OPINION: South Africa’s message to Nigeria

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

The reported death in South Africa of 30-year-old Nigerian identified as Stanley Igw a native of Amandugba Village, Isu Local Government Area of Imo State, who was allegedly, killed on June 6, 2021, by some police officers in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa has again, dispatched conflicting but vital messages to Nigeria and Nigerians.

Separate from the fact that South African Government has in the past done very little to ensure that attacks by members of the public, the police, and government officials on foreigners are investigated and those responsible held accountable, this latest thoughtless killing, without doubt, portrays the country as a nation with poverty of history. Their inability to remember the role Nigeria and other African countries played during their trying moments of apartheid days re-awaken our consciousness of how South Africa has proved to be a bad and ungrateful neighbor.

Eliciting more troubling concern/dropping spirit is the awareness that the event could have been avoided if South African Government had upheldthe March 2019 adoption of a government action plan to combat xenophobia and other forms of violence against foreigners in the country

However, while this piece sympathizes with the family and friends of the disease on whose shoulders lies the pains of this gruesome, I view this latest development as an occurrence laced with ingrained message for political leaderships at both state and Federal levels in Nigeria.

By continued dehumanization of Nigerians in South Africa, I see Southern Africans and their government reminding Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government to truly change his attitude towards Nigerians by revamping the nation’s economy so that Nigerians can stay at home. South Africans want both Federal and state levels to recognize that it takes a prolonged effort to administer a country well and change the backward habits of the people. By this action, they want Nigerian government to create employment for youths so that they will stop running out of the country to foreign lands where they are daily killed. Most importantly, they want our leaders to draw Nigerian youth close for leadership apprenticeship; to learn the job of leadership as their generation will provide the future leadership need of the nation.

Adding context to the discourse, going by media reports, Nigerians, who witnessed Igwe’s arrest, testified that “The incident happened at about 11 a.m and it was alleged that the police drove him around for several hours and in between they stopped and took turns to beat Igwe and throw him back into the van. “When they realized that he was dead in their custody, they drove him to the Newcastle police station at about 1pm and reported that he had ingested some substance, which had killed him.

Even as the present happening further amplifies the believe that the country is no longer unsuitable for self-respecting Nigerians to dwell, it is important to underline that to any student of history, such ugly occurrences against Nigerian youths should not come as a surprise.

From my account in a piece published August 2017, entitled; Nigerian youth; celebrated abroad, despised at home,(see The Guardian Newspaper Limited), Nigerians will not have been dehumanized if our leaders were truly democratic, pacesetting and coaching. But unfortunately, what exits here is a huge number of ‘coercive’ and selfish leaders. The said piece which was published before the 2019 xenophobic harassment and violence against African and Asian foreigners living in South Africa argued that government’s insensitivity to the plights of Nigerians and lopsided architecture of our political theatre and onslaught against the youths explain why the country is ‘losing’ her youths to countries such as the United States of America (USA), Canada and South Africa. The piece therefore, warned that if not arrested, the effect of such failure on us will be costly in human and socioeconomic terms.

Such prophesy has since become a word made flesh and dwells among us.

The wickedness of the South Africans apart, why Nigerians of goodwill are feeling very worried over the development is that the source of the problem has since been identified and understood.

Without any shadow of the doubt, Nigerian government set the stage for what her citizens are currently passing through in South Africa and in other parts of the world through formulation of policies and programmes that perpetuate poverty, consolidates unemployment and powerlessness. And as a consequence, forced many migrate to countries such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and China where many are killed while others languish in prisons serving different jail terms.

Supporting the above claim about unemployment in Nigeria is the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment and underemployment index which states that youths form a chunk of people affected by unemployment/underemployment in Nigeria,

Certainly, the irony of this narrative is that from the body language of South Africans, things appear to have fallen apart for Nigerians in the country; difficulties lie ahead of the majority and Exodus may be a kind of fit conclusion.

But the question is; if Nigerians in South Africa decides to move, where will they migrate to? Back to the country that failed them in their period of need; and when the factor that made them migrate to South Africa are still alive and active

Again, why I will not blame South Africa for these misdeeds, despite bilateral relationship that exists between the two countries, is that if the enormous resources Nigeria is blessed with were well managed, our youths would not have embraced South Africa as a place of economic refuge. It’s not South Africa but our leaders that is our major problem as a nation. Our challenge goes beyond the present happening in South Africa. The truth is that South Africa challenge may exist in ‘overt and glaring forms but the greater challenge posed by bad leadership exist in a hidden and subtle manner.

I believed and still believe very strongly that what the youths both home and abroad are facing is not a question of luck or fate but a function of bad leadership.

Why can’t the youth run away from the country when idleness has become the culture of the youths as the government has no programme for them and unemployment frustrating many of them? Why can’t Nigerians run out of the country when the destruction of lives and farmlands by men suspected to be Fulani herdsmen in the south-east, north-central and south-west have continued unabated?

What about the south-south region were the farmlands of the people of the Niger Delta have continuously been polluted? And the people stoically endure socioeconomic, infrastructural injustices in the hands of successive governments.

Why will the youths from the Niger Delta region not run to South Africa to die in the hands of foreigners than dying here at home in the hands of a government that supposed to, but failed to protect them? Why will Nigerians abroad come back to meet with the government that is neither interested nor ready to facilitate the discovery of solutions to; what impedes the development of the country or find a solution to why the country is not moving forward.

Instead of the government solving the above challenges or give the youths work and insisting that they work for bread, they position them for illicit electoral functions.

If we can still remember, globally, the main purpose of government is to guarantee a well-ordered society, ensuring that every citizen enjoys freedom to the maximum. But how can we enjoy freedom to the maximum, in a country where leaders not only shy away from responsibility but allow our nation become a breakdown of civil societies with guns, drugs, violent crimes and vulgar public behaviors.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.

The article was first published in The Nigerian Voice

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