Nigeria’s disappointing response to xenophobia

The news in recent weeks has been filled with stories of how black South Africans – ungrateful in spite of all the help Nigeria and other African countries gave them to help lift the inhuman yoke of apartheid from their shoulders – have been attacking, maiming and killing Africans, telling them to leave their country.

The latest xenophobic attacks started after the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, leader of South Africa’s largest and most famous ethnic group, the Zulus, made inciting statements against blacks from other African countries at an event on March 27th.

His provocative statements incited his followers to launch xenophobic attacks on foreign blacks in South Africa.

Groups of bitter South African youths, wielding all kinds of dangerous weapons, descended on helpless foreigners, killing or maiming them and destroying their property.

Metal gates in places where foreigners were staying were thorn off; shops and restaurants owned by foreigners were looted, and in so many cases, these went on with law enforcement agents present but simply looking on; seeming to derive pleasure from watching.

The South African government itself did not act quickly to restore order, but let the violence fester, with more foreigners attacked and put in harm’s way with each passing day.

Needless to say, Nigerians living in South Africa have been seriously affected by the crisis, as no fewer than 50 Nigerians had been reportedly rendered homeless.

These Nigerians could not rely on the South African police for protection because the police instead of helping would maltreat and extort money from them.

The Nigerian government, which professes to administer the giant of Africa, rather than rising to discipline errant South Africa, was irritatingly slow to rise to the protection of Nigerians living in South Africa.

What the Nigerian government should instead have done immediately was to teach the South Africans a bitter lesson by partially nationalizing at least one of the mega South African firms that operate in Nigeria. These mega firms include MTN, Shoprite, Stanbic IBTC Bank, as well as DSTV.

Nigerian economic sanctions against South Africa in the form of partial (or full) nationalization of any of these companies would have significantly hurt South African economic interests and forced them to quickly come back to reason and civility.

Instead of the Nigerian government; Nigerian individuals and civil society were the ones at the forefront in the bid to stop the threat to life on Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa.

A Nigerian comedian tweeted: “Our government should give the South African Government 48 hours & if the government fails to make amends, let us ask MTN, DSTV, Banks; Shoprite to close shop”.

While civil society organised protests at the South African Consulate in Lagos and an NGO, SERAP took the Zulu King who started the whole outrage to the International Criminal Court, ICC; the only ‘serious’ response by the Nigerian government was to summon the South African High Commissioner on the 23rd of April – nearly one month after the infamous hate speech of King Goodwill Zwelithini started it all!

If the Nigerian government wants to be taken seriously by the international community, it should be courageous enough to display timely leadership in matters like this. Hopefully, with the inauguration of the Buhari administration on May 29, we will experience a more proactive defence of Nigeria’s citizens and interests abroad.

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