We can’t all be xenophobes - By: Olalekan Adigun | Dailytrust

We can’t all be xenophobes

The famous Mayflower School, Ikenne, was founded on strong principles of problem-solving, self-sufficiency and humanism. Its founder, Dr Tai Solarin, a renowned humanist and educationist established it in 1956. The ex-Mays (as the Mayflower alumni are called) who were around either when Solarin was actively teaching (at a time when William F. Kumuyi attended in the 1970s) or when he just patrolled the expansive school compound in his signature brown shirt, short pants and hat to match (in the 1990s) will readily testify to the quality of education the school offered.

What many do not know is the fact that at the time, Mayflower boasted of one of the largest community of Ghanaians (and other Africans mostly refugees from war-torn Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, etc) which made it unique for its rigorous teaching, discipline and moral aptitude.

The Ghanaian teachers (and other non-teaching staff) found refuge and home in Solarin’s Mayflower after the popular “Ghana-Must-Go” actions by Nigerians against their West African neighbours in the early 1980s. Truly, we all cannot be xenophobes.

Like most Nigerians, I watched with dismay how some misguided South Africans destroyed property belonging to Nigerians and other African brothers under the pretence that they are criminals, drug peddlers, or “taking our jobs”. This was the belief of Nigerians in the 1980s too. They hoped the “jobs” these foreigners had taken would be enough to sustain them after they left.

What were Ghanaians doing in Nigeria at the time in terms of occupation? Teaching, barbing, hawking “puff puff”, shoemaking, and in some cases prostitution and minor crimes. With the nation’s economy experiencing recession due to slump in international oil prices, the Shehu Shagari administration undertook some desperate economic measures, including the National Economic Emergency Act (Austerity Measures) in 1982.

When the situation did not immediately improve, and facing possible election defeat in the face of formidable opposition in 1983, Shagari hurriedly signed the Expulsion Order for Ghanaians and other African nationals to leave the country in 90 days. Even the desperate appeals from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and other international organisations could not persuade Lagos to change its mind.

Nigerians need Ghanaians’ jobs.

In 2019 or thereabout, I watched a video depicting a young South African in an ANC-inscribed shirt ordering other African nations to “leave my country and go back to wherever you came from.” This man, by my estimation, should be in his 30s. If my estimation is correct, it means he was either a kid in the heat of apartheid (in the ‘80s or early ‘90s) or was not born at all. He may never have really known that apartheid regime was actually xenophobic.

With apartheid history barely taught in high schools, nobody informed him about how his parents were forbidden from visiting certain places in South Africa by their privileged Afrikaans or Boers. Also, nobody probably told the poor dude that the Africans he was fighting were not the reason he had no job or means of livelihood, but who will tell him when he’s been made to believe the menial jobs or small businesses fellow Africans were doing were the best he could do in a country his forefathers proudly called theirs? Logic, details and rational reasoning are too expensive for xenophobes.

Xenophobes derive joy from collective, unchallenged, unregulated display of madness towards others by appealing to people’s worst fears or emotions, creating enmity where there is none, seeing the strange in the familiar and encouraging people to see how different they are from others as their basis for power.

I normally see Nigerians expressing outrage whenever xenophobes in other countries attack our citizens. Sure, it is politically correct to condemn xenophobia in other countries. Nobody wants to be classified as a “Nigerian fraudster” or “terrorist” just because some Nigerians have made crime their means of livelihood abroad.

Only recently did some Nigerians show how much of xenophobes they are. This time, the victims of the xenophobia are not citizens of other countries, but Nigerians like themselves. The Governor of Ondo State, Barrister Rotimi Akeredolu, set the tone by ordering all unregistered herders (who are ethnic Fulani) to vacate forest reserves within the state. He also issued a seven-day ultimatum to the herdsmen.

As if that was not enough, a political thug, Sunday Adeyemo  aka Igboho, who holds no office or authority under the Nigerian constitution, issued an order for all “Fulani to leave my father’s state” and other states in the South Western part of Nigeria. I watched with dismay how those who should know better supported and rallied support for this motor park miscreant. Soon after, the so-called Eastern Security Network – a creation of the banned Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – soon issued a similar notice in the South East.

Like typical xenophobes, they carried out these threats unchecked (perhaps with tactic political support from some quarters), raiding settlements (some of which date back over four/five decades), burning, looting, killing and maiming people in the process just for the crime of looking like Fulani or herdsmen. If this is not xenophobic enough, nothing will!

Admittedly, the age-long farmer-herder conflicts need to stop, but the problem has been how to stop it. Virtually all solutions put forward have been rejected by either party mainly for political reasons. That said, the xenophobic arguments of driving away people “from our land” for just being Fulani or herdsmen remains ridiculous to me – and will always be. That sounds to me more like deporting all Nigerians from South Africa as the solution to drug abuse or other crimes. I am equally not persuaded by the arguments of herders on the continuous practice of open grazing which is one of the contentious matters in the farmer-herder conflicts. This sounds archaic. It is like telling countries like Denmark or Norway to go back to the “golden age of Vikings”.

While it is true that technology has fast eroded the culture of the Vikings, the statements of some leaders of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) sound misplaced and dubious. I agree at this point with the Governor of Kano State, Umar Ganduje, on the need to restrict movements of inter-state or trans-border herders since it appears they account for most of the cases of disputes and criminality.

If apartheid was terrible and xenophobia is condemnable, we have no moral justification to profile whole ethnic groups or occupations as criminals even to the extent of choosing for them where to live and work. As a Nigerian citizen, nobody can choose for me where I should live or work just because of my tribe or occupation. Under the international migration laws, there are no “settlers”, especially if you have lived or worked in a place for over a decade. Burning down settlements, property, or even outright killing under any guise is condemnable.

If we condemn South African xenophobes and their actions against fellow Africans, will our own inherent xenophobic spirits allow us to condemn our own xenophobia? What would have been our reactions if white racists in the US or South Africa did this to blacks; telling them to “go back to wherever you came from?”

While I am open to finding workable and acceptable solutions to the perennial farmer-herder conflict in Nigeria, the short-sighted arguments of local xenophobes and ethnic bigots do not appeal to me in any way. Aspects of agriculture like livestock and food production are pivotal for the nation’s economy. This is why I am passionate about a workable solution to the problem, not the local xenophobes’ knee jerk “go back to where you come from” arguments.

So, we should not reduce ourselves to xenophobic tendencies of ethnic or racial profiling for crimes. I also urge the governors of the states to commit to protecting the lives of all irrespective of tribe, religion or socio-economic status, who live in their states as stated in the 1999 constitution.

Adigun is a public affairs analyst based in Lagos. He tweets from @MrLekanAdigun