I don’t think Nigerian governments, past and present, have any coherent strategy or policy for dealing with the relentless violence against Nigerians living in South Africa.
Without any strategy or policy, it is difficult to respond to a strategic crisis like this. There is a need to effectively force the hands of the South African government to do more to protect the lives of Nigerians living there.
The South African government is capitalizing on Nigeria’s irresponsibility to continue paying lip service to the safety of Nigerians and other African foreign nationals in South Africa. They know we are going to react with the usual press releases, phone calls and condemnations.
Interestingly, South Africa benefits from our current relationship far more than Nigeria. From MTN to DSTv to Shoprite, it is South African business that are opening shops in Nigeria and raking in far more revenue than their parent South African companies.
On the other hand, South Africa is not even among the major buyers of Nigerian crude oil. The South African government is happy to use foreigners (Nigerians) as scapegoats for its corruption and appalling mismanagement of its people’s resources.
Caught between its own incompetence and fierce opposition from Malema’s party, blaming Nigerians and other African nationals for the pervasive unemployment among blacks seems a convenient distraction for the ANC.
The only way Nigeria could force them to act is by exerting a price far greater than the political benefits they currently drive from the violence. This involves diplomatic and economic measures.
Diplomatic measures will involve sanctions on South African officials and individuals as well as downgrading diplomatic relationship and subtle subversion of South Africa’s regional interests and ambitions.
Economic measures like tariffs will also help. But more strategically, the Nigerian government should encourage victims of this violence to sue the South African government here in Nigeria and be made to pay huge fines which can be enforced through the seizure of South African assets in Nigeria.
This hostile economic environment will no doubt lead to decrease in South African investment and could even see MTN, DSTv and Shoprite leaving.
The question is, are Nigerians ready to support this type of economic nationalism, given that such extreme measures will result in loss of Nigerian jobs in the short-term and a South African retaliation that we cannot completely predict? Can any government toe that line, given our tendency to politicize such issues internally instead of rallying against a common external threat?
It is common to see South African security and political leadership supporting and justifying those acts of violence by accusing other Africans of attempting to takeover their country.
Interestingly, Nigerians and Africans who played the leading role against apartheid are not the economic threat to black South Africans. The real threat are the Chinese, the Indians and the Israelis (who even supported apartheid) who owned the bulk of South African wealth after their Afrikaner masters.
If Nigeria were to be rewarded for its leading role in the dismantling of apartheid, Nigeria ought to be South Africa’s economic, political and security patron. Sadly, partly due to South Africa’s ingratitude and Nigeria’s irresponsibility, the story is that of the baby biting the hands that fed it.
This is a huge lesson in geopolitics. The world is a very dangerous environment. Weakness is not a virtue. Only the strong is respected. Right or wrong, it is the strong country that imposes its rules on the weak ones.
Even alliances and deals are made with the strong. You only have to look no farther to countries like China, Russia, Israel, Iran and North Korea to properly grasp this.
On Violent Retaliation
Those people urging violent retaliation against South African businesses are the same people that block roads and start killing Nigerians when there is crisis in some parts of the country.
How can you justify attacking innocent people for a crime committed thousands of miles away just because they share the same country with the perpetrators?
To those people calling for attack on Shoprite, do they know that those shops are owned by Nigerians? Do they also know the thousands of Nigerians who will lose their jobs if MTN or DSTv close shop today?
Yes, the South African economy is going to get hurt, but Nigeria will be affected more by those actions because South Africa’s economy is stronger and more diversified and therefore better prepared to absorb such shocks.
As I said, President Buhari has few options, diplomatic and economic. He has to consider the internal political and economic implications of whatever action he takes. The people urging him to expel South African businesses today will be the first to blame him when the economic tolls of that action begin to bite.
The bottomline is Nigeria is a weak country and weakness is not a virtue. South Africa is aware of that weakness that’s why it is refusing to take strong measures to protect Nigerian lives and property.
Such things cannot happen against citizens of the US, Europe, China, Israel or even Russia.
In a way, I find the whole Nigerian outrage a bit suspicious. This is a country where only last week some people were defending the xenophobic treatment of Jigawa indigenes in Lagos.
The truth is, the way a country’s citizens are treated or respected externally is to a large extent dependent on how it treats its own citizens internally.
By Ahmed Musa Husaini.