Imagine this for a moment: a very large family that spends all day and all night quarreling over the inheritance, and whose members employ all kinds of gimmicks to marginalise each other, is united by an ‘insult’ to one of their number who went to a neighbouring compound. This family member brings back the report, and the family is united in its ‘outrage’, or so they think. While some confront this enemy, others continue plundering the estate…
That image is what this latest spat with South Africa brings to mind. It is similar to the British Ariways fiasco. Then, like now, the game is the same: stir up ‘indignation’ against an external affront, to downplay the glaring mistakes at home. As usual, the crucial questions are ignored: how does one get authentic yellow fever vaccination cards? Why is it so easy to procure fake YFV cards at the airport for such a disease? In fact, why is yellow fever still an issue here at all? No one is asking these questions, but the call is for ‘reciprocity’ and ‘retaliation’. Not surprisingly, our officials are adept at this, nearly reaching the deportation target of 125 that SA set for us. Too bad we can’t do this on a cricket pitch.
The display of righteous indignation and pseudo patriotism displayed by Nigerians over the last few days would have been amusing, save for the fact that it would probably never have happened if a serving Senator was not among those deported. Nigerians after all display an amazing sense of entitlement and triumphalism with nothing tangible to back it up. We are due to surpass South Africa as Africa’s largest economy sometime before this decade runs out, but the ranks of our poor continue to increase. If it were a movie, a good laugh would be in order.
But this isn’t a movie. As a ‘Giant of Africa’, a ‘big brother’, one would have hoped to see a little more introspection from Nigerian officials and citizens, but perhaps it is too much to ask. After all, the spirit of introspection and self-criticism is sorely lacking in our national discussion. It is always someone else’s fault, not ours. Any country serious about moving forward must move away from the blame game. To be sure, the South Africans have their own case to answer regarding treatment of Nigerians, and answer they should. But it is more pertinent to ask even more questions of ourselves: were a Senator not involved, would all this noise have been made? How does Nigeria treat its own citizens? (The answer to that last one is obvious) Why are we, as individuals and a nation, obsessed with taking the easy way out of everything and rarely doing things properly?
This issue is yet another teachable moment for Nigerians, and South Africans as well. Africa’s biggest economies have a ‘Chimerica’ type of relationship: there’s not a lot of love between us, but the extent of economic ties mean that we are stuck with each other for the foreseeable future. It should be privately embarrassing to officials on both sides that a simple issue of fake documentation has become a full fledged diplomatic row. It should never happen again. It has been unfortunate to read comments from some, suggesting that South African business interests in Nigeria be sanctioned. For a country crawling cap in hand for foreign investors, it is irony of the highest order. It would be interesting to find out how many Nigerians in Nigeria are making a living as a result of investments from South Africa. It would be more interesting to find out if there are any companies here that can pick up the slack.
Nigerians owe it to themselves to remove the log from their own eyes first and foremost. That’s what real giants do.