Xenophobia Is Worse In Nigeria

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union of April 24, 2015

Emmanuel Sithole  was from Mozambique. He lay helpless that fateful Saturday, April 18, 2015.  His attackers had no sympathy. They hit and stabbed him many times. The man died before any medical help could come his way. Seven other people were killed. Some others escaped death but their attackers looted their shops. The only crime they committed was that they were foreigners living in South Africa. They call it xenophobia – intense dislike or fear of foreigners or strangers. I call it barbarism.

It is a familiar phenomenon in South Africa. They once threw two Senegalese and a Mozambican off a moving train in that former apartheid enclave. In 2000, two Nigerians were among those who died in another xenophobic attack. The current cruel attack was reportedly precipitated by the Zulu king, Goodwill Swelithini, who was said to have called on foreigners to go home.

Different versions of this idiocy exist in different parts of the world. In the United States, an African-American woman was recently elected as mayor of a small town of Parma, Missouri. Tyrus Byrd, who was sworn in last week, was said to have beaten the incumbent, Randall Ramsey, to become the first African American woman to be so elected. But soon after the election,  police officers, and many other top officials of the city resigned en masse citing ‘safety concerns’. Is this really about safety, or irrational dislike of the black woman?

Here in Nigeria, we face variegated forms of xenophobia. The Igbo appear to be the worst hit. Many a times, they are attacked and their shops looted in different parts of the North. The pogrom against them in 1966 resulted in a 30-month civil war that led to the killing of millions of Nigerian citizens.

Since the war ended in 1970, the Igbo have been fighting to be reintegrated into the Nigerian society. They leave their home states and move to other states where they establish businesses and build houses. But sometimes, their host communities antagonise them and make them realise that they are visitors.   For instance, some landlords in Lagos refuse to rent their property to Igbo for reasons best known to them.

In entrance exams into unity schools, children from the South-East region are the most disadvantaged. A child from Anambra State, for instance, will be denied admission not because he is a dullard but because of where he comes from. His colleagues from Zamfara or Sokoto will be given top priority in the admission process simply because of their state of origin. Is this not xenophobia of a different hue?

The last elections brought some vivid memories back home. One of such is the threat by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, that the Igbo in Lagos either vote for the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate, Akinwunmi Ambode, or perish in the lagoon. Hardly had the Oba finished issuing his ‘fatwa’ when some individuals went to the social media to denigrate the Igbo. They further warned voters that  a vote for Jimi Agbaje, of the rival Peoples Democratic Party, was a vote for the Igbo. My happiness is that most people condemned the Oba’s statement.

Elsewhere in the country, the voting pattern was skewed in xenophobic style.  The North largely voted for their kith and kin, while the South-East and South-South did the same thing. People also considered whether a particular candidate is a Christian or a Muslim. If he is a Christian, the other consideration is whether he is a Catholic or a protestant.

Happily, some non-indigenes have just been elected to represent Lagos in the national and state assemblies. This has not happened in many decades.  Recall that when Obafemi Awolowo’s daughter, Tokunbo Dosunmu, attempted to contest for the governorship of Lagos State in 1991, she was schemed out because she is not a Lagosian. This is somebody who has lived in Lagos for over four decades. Talk of xenophobia!

Meanwhile, a Nigerian, Mr Chuka Umunna, was (until March 30, 2015 when the British Parliament was dissolved to pave way for another election on May 7, 2015, ) a member of the British House of Commons. He was elected as Member of Parliament for Streatham in 2010 and could emerge later to be the Prime Minister of Britain. If Umunna were to be in Nigeria, he would be derogatorily called omo Igbo and would be asked to go to his state of origin to contest.

The tragedy of our existence is that we always try to remove the speck in someone’s eyes while leaving the log in our own. Now, we are clamouring for who will be Senate President and House of Representatives Speaker. But the major consideration is not who is capable but which zone will produce these leaders.

The current Senate President, David Mark, belongs to the PDP. So the possibility of his retaining the position is remote. From May 29, APC will become the ruling party and naturally, should produce the leadership of the National Assembly. The South-East, by some zoning arrangement, should have produced the Senate President. But there is no ranking APC member from the zone in the National Assembly.

Already, some individuals are blaming the Igbo people for not voting the APC. They say Senators like Chris Ngige could have easily emerged Senate President had they been elected by their people. This has also engendered some hate speeches from some quarters.

The question is, for how long are we going to continue with these primitive sentiments? How has David Mark’s leadership of the Senate impacted on his local community in Benue? How will Ngige’s leadership of the Senate bring food to the table of an average Anambra man? How will Governor Rochas Okorocha’s membership of the APC bring development to the South-East?

Granted that Nigeria is a complex mix of interests and groups, but must we continue to highlight our differences and complexities? Must we continue to discriminate against people on account of where they come from? Let’s stop deceiving ourselves.

The xenophobic attacks in South Africa are condemnable.  But we are also guilty in many other ways.

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