Chigachi EkeTuesday, March 14, 2017
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Port Harcourt, Nigeria




The Myth of Xenophobia

n Apartheid South Africa the white power structure had a disingenuous way of countering black solidarity. Each time black leaders called for mass protest the establishment would allow such action to endure for days before striking back. One morning the headlines would hint that Zulu Izinduna, completely sick and tired of the fruitless strike, had used knobkerries to smash the heads of those trying to stop their men from entering the mine. The following day would witness blacks attacking their own leaders. This instigated bloodbath, called black-on-black violence, almost truncated the transition to democracy.

In democratic South Africa black-on-black violence is repackaged as xenophobic attack. The white media and opposition Democratic Alliance, DA, repeatedly declared that though African countries helped in defeating Apartheid, black South Africans felt they could not be "perpetually obliged" to their erstwhile liberators now invading South Africa. Soon black South Africans themselves began to murmur about foreigners stealing their jobs and women.

The 2008 "xenophobic" attacks took Nigerians in South Africa by surprise but I wasn't and said so in "Language and Violence: Reflections on Xenophobic South Africa," "What the international community must know is that victims of the latest xenophobic attacks were effectively identified and murdered long ago on the pages of the South African press ever before their actual murders real time. The South African media and the Democratic Alliance did much in preparing the ground for these attacks with their violent language. The moral panic orchestrated by the Democratic Alliance created the right condition for these murders."

Chief Baldwin Obasi, President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo South Africa, also confessed his surprise. He summoned a general meeting on how to respond to the attacks. The overwhelming opinion was that the reason why black South Africans left Indians, Pakistanis, Whites, etc, only to fall on their fellow blacks was because black migrants were only interested in business to the exclusion of politics. Chief Obasi subsequently notified the late Chief Frank Times Ifeanyichukwu, the Onyendu Ndigbo South Africa, that it was time to play politics.

Didi Oguguo was Ohaneze's chief negotiator with the ruling African National Congress, ANC. According to him, not even the 200,000 Igbo votes promised Comrade Jacob Zuma moved the ANC. All that the party wanted to hear was that Chief Obasi would remove Nigerians from the streets. The angry protests of South African women of Nigerians touching their backsides in the streets had reached the ears of the ANC. Secondly, Chief Obasi must promise to stop Nigerians from peddling drugs. Oguguo and his fellow travellers gave their promise and that was how Ohaneze entered into partnership with the ANC for the 2009 general elections.

Ohaneze chose the Hillbrow Theatre, Johannesburg, for its 17th April 2009 pro-ANC rally. Honourable Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Correctional Services, was the ANC representative. She asked Nigerians with degrees in mathematics and the sciences to come to Mzansi, African name for South Africa, and take up teaching jobs. Mapisa-Nqakula's speech, captured on video, was instructive. Whereas the DA said that black South Africans were tired of black migrants, the ANC through Mapisa-Nqakula was issuing open invitation to Nigerians to come and work. Xenophobia is a myth.

A fortnight later Johannesburg stood still as Ohaneze led some seventeen thousand Nigerians to the ANC "Mother of All Rallies" at the Ellis Park Stadium; with the great Nelson Mandela present. Overwhelmed by Nigerians' undiluted solidarity, the Deputy Speaker of Randfontein Municipality issued Ohaneze an impromptu invitation to her African Day Celebration. At Randfontein 23rd May 2009, on behalf of Ohaneze, I delivered the lecture, "Man and His Chi: The Igbo of West Africa."

With Comrade Zuma safely elected South African president, Chief Obasi called for an emergency meeting at Orange Grove, Johannesburg, to brief Igbos on the ANC position. There was not a single person present who denied that Igbos peddled drugs; unlike Yorubas who specialised in fraud with Pretoria as their headquarters. What about Nigerians touching South African women in the streets? That, too, was true, came the answer. Chief Baldwin and his deputy Prince Kennedy Okafor constituted an Ad hoc Presidential Committee to look into the Igbo problem. This committee managed to produce a report. Based on this report Ohaneze then set up a Presidential Panel to do a better job.

