It has become an annual ritual – just like an annual epidemic – for South Africans to engage in xenophobic attacks against their fellow Black Africans resident in South Africa. There are some trends in these attacks. The South Africans do not attack the Indians who have lived in South Africa for a couple of centuries. They do not attack the Pakistanis or the Chinese.
They do not attack the North Africans. They do not attack the Whites who have settled in South Africa for centuries and are in control of the economy and the lands. The reason is simple. The colour of the skin of the above-mentioned people is different from that of the Black South Africans. The Black South Africans still see those with a different colour as superior but prefer to vent their anger and frustration on their fellow Blacks who reside in South Africa to eke out a living.
Coincidentally, the xenophobic attacks have been occurring in the tenure of President Jacob Zuma. They did not occur when Dr Nelson Mandela or Mr Thabo Mbeki were in office. One can infer that the body language of Zuma has been encouraging the attacks. Maybe, if he had shown some righteous anger against the attacks or ensured that the perpetrators are severely punished, they would not have recurred.
Ironically, Nigerians have been expressing their anger over the xenophobic attacks. Many commentators remind South Africans the sacrifices Nigeria and other African nations made to end apartheid in South Africa, including hosting many leaders of the African National Congress as well university students from South Africa.
However, the reason the action of the South Africans is shocking to many Nigerians is that we have a track record of not attacking foreigners within Nigeria. Nigerians even treat foreigners better than they treat fellow Nigerians.
For example, in spite of the number of times Nigerian football clubs and national teams have been attacked while in other countries, Nigerians usually don’t attack foreign teams. On the contrary, on many occasions, during some international matches, Nigerian football fans are known to have swapped support from the national team to the visiting teams if they are not impressed with the performance of the national team.
Even if a visiting team beats the Nigerian team or prevents Nigeria from qualifying for an international competition, such a team can even take a victory lap round the stadium without even a bottle of water thrown at them.
However, among Nigerian ethnic groups, this has not been the case. There have been repeated ethnic-cum-religious attacks by natives on settlers, especially in the Northern part of the country. The first record of such attacks was on June 22, 1945 in Jos over fear of domination by Southerners. It was followed on Saturday, May 16, 1953 by the attack in Kano, which occurred as a result of the motion moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro for self-rule by 1956 as well as the planned tour of the North by Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group.
Reports of inquiries into the attack showed that it was led by a Northern People’s Congress’ stalwart, Mallam Inua Wada, who complained that after the North had been booed and insulted in Lagos over their walking out of parliament in protest against Enahoro’s motion for self-rule, the Southerners were planning to come to the North to mock them the more.
Even though the planned tour of the Action Group was cancelled, the attacks still went on. Ironically, neither Enahoro nor Awolowo was Igbo, but those who bore the brunt of the mayhem were the Igbo.
Then came the Mother of all Attacks in 1966, called the pogrom, in which about 50,000 Igbo were killed mainly in the North, following the 1966 military coups. That trend has continued almost every year since then to the present.
However, one of such attacks should receive an award for being the most bizarre. In September 2005, a man made some cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in Denmark. In February 2006, riots erupted in some parts of Northern Nigeria with Christians (mainly Igbo) killed and their property destroyed. The ludicrous and ridiculous aspect of the attacks was that the Danish man had no connection with the Igbo: Denmark is in Europe while the Igbo are in Africa.
The cartoonist is White while the Igbo are Black. Most of those attacked did not even know that such a man existed, neither did they know that he drew any cartoon. But the assumption was that since he was a Dane, he must be a Christian (not minding that he could be an atheist), and since the Igbo are mainly Christians, the anger should be visited upon them.
And as usual, nothing was done to the perpetrators. The logical line of action should have been for the protesters to seek the Danish embassy or the United Nations’ office and protest in front of it.
These attacks have some similarities with the South African attacks. The first similarity is that the attackers never target the Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, or Whites. Because the attackers don’t want to cause trouble for the state and the Federal Government, they don’t even attack fellow Blacks from other African countries. They know that the affected countries will frown on such attacks.
They limit the attacks to fellow Nigerians, especially from the South of the country and particularly from the South-East. Like the South African attacks, the attacks in the North have continued for decades because the body language of the leaders of the North as well as the leaders of Nigeria condones it. During any of such attacks, some people are arrested to please the media but shortly after, they are released quietly.
A recent example is the lynching of 74-year-old Mrs Bridget Agbahime on June 2, 2016 in Kano. Some people were arrested and charged to court. In November 2016, the court freed all the suspects based on the legal advice from the attorney-general of Kano State to that effect. That marked the end of the case. It is just a matter of time for another group to kill some people somewhere.
The perpetrators know that nothing will happen to them. The state governors will not want to take any action against them to avoid being politically unpopular. The Federal Government will not want to take any action to avoid offending the North.
The matter is left to die a natural death. Anybody who talks about it is blackmailed by being accused of inciting the public and spreading hate. Those who killed others and burnt people’s property are exonerated while those who condemn such unwarranted and unjust killings are demonised.
Another similarity between the South African attacks and the Nigerian attacks is that just as the poor in South Africa have been made to believe that their poor status is caused by the Black Africans who are in their country “to steal their jobs”, so also have the Northern poor been made to believe that their poverty is caused by the Southerners, especially the Igbo, who are in their land to “steal their jobs and opportunities.” So, when both of these groups see the progress the settlers are making in their land and compare it with their own financial status, it seems to them that it is true that the settlers are the cause of their privation.
Therefore, whenever there is an opportunity, they vent their anger on these settlers, killing them, looting their property or destroying it. The government and leaders, who are indeed the cause of the poverty, take no serious action so as to continue to have scapegoats.
One trait that Africans flaunt is their hospitality. A true African would deprive himself some pleasure to make a stranger comfortable. Attacking foreigners in one’s community is not bravery but cowardice.
Nigeria must stop treating attacks on its citizens within or outside its shores with kid gloves. The life of a human being is not the same as the life of a rat. A country’s strength lies in the premium it places on the life of every of its citizen.