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Published On: Fri, Sep 6th, 2019

Xenophobia in South Africa: Criminal ingratitude and the Nigerian blood

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By Tunji L. Ariyomo

As the Yorubas would say – Oore pe, asiwere gba’gbe. South Africans have insanely forgotten what is only but a recent history in an epochal display of criminal ingratitude.

Oore pe – asiwere gba’gbe – Yoruba proverb.
In 1983, Ghanaians were expelled from Nigeria, as a deliberate policy of state, by the Shagari-led federal government (vide an Executive Directive in 1983). The federal police and allied agencies implemented that directive. Although the perception of Jerry Rawlings (by Shehu Shagari) as an illegitimate power usurper and an enemy of democracy considerably aided the hostility at the top echelon of leadership of both former British dependencies, the repulsive action was essentially sequel to the obnoxious precedent set by the Ghanaian state in 1969, when Ghana officially expelled Nigerians, following the enactment of the Aliens Compliance Order. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, most of who were Nigerians, were forcefully evicted from Ghana. Aremu et al (2014), whilst acknowledging the inalienable right of Ghana to expel aliens from her territory, condemned the haste involved in the order and the inhuman disposition of Ghanaian law enforcement agents to Nigerians in 1969.
According to T. C. McCaskie, Ghana’s decision in 1969 was premised primarily upon job creation for its teeming masses and the overall wellbeing of the Ghanaian economy. By expelling Nigerians, Ghana believed such vacated employment space could be occupied by Ghanaians.
That established; Nigerians were not murdered by Ghanaians in 1969. Their houses were not razed. Also, in the seemly retaliatory state action of Nigeria in 1983, Ghanaians were not murdered on the streets of Nigeria by the Nigerian people, as it is currently happening in South Africa. To the contrary, the Nigerian people were equivocal and decisively ambivalent about the directive of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN)-led federal government. Till date, many Nigerians who witnessed the 1983 episode still struggle to make sense of the notorious Ghana-must-go episode. At that time, many Nigerians and local institutions actively protected and harboured Ghanaians. Indeed, many Ghanaians never left. They simply enjoyed the protection of their hosts (the ordinary Nigerians on the streets) and their (those Ghanaians) businesses, especially schools, continue to prosper in Nigeria till today.
There was no citizen-grade collective hatred towards Ghanaians. The innately accommodating attitude of the Nigerian masses, in my opinion, was the reason why Shagari’s directive was not spontaneously embraced with reckless and wanton street bloodshed, as it is happening today in South Africa against Nigerians.
Back to history; I spent my teenage years being a natural part of a collective pan-African youth’s ‘brigade’ against Boer’s institutional segregation against an aboriginal black population and other unsavoury and insufferable policies of apartheid South Africa. I cannot remember any youth in my day whot was not an organic part of that sympathy brigade. Jude Ndukwe in 2017 eternally described xenophobic attacks by South Africans against Nigerians as “criminal ingratitude” towards and in spite of the epic role played by Nigeria in liberating the country from apartheid.
According to Ndukwe, General Olusegun Obasanjo and each member of his federal cabinet made personal donations to support South Africans. Nigeria set up a programme to cater specifically for the educational needs and general welfare of South Africans through the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SAFR) to which Nigeria contributed $3.7 million. Nigeria was the first country to provide direct financial aid to the now-governing African National Congress (ANC) from the 1960s. In the 1970s, Nigeria supported the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) with an annual subvention of $5 million to help them with the struggle.
Also, it is on record that the late Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, as Africa’s richest man (at the time), made substantial financial contributions to support the welfare of South Africans under the repressive regime of apartheid (led by white minority rulers). It is also on record that Nigeria was the destination of choice to asylum seeking prominent black South African dissidents and activists.
Fast forward to 2019; South Africans are murdering Nigerians on their streets on a daily basis. The South African person now takes delight in shedding the blood of a Nigerian. Apart from Julius Malema, who has openly expressed his shock and shame at this development, South African politicians and people are delighted about the happenings.
As the Yorubas would say – Oore pe, asiwere gba’gbe. South Africans have insanely forgotten what is only but a recent history in an epochal display of criminal ingratitude.
What is happening in South Africa is unfortunately a fatal remainder of the gravely impaired faculty of the black man. The penurious is killing the poor so he could get the position occupied by the beggarly. As Malema had rightly put it, Nigerians and other black nationalities in South African are people striving to eke out a living, the best way they could. They did not build industries and refuse to give jobs to indigenous South Africans. Rather than political leaders owning up to any personal failing that has inhibited the leadership from creating adequate employment opportunities for the growing population, rhetoric and the blame game have set in – and foreigners are becoming the casualties.
The paradox is in fact more compelling – the Nigerian nation today is still a leading contributor to the economic prosperity of South Africa. If the stupidity of Nigeria is cured or reversed (like for like) and the Nigerian government decides to order the likes of DSTV, MTN et cetera to vacate its land, the damaging impact of such tit-for-tat diplomacy upon the economy of South Africa and its cascading impact upon the South African people can only be best imagined.
MTN’s declared revenue in Nigeria in 2004 was N199 billion. That was when the naira still had great value. By 2018, MTN’s revenue in Nigeria had climbed exponentially to N1.039 trillion, whilst the company declared a profit in excess of N145.6 billion – an increase of 80 per cent, in comparison to the previous year. In the first half of 2019 alone, the MTN Group in Nigeria led the telco’s profit in the overall service revenue put at $4.48 billion (according to the interim financial results for the six months ended June 30, 2019). During the same period, MTN experienced a decline in its home market in South Africa. These huge figures are ‘as is’ – especially following discoveries by crack investigators that the company had been “running circles around Nigerian revenue authorities (at least up to 2015) using a complex but noxious tax avoidance scheme called Transfer Pricing” with humongous billions in undeclared profits (PREMIUM TIMES, 2015).
Here is the summary therefore: South African companies are on Nigerian soil aggressively profiting and simultaneously gravely undermining the Nigerian economy. Some Nigerians, in the wake of a weakened home economy, have been running to South Africa – the destination of a huge wealth clearly taken both legally (at least by the book) and illegally (through outright tax avoidance and revenue under-declaration) from their land, only to be met with deaths on the streets of South Africa by envious and ungrateful South Africans. Would the cowardly petulant killing mob in South Africa be willing to imagine for a second the implication and the wider ramifications if the revenue coasting freely to South Africa through MTN is domiciled in Nigeria through Glo or some other indigenous variants?
To the Nigerian government – this is not the time to show weakness. The federal government must rise and respond appropriately in this matter.

Tunji L. Ariyomo is a Public Affairs Analyst.

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