Vice Chancellor, Oduduwa University, Prof. Chibuzor Nwoke has said that the on-going xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa is a failure of Nigerian leadership.
Speaking with VINCENT KALU, the international relations scholar, stressed that after playing a great role in South Africa’s independence, Nigeria failed to harness the diplomatic benefits, which could have prevented the country from poking its fingers into Nigeria’s eyes
What is your view on this xenophobia going on in South Africa, where the citizens are attacking other black Africans living in their country?
It is quite unfortunate. We should look at it analytically to know what is really happening. The first area of sentiment is that a country like Nigeria, remember we are described as a frontline state, and I’m old enough to remember the sacrifices we made in the anti apartheid battle.
All the major African National Congress (ANC) leaders were always coming to Nigeria for one support or the other.
We made huge sacrifices for that country, and we were doing that because we are known as the largest black African country in the world, and everybody was happy and contributed towards that.
Then apartheid ended with our sacrifices, then our government typically, failed to harness the potential diplomatic benefits that usually go with such sacrifices. If we were a serious mined country that helped to offer independence to that country, we would have been the first beneficiary of the relationship between the two countries, but that was not so. As it stands now, Nigeria’s efforts and sacrifices seem to have been forgotten in that country.
You blame that to leadership on the side of the South African leadership and also the Nigerian government that didn’t do what they were supposed to have done and then stayed on top, and then negotiated certain things and say that this kind of thing will never happen to our people. And as it is happening contemporarily, you do something that will make that country realise that it has annoyed you.
I saw something in the papers this morning that there were protests in Lagos and other states against South African businesses.
It is quiet understandable that Nigerians should be angry, and the government seems not to be doing anything at the higher diplomatic level. They supposed to deal with the South African government and declare the ambassador persona non-grata, and withdraw your own ambassador; make the statements. Of course, it is allowed in diplomacy. For God’s sake, we have the might to do all that but we are not doing it, we are just dragging our feet.
Equally, the South African government has failed to show leadership. I saw a video clip where the deputy police boss was saying that foreigners owned 80 per cent of the businesses in their country. According to him, South Africa had got independence and so should not allow foreigners to come and to dominate the country.
There was no attempt to remember the sacrifices made by Nigeria towards their independence. For a deputy security person, whose rank in Nigeria could be that of deputy inspector general of police to have made that kind of statement, he is in government; you can now understand the unseen hand of the South African government.
It is most unlikely that their police would stop them as our own police stopped those who went to attack South African investments in Nigeria.
Also, this is not isolated to South Africa, if Nigeria’s economy was made attractive for business, local entrepreneurs etc, who would want to go to places like that and get insulted. That also has to be looked at. So, we have problems and decadence of leadership; irresponsibility of leadership, which is unfortunate.
In the event of a faceoff, between Nigeria and South Africa, who stands to lose more?
Let us look at the businesses. MTN is South Africa, likewise Shoprite, DSTV, Stanbic Bank. I just came back from South Africa, and while there, MTN was manipulating my line that as soon as I arrived Nigeria, they sent, ‘welcome back to Nigeria’.
They have all sorts of businesses in Nigeria, but Nigeria doesn’t have that; they have just small, petty businesses, and of course some criminal elements are also there.
I don’t know any benefits that Nigeria has carved out for itself after independence of that country; we had the opportunity of positioning ourselves and harnessing their investments, but we didn’t do that, and allowed the opportunity to be fritted away. We are losing, losing and will continue to lose.
Saying that Nigeria will be the loser, but some people argue that even the MTN, DSTV, Stannic Bank, Shoprite and other South Africa’s investments that only very few of their nationals work there, that the bulk of the workers are Nigerians?
I will answer this question based on the nature of our economy that I mentioned earlier. I made that argument because at the end of the day, if you sack all the workers, you will only say with Nigeria situation that you don’t have any other platform for them to have jobs.
It should not be like that; why should you rely on foreign countries to come and give jobs to your people.
I don’t buy that argument; it is an apology for this sad situation we find ourselves. The business is theirs, but going back to the days that government would say, it has nationalised this business and that business, they will be the loser. But, we must place these issues together side by side to know where we are.
What do you expect the Nigerian government to do?
I expect the government to show anger, make a powerful statement, and not this lukewarm statement by our Foreign minister, recall your ambassador and send their ambassador back to their country. These are symbolisms in diplomacy, and when you do that, they will know that you are serious, and on one on one, the heads of states will talk, stating that we cannot accept this and from now on, this is the way I want our relationship to be.
Beyond that, you take this matter to the United Nations where you are supposed to talk together as a united front.
We should remember that it is not only Nigeria that is suffering this, other African countries are also suffering this, but Nigeria is the prominent country mentioned.
So, it is good to take it to African Union and see what other countries have to say about it.
Put the pressure on; pressure is not there. If this one goes down as it has done before, Nigerians government will just sit down and after a while, it comes up again.
Put the pressure on and show that we are not going to tolerate this nonsense any more; it is your people at stake.
I hate to mention this. Can you imagine a country like United States, if her citizens were being attacked in another country! Of course, in the first place, it could not happen because it has created an aura for itself, saying, ‘thou shall not come close to this giant; this giant is not going to take this rubbish from you.’
That is the difference. Our country has the wherewithal, but we have not harnessed this to translate to this power in Africa.