The problem with both the Nigerian and South African governments is their deep unpopularity at home. Both governments will use any means to survive. South Africa’s white minorities are staging a come back. A look into history suggests that the black majority rule was primed to fail from the start. There are a few issues to be considered. One, the apartheid political economy that came into being with the unexpected victory of the Afrikaans Nationalist party in 1948, was based on mining. As the economy moved into manufacturing and then services, the system had exhausted the limits of its possibilities and had become anachronistic. It is important to recall that the 1974 manufacturing sector strikes in Durban, Natal province showed, incontrovertibly, that the foundations of the apartheid state, the group areas act, Bantustans, the Bantu education act, immobility of labour and so on, was incompatible with the shift into manufacturing and then services. The Afrikaans had to negotiate an orderly transfer of power to the acceptable wing of the African National Congress (ANC), thereby retaining economic power. Two, the inability of the ANC to negotiate a repudiation of the apartheid era debts is the source of the present discontent. They should have insisted on debt relief in exchange for giving up their nuclear weapons. The debt repayment is too high, with a suffocating effect on the fiscal capability to provide social dividends in the post-apartheid state.
Add to that the corruption, cronyism and paddy, paddy arrangements in the ANC that is destroying the country’s economy. The party can no longer be reformed, it must be electorally repudiated for fresh ideas and fresh thinking that can bring real and inclusive development to the people. The so called Black Empowerment has favoured a few like Ramaphosa and not the masses. The beneficiaries of corruption via Black Empowerment are fuelling resentment against fellow Africans to hold on to power and privileges. Militarily, the apartheid state could have hung on for another fifty years but the economy had changed and apartheid had become untenable. Mandela, like Kenyatta, was crucial to the savvy white minority. They had to hand over power to him, rather than the hot heads and the crypto-communists.
Once again, the slaughter of Nigerians and the destruction of their businesses is a pointer and a poignant reminder that Nigeria is an imagined reality for every Nigerian. One cannot feel the country inside, neither can it be felt outside. It is official that the thinkers in Nigeria are those who can speak, and they are on Facebook. Without Facebook, the sycophants in the corridors of power with half a decent brain, will never say a thing! Who sends an envoy when his fellow citizens are being killed in another country? It is saddening that all Buhari is able to orchestrate are populist grandstanding from a position of weakness. Attacks on Nigerians and their business has been building up before the crescendo of last week. What steps has Buhari taken symbolically, to ensure the safety of Nigerians in South Africa before the situation escalated? Was there any published emergency Hotline number? Was there ever a reinforcement of the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa with Nigerian security forces as a contingency plan for coping with the eventual upsurge in people who may come for safety and defend against attacks, as the United States would normally do? What precautions did the government take? None. This patent lack of thought is the reason why we are not respected. A nation that places no intrinsic value on its citizens cannot expect others to treat them better.
Our impotence is well known to our neighbours. The knowledge of our weaknesses are layered in their approaches and it is almost doctrinal in how our weaknesses are used to deal with us. We can never look Cameroon in the eye for instance, because sending over five million Nigerians back home is part of their War Doctrine, if we ever attack them in a full blown war. No one takes a weak and crumbling state like Nigeria seriously outside its borders. No one respects an economically sick, rudderless nation. We have squandered our wealth and have become the GNAT of Africa. That we fought apartheid is ancient history. We were rich, boisterous and prodigal. Greed and waste have robbed a once proud nation of its dignity. We should lick our wounds and do what the poor and humiliated do – get back to work. South Africa is a top buyer of Nigerian crude. We need them, they don’t need us. They can buy their oil from other sources and punish us.
Apart from political pressures and protests, Nigeria must learn to take ownership of her past deeds. There is an urgent need to strengthen bilateral security cooperation with African states below the equator, the Middle East and South East Asia where many Nigerians languish in prisons. The country needs liason offices for drug and crime offences, in cooperation with these countries. To start with, we need to take back those thousands of Nigerians in their prisons. We need to create a policy of “Exit Visa” for Nigerian passport holders traveling for the first time to volatile destination like South East Asia, South Africa, Middle East etc. It is the best way to deal with all these countries with abysmal human right records where they kill Nigerians like chicken. This policy will protect the vulnerable travelers from human traffickers and also improve the prestige of the Nigerian travelling document.
What is Nigeria to do in this hard place it has found itself? The best move is to take a hard line. Do we have the moral authority to do so, is the question.