South African leaders are responsible for xenophobic attacks on Nigerians —Nwolise

Professor Osisioma Nwolise, of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan and expert on International Relations, speaks with Deputy Editor, DAPO FALADE, on the increasing attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa and the implications of the reprisals, during the week, by Nigerian youths.


THE issue occupying the front burner now is the increasing wave of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African nationalities in South Africa. How do you see this ugly trend?

I think it is a very bad situation for Africa and Africans because Africa has a philosophy that is different from Europe, Asian, Latin America and others. That is the philosophy of being our brother’s keeper. Thomas Jefferson, one time US president, said: “Money, not morality, is the principle of commercial nations”. African nations are not commercial; they are communal. So, we need to reverse that [Jefferson] philosophy and make it clear to the world that morality, not money, is the principle of African communal nations. We must reverse that philosophy because it has become very clear that Europe, particularly Western Europe, is sucking in Africa into its cultural values.

African leaders have failed woefully to develop, cultivate and promote African values. We value human life in this continent. That is why, even in the pre-colonial times, before circumcision was done by those who do circumcision, the earth was propitiated to tell the goddess that a little blood is coming; that this blood is not murder, but just a cultural and traditional thing that we want to do. That will tell you how far Africans value life.

When Africans want to war, it is to teach the other group a lesson. In fact, there are certain objects of war that were prohibited. That tells you that, even in war, our values are different from European values. We have written extensively on this and we have already published and they are in circulation. It is just that our African leaders, when we became independent, failed to knock off those European values that were inculcated in us but that were not African.

How many Africans were educated in the days of apartheid? They were not trained; they were not educated and so they have no sense of history. They don’t read history; most of them don’t have skills and knowledge because they lacked that foundation. In Tanzania under former President Julius Nyerere, the school curriculum taught every Tanzanian child that for every inch of land, they fought for it.

The South African authorities have failed to teach their people that foreigners, particularly Nigerians and other Africans contributed to their freedom and the consequence is part of what we are seeing. So, you have an apartheid era where most black Africans were excluded from education. The essence of education is critical consciousness. It is not like today where people are being made to go to school to get certificates for jobs.

They have forgotten so soon how South Africa was liberated. They are killing Africans that contributed money, because I know that Nigeria contributed money, including the ordinary civil servants to the South African relief fund. But I will not blame the youths. They are hungry; they are poor; they are educated and they don’t have the critical consciousness. Yet, their leaders failed to tell them the role played by Nigeria.


Why  are you blaming the South African political elite?

The campaigns of  the political elite and the political parties in South Africa, including the African National Congress (ANC), projected migrants as people who are coming to take over jobs from their own people; as people who are coming to hijack their economy and so, you can also see that all the political parties are culpable. They are part of the incitement that we are seeing the result today.

The law enforcement agents took a cue from the body language of the political elite. And so you can see a policeman who was supposed to call the South African youths to order smiling when an African, a human being is being set ablaze. Why was the police officer smiling and looking at his fellow human being as if he is an animal? It is because his political bosses were in support of hat he was doing.

The African Union (AU) has its Bill on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights, but what has it done? Xenophobia started in 2008, what has AU done since then? Like the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) that it replaced, AU remains a toothless bulldog, incompetent in saving the lives and dignity of Africans. The United Nations (UN) cannot be exonerated also. It talked about fundamental human rights, human dignity, human security and it has been there watching and human beings are being burnt alive, being massacred and people’s property are being destroyed.

The last point which I am going to raise and which is very critical (if you don’t publish anything, please publish it) is this: When our police went to Namibia during its elections, it was the first time blacks saw a black man giving orders to a white man. In other words, they have been brought up with the idea that orders are supposed to flow only from the whites to the blacks. But they saw Nigerian police officers giving orders to white police officers. That brought out a lot of change in the thinking system of the average Namibian. It means, if we acquire the competencies and capacities and knowledge, we can also command a white policeman, a white soldier and a white business man as early as that period.

In South Africa, whites are dominating the economy; whites took over 80 per cent of the arable land and Africans have been made to believe that the whites are the master; they will be the powerful economic elite and the role of the black man is to fetch water and firewood and be house-helps. But Nigerians and other blacks are coming into South Africa. They are establishing businesses that are thriving. They own supermarkets and car shops and so they are making wealth.

The average South African felt that he too can be like these Nigerians and other Africans. But I can tell you that this was not going down well with the white South Africans because we are re-writing history positively for South Africans which the youths, in the poverty and poor governance they are suffering and lack of critical consciousness, don’t understand. The youths have seen the black Africans, but the whites don’t want the history to be re-written, not so soon. If you watch closely, you will see the hands of the whites in these xenophobic killings.