The panel had Chief Smart Okeugiri (Onwa), President of Ohaneze Ndigbo Gauteng, as chairman and financer. Other members were law student John Unachukwu and Oguguo. With me as secretary, the panel submitted its report titled, "Igbo Lives in South Africa." The concluding part of this report tackled drug peddling among Igbos of South Africa: "The dire unemployment situation Igbos find themselves calls for close study.... Ndigbo favour the establishment of Igbo shopping centers under the management and control of Ndigbo. The Chinese overcame their crippling economic conundrum by establishing their own shopping malls. Ndigbo must think in the same line."

Nigerian or Igbo Problem?

If there are half a million Nigerians in South Africa, 80 percent of them are Igbos. Spread throughout the nine provinces, three out of ten Igbos are into drug trade. In Lagos 2016 the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, seized 92kilos of Methamphetamine and 73kilos of ephedrine from South African based Pastor John Vincent Arinze. And you said South Africans have no right to burn down Nigerian "churches" used as fronts for distributing drugs?

Bear in mind that South Africans have been consistent in their complaints, namely, that Nigerians were (1) Selling drugs to their children, and (2) Turning underage girls into prostitutes. On these two charges, Nigerians are hundred percent guilty. Who trafficked those 5000 Nigerian girls to Mali for forced prostitution?

The Way Forward

One, Nigerians jailed and executed overseas for drug dealings are mainly Igbos. This realisation means Igbo governors must intervene in the economic life of expatriate Igbos by building markets in the Diaspora where Igbos can earn legitimate living.

Two, the Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari-led Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters Committee 2014 National Conference recommendations are worth implementing. With Professor Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu as Deputy Chairman, Committee featured the very best minds in Nigerian diplomacy: Ambassadors Abdulmumuni Abubakar, Fidel Mama Ayogu, Ibrahim Mai-Sule, Yusuf Yaro Mamman, Isa Aliyu Mohammed, Vincent Sunny Okobi, BM Sani, John K Shinkaye, Suleiman Zubairu and Professor Akin Oyebode. To strengthen our foreign missions it advised the establishment of Foreign Service Commission that would recruit brilliant Nigerians for training in Foreign Service Academy. Graduates of this academy would then be posted to our foreign missions as custodians of expatriate Nigerians and our national interests.

That our senators are rushing to South Africa to deal with this crisis exposes the inadequacy of the present order where civil servants without diplomatic skills are handpicked and posted to foreign missions. But a properly funded Foreign Service could have nipped the South African problem in the bud, in addition to properly advising Abuja on the true state of affairs. Similarly, other national problems whether domestic or foreign seem to have been addressed by the various committees of the conference and the earlier Nigeria implemented the report the better. We must not wait for disaster to strike before doing the right thing.

And three, the xenophobic gambit is a red herring by the white press and DA to divert attention from the land question in every election. Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, DA, started the present crisis 10th February with his "inflammatory comments." At the continental level, therefore, the African Union, AU must back the ANC to fast-track land redistribution to avert future attacks. The West will oppose it but black South Africans, through the disgruntled Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF, have already served notice that they won't remain landless for long.


South Africans razed drug dens belonging to Nigerians and Honourables Rita Orji and Abike Dabiri-Erewa are calling for justice. But who is demanding justice for South Africans maimed and killed by drugs sold them by Nigerians? In Botswana, Nigerians dared not try what they do in South Africa because that country has the death penalty. Those Igbos and Yorubas involved in crimes in South Africa must be deported.

President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, must protect South African citizens and companies in Nigeria. The instigators expected Nigeria to adopt the tit-for-tat approach and weaken the ANC-led government. Our concerned legislators must see the big picture and think again. Besides, retaliatory diplomacy will do us more harm than good as thousands of Nigerians, especially Igbos, could lose their priceless South African citizenship- their master key to the world.

Interestingly, South Africans have an advice for racists and criminals who come to their land only to abuse their hospitality: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu; meaning, you are human only because of me.