Xenophobia and the consequences of national discord, By Nnamdi Uzuegbu
NEWS DIGEST – Yet again, Nigerians join other Africans in collective disgust as the wave of violence against Nigerians and their counterparts from other countries by South African mobs reaches new heights. Many South Africans accuse the foreigners of taking their economy from them; others allege a contribution to the continued moral decadence of the one-time face of apartheid and racial crime. The anger towards this latest episode seems to be on a greater wavelength mainly because of social media and the viral videos of the graphic atrocities. For Nigerians, the people are not just angry with South Africans and the visible lack of will on the part of the South African government, which seems to even lend support to these crimes – there are videos of policemen aiding the mobs and reported statements by highly placed government officials justifying the raids – Nigerians are also appalled by what they view as an overly timid response from their government.
To many who have followed the patterns of Nigeria’s foreign policy, this does not come as a surprise and the reasons for this are as old as the country itself.
When one of the former Presidents described the Nigerian domestic situation with its diverging interests as similar to that played on the international scene amongst the world powers, he was referring to Nigeria’s ever-green problem of disunity amongst the various vested interests that make up Nigeria. This has not been without dire consequences to the larger entity, Nigeria. Amongst these effects is a weak and increasingly weaker hand in international affairs. To bring this point into greater perspective, two of Nigeria’s Presidents within the space of months gave greatly discordant positions at the United Nations General Assembly.
In 2015, just a few months before the general election that eventually ousted then President Goodluck Jonathan, the former President voted on behalf of Nigeria and in favour of the Jewish Republic in what many considered to be a moral vote for Israel for alleged international infractions against Palestine. That temporarily put Nigeria up as pro-Israel. In the very next General Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari in his address to the United Nations restored Nigeria to her regular position as pro-Palestine. This uncommon situation could not have gone unnoticed by the international community, who must have sensed the deeper causes. This is one of the ways Nigeria has exposed her disunity to the world. Other ways are the International activities of proscribed groups like the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and also that of the main opposition party.
Nigeria’s disunity and wavering foreign policies means that the country cannot afford to make foreign enemies. Very few governments would start a war with a regional power with so many domestic problems of insecurity on its plate. Nigeria is just as unlikely to take a firm stand on South Africa just as against neighbouring countries who some have described as being ‘friendly’ to public enemy number 1, Boko Haram (ISWAP). When you add these to our military, which was intentionally weakened during the years of military rule, and our dwindling economy, which was so captured by the President on one of his foreign trips where he described Nigeria as a “poor country”, one does not expect a strong hand in international politics.
The country can only make subtle and covet moves against ‘unfriendly’ nations which would definitely seem like cowardice to its people. Until Nigeria either fixes its domestic problems or creates a stable foreign policy on the key international issues irrespective of who is president, it will continue to present a weak hand at the international table. This will continue to have disastrous consequences on its people, who have continued to suffer disrespect and violence in foreign lands. The reality remains that Nigerians should not realistically expect the same or similar stances from their government in dealing with International issues as they would in the handling of proscribed groups.