By Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye
A story making rounds in the news in Kenya concerning Nigerians is both a matter of concern and of comfort. Of concerns because of a subtle buildup of threat against them. Of comfort because the story told about these Nigerians make me happy, even though the Kenyan had a twisted understanding of the issues.
Nigeria has, for a long time, shown signs of greatness. But anyone that has ever read a book titled “Blue Ocean Strategy” will easily come to a clear understanding of how good leadership promotes development and how bad leadership scuttles it. We have been through years of bad and visionless leadership that was masked by free and stupendous petroleum revenues, which gave a semblance of prosperity and economic progress.
This has led to massive brain drain, which has deprived Nigeria of many innovative and productive minds and the development they would have generated. On the flip side, however, this has also led to massive inflow of remittances into Nigerian economy from the diaspora.
But there are some existential dangers. On the African continent, the Nigerian government has, over the years, managed the country’s relationship rather poorly. The private sector, trying to succeed where successive governments have failed, is now facing social headwinds in African countries where they have operations.
Their trouble is not with ordinary people, but with intellectuals, in those countries. These influential individuals make direct and indirect calls to xenophobia, which is dangerous. For Africapitalism in particular, this makes a good subject, especially now that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is now in force. If African leaders truly mean business on Africa’s regional interpretation and economic cooperation, then we need to reframe the narratives around our trans-border engagements in ways that are beneficial to all parties.
I fear that, the same way South African elites fan the embers of hate and xenophobia in South Africa against Nigerians, a similar fire may just be getting ignited by the academic from Kenya who wrote an article that could instigate his countrymen against Nigerian businesses in Kenya.
This is a serious matter that needs a lot of attention and tact. The positive thinkers and leader with Pan-African visions will see this as an aberration. Not so with those who are paranoid. And paranoia is the progenitor of xenophobia.
We are yet to get over the raw treatment from South Africans who accused Nigerians of same “offences” of coming to dominate their business community and marrying their girls.
While observers from outside Africa assume that all Africans are one, the reality is the opposite. History has its place in our social lives. Those who advocated that history be removed from schools’ curricula are grossly mistaken. That is also applicable to those campaigners who are currently calling for the removal of statues and monuments that depicted bad past. Good or bad, history teaches some valuable lessons and so needs to be preserved.
If the generation of South Africans who benefitted so much from Nigeria’s struggles for the overthrow of Apartheid regime didn’t tell the younger generation the stories about Nigeria’s support, too bad!! In the years before its independence, many South Africans were in Nigerian universities then at Nigeria’s expense while Nigerian students had to struggle financially. So it saddens one’s heart to know that their countrymen are now intolerant of Nigerians in their land. This negative sentiment runs deep as I had watched a recorded video of a top government official giving his support to the persecution of Nigerians.
Nigeria’s diplomats have not been living up to expectations, especially because the governments that send them out have no clear-cut goals for sending them. Otherwise, what are Nigerian ambassadors in such countries doing to pre-empt such prejudices or prevent them from snowballing into violence? The term “envoy” in English means the same as “envoi” in French, which is interpreted roughly as “to send.” So, what are these ambassadors sent to do outside for Nigerians? A group of ambassadors has just been named some days ago, ready for despatch. To do what now?
Frustrated Nigerians in the diaspora have had to besiege their embassies in Benin, Japan and the UK in recent times. They even went to ridiculous extent of vandalising one of such embassies. Before we crucify them, it is important to investigate into the causes of their frustrations. But, rather than doing that, the old tradition continues.
The case of South Africa, though historical, may still reverberate anytime soon. We can prevent an outbreak of such ugly experiences in Kenya, Rwanda, or anywhere else. But let’s not quickly forget the case of Ghana, few years ago, that made a law to preclude Nigerians from getting involved in certain categories of business. Earlier this year, or late last year, they meted out physical violence to Nigerian businessmen who refused to keep away from the exclusive business zones they created for themselves.
A little over two decades earlier, many unfortunate Nigerians were killed in Sierra Leone’s bitter war by the rebels who accused Nigerian government of financing ECOMOG that was supporting the government against them. I knew of one lucky young man who escaped death only after surviving the amputation of his two hands, but was told to go back home to Nigeria with his hand stumps and deliver the message of their anger against Nigeria.
It is important to bear all these in mind in our diplomatic relationship with all other countries of Africa. This is not to say we should be hostile or vengeful. But we must finetune our diplomatic strategies in ways to protect our citizens outside Nigeria. If Africa is truly to be what some of us wish it to be, then Nigeria has a big task ahead: that of devising pragmatic ways of protecting the lives and businesses of our people in other African countries. Kenya’s story is just a microcosm, not an isolated case.
Nigeria’s Diaspora Commission, a government bureaucracy created to cater to the information needs of the diasporans and streamline their relationship with home country is supposed to be doing some big event at this period. But, how keen the diasporans are about such an event is a question that would demand elaborate answers. If that agency were doing so well, its visibility would have been for all to see by now, home and abroad. So much needs to be done to protect the interests of Nigerians in the diaspora. It’s a huge work, beyond a mere commission or an agency. It’s an international relations work that should keep even the Foreign Affairs Ministry busier than it does now, if indeed Nigeria has any strategy for diaspora relations.
Dr. Oyeleye is a veterinarian, journalist and public policy analyst