The insult Nigeria has suffered from South African authorities is unimaginable. Despite the unprovoked attacks by South African nationals on Nigerians and other foreign nationals resident in South Africa resulting in killings and wanton destruction of properties, the South African foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, had no kind words for Nigerians. According to her, Nigerians were attacked by South Africans because of the belief by her compatriots that many Nigerians engage in drug and human trafficking.
While calling on the Nigerian government to keep drug peddlers away from South Africa, Pandor said, “Help us address the belief and the reality that our people have that there are many persons from Nigeria, who are dealing in drugs in our country, who are harming our young people by making drugs easily available to them.”
The same minister, in her response to the Federal Government’s demand of full compensation for all those who lost properties put at millions of dollars, said staunchly and stoically that her country had no plan to pay any compensation to any Nigerian despite the enormous losses.
How did we get here? How did we arrive at the point that South Africa has no iota of respect for us? How did we get to the point that countries of the world hold our dear nation in derision? Not long ago, Ghana was threatening Nigerians and even made it difficult for Nigerians to transact their legitimate businesses in the country. Somebody, help me, Ghana? Where was Ghana 30 years ago? Where were the current leaders of the country when Nigeria hosted Ghanaians in their millions in the late 1970s and the 1980s? How can they forget so soon? Where was President Cyril Ramaphosa when Dr Nelson Mandela ran to Nigeria to seek solace and help? Where was Naledi Pandor when Thabo Mbeki was provided asylum by Nigeria? Where were these bloodthirsty South Africans when Nigerian civil servants contributed part of their salaries to wrest their country from the grips of apartheid?
But as livid as we may be with what is happening to our fellow countrymen and women in South Africa and elsewhere, the truth is that we are the architect of our misfortune. The reality is that history has never been kind to people who allowed their authority to slip away from them. When a man loses his position, he also loses the accompanying prestige. When a person loses his wealth he has already sacrificed his honour. Nobody can sup with a lost spoon, no one can spend exhausted money, no man can live on lost glory. We are treated like filth by those who once depended on us because along the line, we lost our affluence, so we lose the right to wield any influence.
Nigerian government may express anger, the Nigerian populace may threaten fire and brimstone but when it comes to the brass tacks, despite the avalanche of international laws guiding treatment of foreign nationals, foreign citizens will always hold the short end of the stick. It will be too high a dream to expect to be treated just like a citizen in a foreign land. So, the best thing is to make our country a place where our citizens can thrive to the extent that no one will feel compelled to travel to other countries in search of pasture of any colour.
Why do Nigerians leave Nigeria for Ghana, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, UAE, The Gambia, Canada, the United Kingdom or even the United States of America? They do not embark on those voyages because they hope to become another Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Aliko Dangote or even Femi Otedola, all they want is an opportunity to give vent to their potential. They want an environment where they can thrive. That is why Nigerian-trained medical doctors leave their fatherland to other lands. That is why engineers, nurses and many other professionals leave the country in droves. That is why young people, artisans and even businessmen relocate to other countries. This is the same country where in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, people spurned opportunities to live abroad. So, what has changed? How did we miss it? How did we become a country from where its nationals flee? How did we become a country that is despicable to its nationals? How did we get to the point that Nigerians, in their bid to escape from their country, would not mind getting drowned in the Mediterranean Sea or being killed in the desert?
The present crop of leaders may engage in blame game and blame everyone from Adam to Jesus and Muhammad, but unless we are determined to change the narrative, the situation can only get worse. No problem is beyond the human capacity to solve if the people are so resolved. Every problem situation is a platform to spring up heroes. If our leaders will get their acts together and will do the right thing, Nigeria will once again become an enviable country. As bad as the situation was in Ghana, Jerry Rawlings rose to the occasion and turned the situation aright. As terrible as the situation was in Rwanda, Paul Kagame arose and built a new nation. The situation in the land now is an opportunity for our leaders to write their names in gold and build a nation about which all Nigerians can be proud.
The attack against our nationals in South Africa is our chance, a chance to build a stronger nation, a chance to build a more virile economy, a chance to rebrand our image, a chance to regain our lost glory. We should not pass up this chance.