AIF William Shakespeare lived in the 21st century, Shylock might not have made the foil to Antonio. After all, with the prodigious inroads of the Jews into every realm of human endeavour- ranging from the arts to the sciences and high-profile businesses – the respect they have earned would have served as an impregnable bulwark against any fecund imagination desirous of casting them in the mould of the greediest and despicably and mercilessly shrewdest species of the human race.
Not even those segments of humanity that Donald Trump considers irredeemably reprobate and terroristic and thus places under his travel ban would sufficiently embody the vices that Shakespeare would have associated with that foil. But if Shakespeare had looked at Nigeria, he might have successfully ended his quest. Here, no facile attempt is being made to seduce the reader into a hyperbolic provenance where we are only unfair to the Nigerian. No, consider this: in almost every country in the world, Nigerians are identified with criminality. Thus, while other nationals are treated with respect at international airports, Nigerians’ arrival easily provokes trepidation in the presence of their unwilling hosts.
The Nigerian is like the colonised subject that according to Frantz Fanon, later given critical amplification by the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha, is loved and hated by the coloniser. The Nigerian is seen as smart and gritty, yet he suffers objectification and denigration as the embodiment of criminality. This is why even within the African continent, Nigeria is only useful when it is needed to perform a duty. After that, it is dumped. It is then sniggered at as an empty and self-styled champion of the black race.
Nigeria is a champion when it has to deploy its material and human resources to discharge a responsibility that would conduce to regional and sub-regional peace and stability in South Africa, Liberia, The Gambia, among others. No other country demonstrates this ambivalence more than South Africa. This is a country for which Nigeria sacrificed huge material resources to free from the morass of apartheid. But in just over two decades later, South Africans have erased this memory. They now consider Nigerians the inveterate enemies of their well-being.
Forget the possibility of genuine grievances against Nigerians. They could have been complicit in the crimes with which they are charged. But the sources of Nigerians’ trouble in South Africa are mainly material success envy and penis envy – the latter being not in a Freudian context of female frustration at not possessing the defining feature of man. When Nigerians succeed economically, South Africans blame them for taking their jobs and businesses. When they succeed in relationships with the opposite sex, they are blamed for either snatching their women or afflicting young South African girls with AIDS. Consequently, Nigerians in South Africa are being hunted. They are being killed and their businesses pillaged.
But we tend to underestimate the depth of the barbarity of the xenophobic predilection of South Africans towards Nigerians. We tend to blame only the South African youths and the barely educated who did not really witness apartheid and the role Nigeria played to end it. We think that the elite and the political class are not to blame. But the fact is that the latter should be held responsible for the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians. For those who direct their xenophobic attacks on Nigerians do so not because they did not know the role Nigeria played to free them from apartheid.
As early as the nineties shortly after apartheid crumbled, South Africans had already regarded Nigerians as the cause of their trouble. This is why in South African novelist Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome To Our Hillbrow published in 2001, we are confronted with the raging hatred for Nigerians. In Hillbrow which is a microcosm of the South African society, there is the notion among the South Africans that everything was fine “ until those Nigerians came in here with all their drug dealing.” They believe that Makwerekwere (foreigners) should stay back in their countries and solve their own problems instead of running to South Africa.
With the news of Nigerians being sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and others on death row because of their criminality, Nigerians would become more suspected and hated in different parts of the world. Yet, if we stick to the narrative that it is greed that pushes Nigerians to crime and they should therefore face the jail or death they deserve, we would not end the trouble of Nigerians abroad. Of course, there are Nigerians who are excelling abroad. But because of the alleged criminality of other Nigerians, they are all considered criminals.
But this would remain the ordeal of these good Nigerians abroad. This is because Nigerians who do not even have the means of survival such as professional education and artisanal skills would continue to emigrate as long as home is hostile to them. Apart from the few greedy ones, most of the Nigerians abroad would probably have remained in Nigeria to do their businesses if the environment were conducive. But how would they stay back when there is no electricity for their businesses? They would rather go to South Africa and Ghana where all kinds of policies would be deliberately churned out to emasculate them and their businesses. Even if they stay despite the poor electricity and decide to be using generators, they would still not have peace. Insecurity is pervasive and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has only demonstrated paralysis in its face. Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbers and even state security operatives are unrelenting sources of insecurity. If state governors like Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara are ready to abdicate the thrones they strove hard to get because they have been overwhelmed by insecurity, how would the average citizen be safe and do his business?
Thus, if our leaders are genuinely concerned about the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa and their involvement in crime in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other places, there is the urgent need for them to create a conducive environment at home. In this regard, President Muhammadu Buhari should not see the purpose of his government as just junketing around the globe. After all, if those nations Buhari travels to did not put in place enduring measures for peace and development, he would not be there. Therefore, instead of escaping from the troubles at home by travelling all over the world, Buhari should stay in the country and find answers to the problems of insecurity and the economy. He needs to stay at home to choose the right members of his cabinet that would energise the economy and that has been intolerably enfeebled by years of rudderlessness of his government and make going abroad for a better life less attractive to the citizens.
Besides, the government should be more serious about the ordeal of Nigerians abroad. The current lack of seriousness is shown in the half-heartedness with which the government at home and its embassies respond to the plight of Nigerians abroad. One way the government can demonstrate seriousness is through engaging its counterparts in those countries where Nigerians are unjustly treated. What stops the Nigerian government from provoking a serious diplomatic row over the attacks on its citizens and businesses in South Africa and Ghana?
Until the Nigerian government creates the conditions that would foster respect for its citizens, they would be treated as villains outside the shores of their country. It would remain a forlorn hope to expect foreign governments and their citizens to over-stretch their magnanimity by according Nigerians the kind of respect that their home government begrudges them. Worse still, unlike Shylock’s diasporic compatriots, Nigerians abroad would remain the eternal butt of ill treatment and murder as they have no home to which they can return.