Nigeria has been going about playing the big brother role in the continent. Do you think we should continue with such a policy in the face of these violent attacks on Nigerians by South Africans?

Yes, we must continue. My people say you don’t say because the wine-tapper fell from the palm tree, you will stop tapping or drinking palm wine. We must continue because nature has placed that leadership role on us. That is why some of us are against poor governance in Nigeria; we are against all these divisive and nepotistic tendencies in this country because if Nigeria goes down, Africa is gone.

I remember in the days of the late General Murtala Muhammed, the US cannot do anything in Africa without consulting Nigeria. I still remember the face of General Muhammed when he was telling the US to stop insulting the intelligence of the black man. That was when the US was sending emissaries to Zimbabwe, to Southern Africa that OAU should not support the MPLA in Angola; that we should not support Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Then, I think it was Henry Kissinger, an American envoy who was supposed to fly to Nigeria. After giving them that message in East and southern Africa, he was to come to Nigeria with the same message. But Murtala Muhammed said, ‘Don’t come here. Don’t come and tell us anything by insulting our intelligence. We, as Africans, know who is defending the interest of Africa in Angola’. That why that American envoy didn’t come to Nigeria; he left for his country. So, what we need is good governance.

So, we cannot stop being big brother to the rest of Africa. It is for us to put our house in order and then we act when we must. What I expected the Nigerian government to do since 2008, it didn’t do it. But we will continue to play the role nature has placed on us as Nigerians. The only problem is that our leaders are not playing the role properly. The issue is how are our leaders playing that role?


On Tuesday, there were reprisals by Nigerians on some perceived South African business interests. How do you see such an action and its likely implications?

I don’t support reprisal attacks. If we are saying that those who are attacking Nigerians in South Africa are barbarians and criminals, we should not be like them. They are not our teachers. I will tell you why such action came up. It is because our leaders failed to do what they were supposed to do. I listened to some youths on the television: they are saying that talk has yielded nothing. But that is the way our leaders have been talking. President Muhammadu Buhari talked to the press in Japan on South Africa, just some few days ago only for them to start killing us. It means that the talk-talk has yielded nothing, but it is in the realm of diplomacy. There are various aspects of diplomacy: you can have tit-for-tat diplomacy; there is defence diplomacy; you can have sanctions. As long as there is no war, everything else is diplomacy.

Now, if, after the first killings happened in 2008, South African businesses were closed down in Nigeria, this thing would not have continued. Even if we have issued threat that ‘look, if you kill Nigerians again, we are going to close down South African businesses; we are going to close our eyes to our citizens attacking your people (it is a threat. It does not mean that we will carry it out)’. But that threat didn’t come. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) demonstrated about two weeks ago on this issue. Our youths are saying, what is our government doing? It is seems the government is not interested in protecting our people.


But the president has sent a special envoy to South Africa…

These are things that should have been done long time ago. I know the government at a point, even our members of the National Assembly went there. I know Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa went there and she was doing some diplomatic moves. But I am saying we are supposed to be reading the impact of all these. If talk-talk has not been useful, we should go on to the next level of diplomatic engagement. We should recall our ambassador, sack their high commissioner and follow it up with a threat to close down South African business interest here in Nigeria.


But here in Nigeria, it is not as if things are working well as there are also many jobless youths and several foreign businesses here in the country. Yet, the youths have not taking up arms against these foreign businesses. How will you juxtapose this with what is happening in South Africa?

I am talking about culture and values. The late Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in his first speech at the UN, said Nigeria’s foreign policy will be afrocentric. That flowed from our belief that we are our brother’s keepers in this continent. We have imbibed that. in Senegal, there is philosophy that if a stranger does not bring you good tidings, he brings you morning dews. A stranger is a developer and the average Nigerian sees the foreigner as someone who brings good tidings. The criminals among them we leave to the police. We have grown up with that education. That is why I am saying the South African leaders have failed to educate their youths to let them know the role played by Nigeria and Nigerians in their freedom. Even the late Sunny Okosun played the music, ‘Who owns the land’. So, our musicians were part of the war against apartheid; our political leaders were part of the war.

