigerian close his barber shop in Karmo ghetto to go operate the same in Soweto? Why would a second degree holder prefer to travel to Johannesburg to be a cabbie when that line of business would have been more profitable in Lagos?

Long before it became a continental problem, Nigeria’s incoming president, General Muhammadu Buhari, foresaw the possibility of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians who ‘check out’ to seek better life. This was the reason behind the creation of the award-winning television jingle, ‘Andrew’, by the Buhari/Idiagbon administration as a way of discouraging what then had become a mad rush by Nigerians to escape economic hardship.

Beyond ‘Andrew’, the administration embarked on a re-orientation programme and proceeded to erect formidable socio-economic structures meant to lay a solid foundation for positive economic diversification and transformation. It soon became clear that, at that point in time, Nigerians were not prepared for change as there were reports of open-air inter-denominational prayer sessions where Nigerians reportedly supplicated God’s intercession to rid them of the corrective regime. God answered those prayers; twenty months on, the Buhari/Idiagbon regime was sacked in a palace coup. The rest, they say, is now history.

Three decades on, the fear of xenophobic attacks that bothered General Buhari has assumed a frightening dimension. Under normal circumstances, the Nigerian government would have shown leadership by acting promptly against South Africa. But these are abnormal times for out-going president, Goodluck Jonathan, who already is limping badly off the playing field. When his government eventually acted, it confirmed initial fears that government’s hesitation was informed by the need to avoid further body blows.

Reference here is to the failed bid to stow away some $9million dollars in the name of procuring arms from South Africa to fight Boko Haram. The haul, still believed to be in possession of South African authorities, was hidden in a private jet owned by the erratic, self-confessed and supposedly reformed hard-drug user turned president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Ayo Oritsejafor. The warm ties Mr. Oritsejafor enjoys with President Goodluck Jonathan have continued to cast doubts over the clergyman’s claim of innocence.

But the dust is settling, thank God, and we are beginning to see clearly. Those misguided descendants of people who still wear leopard-skin and revel in weird dancing must be celebrating what they consider a major victory following the xenophobic attacks. A few unlucky ones among them are on trial for murder, arson and sundry charges. In the unfolding drama, the Zulu king who instigated the killings and whose bidding the marauders claimed they hearkened to, is behaving like the foolish father that sends his son to fetch live coal in his palm!

The feeling is that foreign nationals have pauperised South Africans by taking over jobs meant for the locals. But it must have been the king’s allusion to foreigners snatching South African women from their husbands that simply worsened an already bad situation! Taken on their merits, each of the two charges levelled against ‘foreigners’ is weighty. Denying a man his wife is bad but the premium the world places on it is lower compared to the uproar often generated when people are denied their means of livelihood. Denying a people their means of livelihood is one infraction that quickly raises the adrenalin level of rights groups and one that excites the United Nations. To that extent, Africans share the concerns of King Zwelithini and President Jacob Zuma and their country-men and women!

And those concerns are valid. Although there has been progress in provision of houses and education for black South Africans, official statistics remain scary and tend to suggest that the economy was better managed under apartheid. More South Africans have joined the army of unemployed over the past decade even as social amenities are over stretched. Back home, Nigerians in South Africa may see nothing wrong with power outages but for average South Africans, long unused to the phenomenon, its sudden appearance was a direct invitation to anarchy. Of course, the South African government would be failing in its duties if it failed to act.

It is good that President Jacob Zuma confirmed the suspicion of Africans who reasoned that Zulu king, Zwelithini, merely echoed the views of the South African government. To a large extent, the South African government is right in considering foreign nationals as an unnecessary burden. But, rather than directing criminals to go after the lives and property of foreign nationals, the South African government could simply have ordered their expulsion! For similar reasons, Ghana did it to Nigerians in 1969 with Nigeria, also for similar reasons, ‘retaliating’ twice in the 1980s.

It is normal for Africans to be angry at the South Africans. Many of them, especially those in the frontline states, bore the brunt of the decades of bombings, social and economic dislocation and despoliation by the Western-backed white minority government in South Africa. It was the frontline states that served as home to many South Africans aside providing the liberation fighters ‘safe haven’ to plan and launch the attacks that eventually weakened the apartheid regime.

Nigeria, alongside Libya, Ghana and several African countries, was a colossus in the anti-apartheid struggle. As a matter of fact, Nigerians are unsparing when it comes to accusing their leaders of treasury looting. But Nigeria’s huge investment in the liberation struggle has never been considered part of the waste Nigerians accuse their leaders of. Despite the anger in the air, the most uncreative Nigerian critic would not demand for a forensic audit of the resources the country committed to the liberation struggle in South Africa because, to many Nigerians, it was money well spent.

It was on the basis of Africa’s collective sacrifice in the liberation struggle that Africans embarked on the ‘great trek’ to South Africa with the misplaced hope that they would feel at home there. But, let’s say this for Nigerians: fact is, many of them who dared it to South Africa had no business leaving Nigeria in the first place! Why would a Nigerian close his barbing shop in Karmo, a ghetto near Nigeria’s federal capital city, to go operate same in Soweto? Why would a second degree holder in Lagos prefer to travel to Johannesburg to be a cabbie when that line of business would have been more profitable in Nigeria?

It all boils down to the accusation of incompetence levelled by President Zuma’s against his peers. The man is right, if only he can convince his audience that his intention was not to blame the victim! And, rather than getting red in the eye, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa should be a wake up call to bungling African leaders to sit up. For instance, but for poor quality leadership, Nigerians, many of them professionals, should have no business going to do menial jobs in South Africa!

History beckons! As he prepares to assume Nigeria’s presidency, General Muhammadu Buhari will no doubt remind himself of the patriotic message his military administration intended ‘Andrew’ to be. Who knows? May be the latest xenophobic attacks were designed to usher in the presidency of a man of destiny under whose watch Nigerians will, once again, be proud to be associated with the fatherland!

This is no mean task considering the level of despoliation that has been visited on Nigeria. But, hell! We are dealing with a tested and trusted General! And leaders do not come any luckier: as was the case with his first coming, the austere and incorruptible General Muhammadu Buhari has an able and reliable deputy in the equally austere and incorruptible Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

What else can a people wish for!

* Abdulrazaq Magaji is based in Abuja and can be reached at [email protected]



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