The most trending news in Africa and particularly in Nigeria at present is the news of xenophobic attack in South Africa. In Nigeria, the main stream media and the social media have given the issue so much attention that other issues seemed to have been drowned by the din of the xenophobic incident. It is the subject of discussion everywhere—in the streets, beer parlours, market places, newspaper-stands; in offices and sundry other places. Prayer sessions have been held in different worship centers for the victims and survivors of the dastardly attack. The usual euphoria that accompany the marking of one hundred days in office of every government seems to have gone unnoticed as most people paid scant attention to the fact that 5th September was exactly the 100th day of the present regime.
Characteristically, Nigerians have unanimously condemned the xenophobic attack and even recommended reprisal actions against South Africa. Some irate youths have attacked some South African investments in Nigeria and went ahead to issue reckless ultimatums. Paradoxically, the way Nigerians reacted to the unfortunate incident conveys the impression that Nigerian hates xenophobia and that it never happened here or will never happen here. But the bitter truth is that xenophobia is a common thing in Nigeria and among Nigerians. And the history of Nigeria is replete with innumerable cases of internal xenophobic disturbances.
Perhaps, a glimpse into the etymology or the meaning of the word may make this clearer. The word xenophobia is a combination of two words: xeno and phobia. Xeno is a Greek word meaning foreigner or guest while phobia is a word that means unreasonable, inexplicable and often illogical fear of something, objects or situation. Thus, xenophobia is the morbid and unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners, guests, strangers, immigrants, visitors, aliens and by extension, non-indigenes, those considered as outsiders, other ethnic groups, etcetera. Xenophobia sometimes results from unwarranted hatred and racial prejudice. However, this is different from racial pride. When one takes pride in ones people, history, civilization and culture and indulges in activities aimed at cultural atavism without antagonizing other cultures, it is not xenophobic.
But, xenophobia is not only when there is physical confrontation and violence as recently witnessed in South Africa. Xenophobia exists in many forms. It is exhibited in our attitude, writings, body languages, utterances, expressed views about others that are presumably our guests or host as the case may be. Hate speech, racial chant…are manifestations of xenophobia. The physical attack and violence is a turning point; the result of accumulated pent-up feelings or incitement.
Clearly, xenophobia is a function of ignorance nay arrogance as some may say, but indeed arrogance most times is advanced form of ignorance. A truly knowledgeable person is simple, humble, and circumspect in his approach to issues and life. Xenophobia is the result of ignorance fueled the misguided doctrine of racial superiority. An ignorant person is gullible and malleable. Most xenophobic attacks are instigated. The ignoramus may not understand the wiles and guiles of the instigators who in most cases are self-seeking individuals. An ignorant person may not understand the concept of interdependence and the fact that everybody is a migrant at one time or the other. An ignorant person has false consciousness syndrome which may make him participate in the “struggle” he knows nothing about. Also, intolerance of other people’s ways is another major cause of xenophobic attack. Sometimes lack of exposure may make one expect others to be and behave like them and when it not so as is always the case it is misconstrued as an affront on the hosts.
Indolence and its collateral poverty are other major causes of xenophobia. Some people are naturally lazy while some are made lazy by poor cultural orientation or negative enlightenment. It is typical of lazy people to envy more prosperous hardworking people especially foreigners who are usually blamed for the impecunious conditions of their slothful hosts.
Indeed, most xenophobic attacks especially the scale we witnessed in South Africa are incited and sponsored and it is the ignorant and slothful persons that are easily available for manipulation for violence. A knowledgeable person must ask and ascertain reasons for action and a busy person may not be easily available for manipulation.
Nonetheless, this does not preclude the fact that the hostility of the host communities could result from the nuisance of some of the foreigners and their disregard for the culture of the people in whose domain they dwell.
From the brief analysis above, it is clear that Nigeria has been a hotbed of xenophobic disturbances in a scale and dimension far greater in proportion than the South African incidents. Yes, we have more xenophobic disorder here than what South Africa could ever have. The xenophobes come in many forms: discriminatory government functionaries, religious bigots who indoctrinate innocent youths and tribal irredentists who preach hatred. Most times, the xenophobia issue is packaged in the form of religious disturbances and that is why what is presented as religious riots in a part of the country will always snowball into looting of shops belonging to people from a particular ethnic group in the country?
The embers of xenophobia in Nigeria are stoked by ethnic jingoist, politicians among whom are supposed elder statesmen and commentators who revel in nitpicking other people and their cultures, highlighting our differences while presenting others as superior. Sometimes too, when you see our newspaper headlines, the opinions and the writings of supposed informed columnists, you will see nothing but xenophobia.
Indeed the list of the cases of xenophobic attack in the country is endless. Every day the threats of evacuation and expulsion of non-indigenes looms menacingly at us and there are regular ethnic clashes here and there in the country.
Sometime in 2017, a group of youth from a particular section of the country irrationally issued a quit notice and threatened to unleash mayhem on a particular ethnic group, resident in their area for agitating for what they have right to. Nobody was arrested or queried for that indiscretion. In 2013, a state governor who is now a top functionary of the present government, authorized the arrest of fellow citizens, kept them in sub-human conditions that claimed the lives of some of the victims and then dump them under the bridge in the wee hours of the morning in another state. The victims were never compensated. They only received half-hearted apology from the erring governor. Some people tried to justify this heinous act. During the build up to the 2015 election a first class tradition ruler was said to have threatened to drown non-indigenes of a particular state in the Atlantic Ocean if they fail to vote a governorship candidate of his choice.
In 1998, a Nigeria citizen named Gideon Akaluka was murdered in cold blood ostensibly for religious reason and thereafter shops of other individuals not connected with the matter were looted during the riot that ensued. Today, the man who ostensibly supervised the killing of Gideon Akaluka is said to be a first class traditional ruler. Again a few years ago, a policeman presumptuously murdered six citizens of Nigeria who are from a particular ethnic group in Apo and was smuggled out of the country by a top government functionary. It is rumoured that the said trigger-happy police officer is back in the country and he is one of the personal aides of a serving governor.
Xenophobia syndrome in Nigeria is terrifying but what is more worrisome is the fact none of the xenophobes in the past has been arrested or tried prompting insinuations in some quarters albeit mischievously that the South African incidents were being sponsored from here what with the lethargic response from our government. Indeed, why is no one ever tried for xenophobia here? What is more xenophobic than the menace of herdsmen is Nigeria? How come no one has been arrested or tried, in spite of the carnages they have unleashed?
Without doubt, one of the biggest problems confronting this nation is internal xenophobia. It is one factor that is threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria. It strikes the nation directly on its fault lines. It has killed national unity and sense of patriotism and if this country is to remain one indivisible entity, xenophobia must be tackled frontally and decisively too. Indeed, one of the main things stirring up separatist agitation in Nigeria apart from the antics and divisive tendencies of those in power is xenophobia.
Thus, as we condemn the South African incidents, we must look inwards. Xenophobia in Nigeria is real and can be reduced through enlightenment campaigns and purposeful leadership. Nigeria leaders should repair and restructure the country and stop paying lip service to national unity. In view of the variegated nature of the country, the government should drop the centre-periphery anti-development model and adopt a more balanced development strategy that will reduce straggly migration within and outside the country.
An economist and public policy analyst.