Africa woke up lately and suddenly to be ravaged with wave of xenophobia in South Africa. Undisguised, without any regret and impliedly endorsed by the state whose officials, serving and retired, rationalised the deaths and destruction. Salt was rubbed into the wounds of the victims and family when demands for compensating the victims made by Nigerian were outrightly rejected by South African government.
By the way, Nigerians were not the only victims of xenophobia by the South Africans. Also attacked and forced to leave the country were Kenyans and Zimbabweans. However, what might not have been easily recalled during the crisis, xenophobia in post-independent Africa was first recorded in the late 1950s in Ghana, formerly known as Gold Coast. Unlike the latest incident in South Africa, the episode in Ghana, which obtained independence in 1957, was the result of deliberate official policy of the country’s leader, President Kwame Nkrumah.
As a colonial power, Britain governed its overseas territories mostly for administrative self-convenience. Colonies in West Africa were good examples. With four colonies in the region, Nigeria, Gold Coast (as Ghana was previously known), Sierra-Leone and the Gambia, the colonial power governed from the respective capitals, Lagos, Accra, Freetown and Banjul. But at the same time, Britain tied the four countries with common services in the judiciary, airways and some sectors of the economy, yet, clearly far from a federation.
Hence, for the four British colonies in West Africa, the highest court was West African Court of Appeal, popularly known as WACA, where any dissatisfied litigant in any of the colonies could seek further redress. There was only one airline, West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) for the four countries. Meanwhile, only the best of judges in each of the four countries could be appointed purely on merit to West African Court of Appeal, while similar standard applied to the caliber of aviation crew on WAAC. Furthermore, with the high standard of judges at West Africa Court of Appeal, it was easy to stem the emergence of political tyrants, since decisions of potential political tyrants were checked by the top caliber of judges. Under West African Airways Corporation, the record of air safety was so high on all routes.
Armed forces of the four countries were operated by British colonialists under the banner of single West African Frontier Force, which guaranteed security throughout West Africa. For combat purposes, West African Frontier Force provided officers and men for world wars as well as the Korean war in 1950-53. Financial regulations for the four countries were operated under a single West African Currency Board with a single currency system. Accordingly, currency trafficking or money laundering hardly existed. The value of the pound in Nigeria was the same as the pound in Gold Coast, Sierra-Leone and the Gambia.
Under colonial rule, cocoa was the commodity equivalent of today’s oil. Gold Coast produced more cocoa for the world market than the defunct western region of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gambia, the latter two, if any. British colonialists all the same marketed the commodity in the world market under a single West African Cocoa Board. The very fact that Gold Coast (later Ghana) was the first country in sub-Sahara and West Africa to attain independence from British colonial rule, in 1957, induced in Kwame Nkrumah the illusion that his country’s wealth was not only unlimited but also everlasting. He could not see beyond his person and ambition to lord it over Africa.
Immediately after his country’s independence in March 1957, Kwame Nkrumah became the “little Ghanaian”, completely unconcerned about the plight of remaining African countries still struggling for independence, especially on the West Coast, embarked on complete separation of his country from all the existing common services created by the British colonialists – West African Court of Appeal, West African Frontier Force, West African Airways Corporation, West African Cocoa Board. Taken by surprise, other member nations had to employ desperate measures to sustain the common services pending the establishment of their individual country’s replacement. Meanwhile, those countries had to absorb their indigenes on exodus from Ghana. Thus ended a major economic/political tie in a sub-region on the continent.
Nkrumah was concerned only himself and his country. His withdrawal from West Africa Court of Appeal accelerated his emergence as a dictator since he so manacled the judiciary, such that judges became intimidated and victimised according to his wishes. Opposition members had to cave him to Nkrumah’s one-party state or they went into exile abroad without avenue to seek redress. The media, sporting organisation and even trade unions became legal only as wings of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party.
However, as if a curse from the gods of the other West African nations abandoned and rendered naked by Nkrumah’s xenophobia, the price of cocoa crashed in the world market within four years under Nkrumah. Suddenly, the notorious xenophobe, (Nkrumah, that is) became an apostle of African unity, calling on his contemporaries to unite. He merely embarked on face-saving as a result of the total collapse of the Ghanaian economy.
Simultaneously, Nkrumah became insatiable with his expansionist policy through subversion and planned annexation of Togo and, when President Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated in 1963, Nkrumah was at hand to be the first to endorse the military coup. Not left out of the list of countries he subverted was Nigeria under Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister. Nigerian opposition elements were trained at Nkrumah’s Winneba Ideological Institute in preparation for overthrowing Nigerian government. Indeed, when Tafawa Balewa was assassinated in the January 1966 military coup, Kwame Nkrumah publicly and irresponsibly gloated that Balewa was a “victim of a system he did not understand.”
Somewhat retributively, Kwame Nkrumah’s understanding of the system could not save him from being over-thrown on February 24, 1966, exactly six weeks after Balewa’s death. Nkrumah, who was on an official visit to China when he was overthrown, could not be restored to power by his Chinese hosts and he died in exile. He will be remembered as Africa’s xenophobe of all time.
A reporter’s responsibility
The seat of government is an important beat for any reporter. It is a place for responsible professionals and definitely not the place for undue radicalism, or sabotage. A reporter privileged to be accredited to seat of government by God’s grace through the press secretary has an abiding obligation to discharge with his conduct.
The editor is back in the office, relies on his reporter for regular feedback on government’s activities. A lot, therefore, depends on the correspondent as the main link between his boss and that important beat. In short, the major demand on the reporter is to ensure cordiality between his employers and the regular beat.
There is this self-conceit that there is no limit for journalists. There is a limit for journalists all over the world. Seat of government is more of a security formation. Accordingly, not everything can be or should be reported, still less irresponsibly twisted. It is always uneasy if not painful for a media authority at the seat of government to rebuke correspondents when they stray. On the other hand, who bothers a correspondent as long as he does not stray?
When, therefore, a correspondent is rebuked for a particular report, the only necessary question is: was he the only reporter credited with the story? If not, why should he be harassed? On the other hand, if no other reporter similarly performed, why should he be the only one among scores of his colleagues to have strayed? Yes, media authority in the seat of government daily protects the interests of correspondents, perhaps unknown to the correspondents.
Media authority in the seat of government is the boss without whose endorsement no correspondent could have been accredited. And once accredited, the correspondent owes an abiding obligation to continue to earn or retain the accreditation or he would be asked to be withdrawn. As Chief Press Secretary to IBB, I had to request substitute for the correspondent of a major television in Lagos. The reason, gross misconduct.
On the other hand, I refused the attempt of some newspapers or even television stations to victimise correspondents for no reason(s). Seat of government is no marketplace where anybody can be sat at will. Accreditation is preceded by long processes, including security clearance about which he or she may not even be aware. The correspondent must, therefore, be compatible with the atmosphere in or around seat of government, failing which he or she may be sacked.
There is the illusion that such stern step is peculiar to Nigeria. Former American President Barack Obama had to personally sack an almost 80-year-old correspondent who had covered the White House for over 40 years consecutively. Helen Thomas’ offence? She publicly paid glowing tribute to an Arab activist who, in the books of United States and Israel, was a terrorist. Helen Thomas, herself now deceased, was of Lebanese descent. Her action was considered not even by the Press Secretary but the highest level of President Obama to have contradicted the foreign policy of United States government and insensitive to the feelings of Jews.
On the expulsion of Helen Thomas publicly after serving 40 years at the White House and personally by Obama, only God would have saved him as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.