Lord Palmerston was the most aggressive British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister of his generation. On showdown at home or abroad, nobody was immune. Not even Queen Victoria, the most political in the history of British monarchy so far. Palmerston, whether as Foreign Secretary or, later, Prime Minister, would defy Queen Victoria to pursue what, in his opinion, were British national or international interests at home or abroad.
On few occasions, Palmerston prepared for war to assert British authority and or power. On a particular issue – attack on and destruction of personal property of a British Jew, Don Pacifico, by Greek thugs on Athens in 1848, Lord Palmerston demanded on the Greek authorities to fully compensate Don Pacifico for the losses he suffered. Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari is not putting the country on war footing but at the same time seems to, even if at long last, be sending the message through South Africa that any Nigerian citizen should feel safe in any part of the world simply by saying “I am a Nigerian citizen.” That, of course, is if or when subjected to inhuman treatment, as has been the case in South Africa almost on regular and seeming licentious basis.
These killings (of Nigerians) intensified even as African leaders were being hosted by Japan for economic co-operation. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa seized the opportunity to meet Buhari and, after discussions, offered profuse regrets and apologies for the killing of Nigerians, with assurances that efforts would be made to arrest the situation. Perhaps so, as the violent attacks in South Africa against Nigerians changed from fatal targets to widespread destruction of property and business concerns. In a most unusual reaction, Nigeria withdrew from a World Economic Forum, which began in South Africa on Wednesday (September 4). Aso Rock also instantly recalled its Ambassador in South Africa, at least, in protest, though stopping short of breaking diplomatic ties. Nigeria also demanded full compensation for property of its citizens destroyed in the unprovoked violent attacks.
Unprovoked? Yes, despite silly criticisms made by some unpatriotic elements against the so-called conduct or even misconduct of their fellow citizens in South Africa. Anywhere in the world, it is not unusual for foreigners to be involved even in gang crimes, assuming that Nigerians in South Africa were involved in such crimes. But in truth, allegations against Nigerians in South Africa were mostly that they took over or dominated local sectors of business like the hotel industry, car hire services, shoe-making, welding or everyday commerce. So what? Is that a crime? And if a crime, is it the punishment to be summarily lynched by the mob? Definitely not. The law anywhere in the world, indigenous and foreign culprits must be arrested and prosecuted and jailed where necessary. That is a settled procedure for inalienable right of fair hearing. Anything less, like the situation in South Africa, is plain anarchy.
What is more, domination of local business sector(s) by foreigners is neither a crime nor limited to Nigerians in South Africa. In all parts of the world, foreigners are not unusually preponderant. How many Nigerian doctors, nurses, surgeons pharmacists, engineers, economists, bankers, etc, are in United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Germany? Owing to the hostile situation in South Africa, a Nigerian lady was attending an international conference in Johannesburg. Unfortunately, she was found dead in her hotel room. Whether the deceased died of natural causes or was murdered was not clear even till now. But allegation spread that she was murdered. On the other hand, ex-Imo State military governor and former Information Minister commodore Samson Omeruah, similarly died in his hotel room in London in 2006. There was no accusation that he was murdered since Nigerians, either as tourists or residents, are safe at any time in Britain. There can, therefore, be no justification for Nigerians in South Africa to be killed on the spurious excuse of dominating particular sectors of the economy.
Here in Nigeria, Asians either dominate or have strong and indeed unchallengeable presence/influence in particular sectors of the economy. Do Nigerian thugs on that account lynch Asians in manufacturing, aviation sectors?
In fact, Asians are engaged in economic sabotage against Nigeria. Why, for example, is it totally impossible to solve Nigeria’s power problem? Infiltration of unpatriotic Nigerians in charge of state control of power, to ensure throwing of spanners into the works and even corruption. Meanwhile, the shortfall in power supply sustains the business of importing generators by Asians, even if assembled in Nigeria. It is a monopoly of the Lebanese, Turks, Pakistanis and Indians. Do ordinary Nigerian thugs kill or destroy the property of Asians in Nigeria on that account? Certainly not.
Even if for purposes of argument it is conceded that South African thugs were always provoked by the criminal activities of their Nigerian residents, would South Africa be the only country so infested? If, as conveniently alleged, Nigerians in South Africa kill themselves, South African government must prove the charge with concrete evidence. In the United States, Italian mafia operated for more than 100 years, settling internal disagreements with outright elimination. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) always pursued such crimes even to 20 years in some cases. Are there not Mexicans and other Latin Americans involved in murder and drug trade/addiction? Do ordinary American thugs kill Mexicans and other Latin Americans?
