Let’s face it Nigeria is a dysfunctional country. All the facts are there: terrible soft and hard infrastructure brought about by perpetual misgovernance, exacerbating insecurity, brazen disregard for the rule of law, a flip-flopping electoral process, ad infinitum.
Nigeria’s millennial and post-millennial generations who constitute the bulk of today’s 200 million population have never known the good life. Statistics have it that the poverty population is well-nigh half of the total population. A phenomenon compounded by an unsustainable level of unemployment — a situation that has been the reality for able-bodied men and women since the 1990s.
It is for these reasons that there has been an unending exodus of Nigerians to every corner of the earth. While we are not the country with the most citizens in diaspora [India holds that record], we are perhaps the most dispersed across the world. Our reason for emigrating is often economic.
It is almost impossible to not find a Nigerian community anywhere in the world — no matter how small that community may be. I have even heard of a small Nigerian community in Myanmar! The state of anomie at home has made anywhere but home suitable. But the pull of South Africa is quite natural.
South Africa is one of the top 20 destination countries for migrants. The rainbow nation has the most sophisticated, and most industrialised economy on the continent. Most of its infrastructure is first class and a number of its universities consistently rank among the best in the world. South Africa is an upper-middle-income country, Nigeria is a lower-middle-income country. South Africa’s currency has a better a higher value against the dollar, far better than the Naira. All these, and we still proudly refer to ourselves as the giant of Africa. What grand delusion!
The attacks against foreigners in South Africa is mostly a hangover from the days of apartheid. But the fact that Nigerians (and other Africans) are often attacked because of the success of our businesses is a testament to our industry and grit. There is also the accusation of drug peddling against Nigerians — I believe that group is a small and unrepresentative one. But the attackers will always give a dog a bad name…
Emigration is a fact of life and a critical part of the current world order. Nigeria’s émigrés have caused significant brain drain in the country yet that doesn’t seem to bother some government officials. The remittances are a boastful point for other officials and that seems to be the end of it.
It rankles that our citizens should consistently be whipped abroad mainly because things are not ideal back home. It is not enough to send deputations to discuss xenophobia or repatriate willing victims. As far as I am concerned standing up to the occasion means fixing the broken system — fixing our politics, reestablishing progressive values, fixing our economy, getting down to brass tacks. That way Nigerians can sit at home and fly around the world when they choose to, not run around the world because it is really dreary back home.
The recent happenings have also put into perspective the security/ethnic herdsmen/farmers crisis in the country. One thing is clear, people will always move to where the grass is greener — whether that be for self of for cattle. Innocent Hausa-Fulani almost suffered a variant of what the South Africans are now doing to us. The solution should never have been to ask them to leave. Kidnapping is a crime. If the perpetrators tend to have a certain pattern or ethnicity, the police should consider the possibility of copycats with different ethnicities and even collaboration among ethnicities. It is never sensible to tar everyone with the same brush. Political leaders, opinion leaders all other stakeholders must be careful with their public utterances. There is also the enduring need to address tribal distrust in Nigeria.
Evacuating Nigerians to safety and other actions already taken by the federal government will not suffice. There is a need for intensive national reconstruction. We need to fix this place. It starts with the leaders. There is a need for moral and political leadership. It is unfortunate that the eighth assembly refused to pass a bill that would have prevented political office holders from seeking medical treatment abroad. Nelson Mandela never sought medical help outside South Africa. In fact, he died in a South African hospital. Compare that to the faux hero, Robert Mugabe, who could not get decent medical attention in Zimbabwe. Our own president is a renowned medical tourist, an attribute that is not unique to him on the roster of presidents and public officers.
Make no mistakes, the required work is not a strictly federal government thing. Everyone has to do his or her bit at whatever level of government they are. To whom much is given, much delivery is expected. Do not ask the citizens for sacrifices when you have made none, do not ask for patience when you have made no moves. We can change Nigeria’s economic story for good if only we can roll up our sleeves and get down to the brutal work that needs to be done. It begins with deep reflections, acknowledgment of dereliction of duties and a firm collective and sincere commitment to change the course for good. Nothing else will work.