But the South African leaders and political elite, in the process of trying to play to the gallery and pretend to be popular, have failed to educate their youths and masses on the role played by Nigeria and Nigerians in their freedom. That is why their Deputy Minister of Police, who I regard as an illiterate- of course, I don’t blame him; I don’t know his age; I don’t know to what level he read and I don’t know to what level he understands history- could say that, “We South Africans fought for our freedom”. How much does he know? How much has the political elite educated him? But, like I said earlier, the law enforcement officers are following the body language of their political masters. But I forgive the man too; I don’t blame him. How much knowledge does he have about the struggle in South Africa?


What do you think the Nigerian government can do better to protect the interests of Nigerians, both within and outside the country?

Nigerians are good people. The first thing is to go back to the foreign policy of the late General Murtala Muhammed. That foreign policy principle has been jettisoned by subsequent administrations in this country. That foreign policy principle was the protection of the black man anywhere in the world. We must protect the interest of the black man, not just Nigerians, in any part of the world. Murtala Muhammed came up with that principle and foreign policy values namely, the protection of the African man anywhere in the world and that is what Nigeria should be doing.

But before we can do that, Nigeria must protect the citizens in this country. He who must go to equity must go with clean hands. If you don’t protect your citizens; if criminals are killing and rampaging, how can you be bold to talk to the president of South Africa? We must put things in this country. The police must be recognised as the lead agency for protection and security. They must be funded as such and trained and equipped as such. The military is being used and overstretched. We don’t know this just because they cannot strike or demonstrate and they cannot go on riot. The military is overused; they are almost in the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. Is internal security their job?

We have been talking about Nigeria; we need to put our house in order. We must protect our own citizens in order to have the moral high ground to look eyeball-to-eyeball to the presidents and leaders of other nations where Nigerians are being killed. We must do that because if we don’t have that moral high ground, then of course, we will become afraid to talk.

Now, let us go to South Africa. That country needs to establish a curriculum in their educational system. Teaching of History or Civics or General Studies should be made compulsory for their citizens on the contributions of Nigeria and Nigerians and other Africans to the freedom of South Africa. If that education has been there, that Deputy Minister of Police would not come and open and talk insensible things that would anger Nigerians and other Africans that contributed to the freedom of South Africa.

Then there must be responsible and good governance in South Africa. The government of South Africa has not lived up to expectations. The government, since 2008 when the first killings took place, turned blind eye to the maltreatment of migrants because they support what is going on. They are just playing to the gallery, trying to make their people believe, particularly when their election is coming up, that they are protecting their interest so that they can get votes. You don’t trade on the blood of human beings. South African leaders have been trading on the blood of migrants and that must stop. You don’t trade on the blood of people.

They made their people to believe that it is the migrants that are creating problems for them. That is gross irresponsibility that should not be allowed to stand by the AU and the UN. In short, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has to step into this matter. I don’t know what they are doing. There are acts and laws. What is the International Criminal Court (ICC) doing? Of course, if the Nigerian leasers failed to do what they are supposed to do, ICC cannot act.

That South African Deputy Minister of Police should be taken before the ICC for incitement. It is a criminal action. He was inciting South Africans against Nigerian and other African citizens. All the countries that contributed to the freedom of South Africa must meet under the chairmanship of the UN, if the AU refuses to carry out its responsibilities to Africans. The UN must get all those countries that contributed to the freedom of South Africa. Let them sit down and bring to the table a write-up on their individual contributions. This would be given to the South African government and it must be incorporate it into the school curriculum and say it on their television to let their people know the contributions of these Africans into the freedom of South Africa.

If South Africa refuses to do this, they should be expelled from the AU, the Commonwealth of Nations and the UN because their leaders have been very irresponsible and are very inhuman. You don’t treat people like that.

It is not just about sending a special envoy; we have been sending envoys. Our government should know the depth of what is on ground. Why is it that the South African government has not come out openly and effectively to stop the killings? It is because the political elite supports what is going on and they are benefiting from it; they campaigned with it. So, we must hold the South African government in the jugular and tell them that if any other Nigerian or African is killed, there will be devastating consequences against the government and their economy.

We should demand a UN (not even the AU. I don’t trust the AU because it has been very lukewarm and uncaring about Africans that are being killed in South Africa) investigation of all Nigerians killed. That is why I said all the African countries affected should come together. But if they don’t want to come together for any reason, Nigerians should demand a UN investigation so that they would identify all Nigerians killed in South Africa from 2008; their families; the quantum of their property that were destroyed. Then, the South African government must apologise in writing to those families whose people were killed and whose property were burnt. Then, they must pay compensation.

If they don’t do it by the end of this year, we will tell them that we cannot guarantee the security of any of South African investment in this country; we cannot guarantee the security of any South African in this country.

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