Instead, the FBI and other related law enforcement agencies do their job. Prostitution? It is a life-long, world-wide phenomenon and not peculiar to Nigerians in South Africa, if the allegation is true. In Britain, Asians operate the cartel, especially outside London. On regular basis, British police break the cartel by rescuing (especially) innocent young girls. Thereafter, the culprits are mostly successfully prosecuted and jailed. They are never killed unlawfully by anarchists. If, therefore, there are Nigerias running prostitution in South Africa, the British example should be a lesson for the South African authorities.
Heavy concentration of Nigerians in particular areas of South Africa is also alleged to be earning them the enmity of their criminal-minded hosts. And so, Nigerians in South Africa should be killed? There is nothing peculiar to Nigerians concentrating in particular areas. Even in Lagos, we have the local aspect. Ijebus are preponderant in Somolu and Ketu. Egbas and Yewa are mostly resident in Aso Egba and adjoining settlements along Lagos-Abeokuta road. Fulani and Hausa (from the North) live mostly around Agege and Obalende in Lagos. Easterners and South-Southerners, either by accident or design, settle in Ajegunle, Egbeda, Isolo, etc. It is human phenomenon to flock together.
In Britain, Nigerians settle mostly in London, Liverpool and Manchester. Asians settle mostly in Birmirgham, Leicester, Derby, Wolverhampton, Northampton, Nothingham and Edinburgh, Blacks, Africans or West Indians, have turned Brixton, adjoining areas and Shepherds Bush into fortresses. Britons do not on that account allow the mob to lynch their guests. There are Chinatowns in various parts of Britain and United States. The law protects everybody. Latinos, Italians Mexicans and Chinese always have their restaurants in various parts of cities around the world, without any threat to their life and property. Why should Nigerians in South Africa be subjected to threats to their life and property? Why should a Nigerian visiting South Africa be unsafe to choose a Nigerian restaurant for some home dish just like their Chinese, Mexican, American, British, Italian or Russian counterpart? Any Nigerian committing any crime in any part of the world – especially South Africa – should be tried under the law, instead of being lynched by criminals.
By the way, it is deplorable for Nigerians, even at government level, to be winging at South Africans for alleged so-called ingratitude in return for Nigeria’s assistance during their struggle for majority rule. This disgusting and burning attitude comes up every time a disagreement with South Africa occurs. From the assistance, Nigeria also benefitted from its distinction in Africa and the United Nations.
Instead, Nigeria must sit up on better control of its God-given financial resources. When a South African company arrived in Nigeria for investment in telecommunications, South African media fell over themselves in reporting that the company had hit GOLDMINE in Nigeria.
And truly, the company, over the years, exploited our compliant and surely corrupt financial system (through its criminal consultants and bank officials) to engage in capital flight if up to a minimum of $8 billion. These consultants are Nigerians and the bank managers are Nigerias. Instead of standing firm to recoup the fraud, Aso Rock hosted the (serving) South African president Jacob Zuma, obviously recruited by the defaulting telecommunications company to plead its case with Nigerian government. What followed, Nigeria capitulated and recovered less than $1 billion.
What happened? Was the alleged fraud of over $8 billion exaggerated? By a whopping sum of over $7 billion? If so, why were Nigerians not duly informed? And if the huge sum of $8 billion was indeed a fraud committed on Nigeria, under what authority did the country write off the fraud?
Charly Boy is on record that “our mumu don do.”
Accordingly, Buhari is correct that losses suffered by Nigerians in the destruction of their property in South Africa must be fully compensated for. It must, however, be conceded that Buhari, unlike Lord Palmerston, is inhibited militarily and by modern-day diplomatic engagement from generating tension, especially as there are chances of collecting the compensation. In 1850, during what became known in history as the Don Pacifico affair, Lord Palmerston ordered British warships to blocade Greek waters and arrest any Greek ship around until compensation was paid to the British Jew, Don Pacifico. And that exactly happened and henceforth enforced Palmerston’s philosophy that “if in the olden days, any Italian would feel safe in any part of the world, there is no reason why any British subject should not feel safe in any part of the world, simply by saying ‘I am a British subject.’”
For External Affairs Minister Geoffery Onyeama, so fresh from his re-appointment, his handling of the plight of Nigerians in South Africa, is a vindication of President Buhari’s gesture.
Incidentally the violent protests against South African business interests in Nigeria were in a way embarrassing. The protests were a product of tempting human reaction and might not necessarily be unexpected. But we are too civilised for that.
However, no matter the desire to control that violence, and no matter the provocation, it was inexcusable that at least two Nigerians were shot dead by Nigeria Police. In South Africa, Nigerians were killed by the police for South Africa’s interests. That was bad enough. Then in Nigeria, Nigerians were killed in Nigerian police for South Africa’s business interests. Are we crazy? Where were the rubber bullets?