Air Peace has been lifting Nigerians from South Africa back to their home country. At least 500 have returned, as the benevolent airline continues its philanthropic activity and the federal government also starts ferrying angry citizens back from the “rainbow nation”. We say congratulations to all those who have been saved alive from the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
We do not, however, sympathize with those who were, indeed, criminals peddling drugs, robbing people or luring young women into prostitution. But the South African authorities should have dealt with criminals the same way they deal with South African criminals. Their law enforcement agents are at liberty to trace and arrest Nigerian criminals, put them on trial, jail them or deport them. They could also have adopted a more stringent visa policy to stop foreigners from “overrunning” their country. Hiding behind their inability to stop their own criminals carrying out xenophobic attacks is not acceptable. It seems the authorities like what their “criminals” have been doing. Their diplomatic shuttles to Nigeria and to some other African nations now won’t help their case.
As the returnees sang the National Anthem and heaped praise songs on the chairman/CEO of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema, as soon as the aircraft first landed in Lagos, penultimate week, tears welled up not only in the eyes of Chief Onyema but also in the eyes of thousands of their compatriots who watched the airport event on television and video clips shared widely on social media. The anthem reminds all Nigerians of the need for patriotism and service to fatherland: “Arise O compatriots, Nigeria’s call Obey/To serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith…”
One troubling question many home-based Nigerians ask is: to what have these returnees returned to? It is a happy thing that they have escaped death in the hands of haters in South Africa, but is the reason for their emigration in the first place no longer relevant? South Africa, a nation Nigeria committed enormous resources to free from Apartheid more than two decades ago, is not one of the most attractive places on earth. Even now, Nigeria’s economy is much larger than South Africa’s. What is in South Africa and some other smaller economies in Africa that millions of our able-bodied youth are striving so hard – and dangerously so – to pluck?
We can hazard a few answers. They seek jobs even if they are low-paying ones. They seek a place they can find stable power supply necessary for doing any kind of business. They want to sleep with two eyes closed and not be terrified by armed bandits. They seek to drive on well-paved roads. They want to drink clean water and thus avoid several diseases that cause sicknesses and deaths. These are the bare necessities of life that every well-run nation provides for its citizens. It is understandable when Nigerians therefore flock to Europe, America and now Asia in search of greener pasture. But what is South Africa? The Boers that ruled it under Apartheid might have grown its economy, but that era of relative prosperity for white South Africans ended 25 years ago. The blacks of South Africa are not far better off than Nigerians.
The leaking roof which Nigerians are fleeing should be mended quickly. The solutions to most of Nigeria’s problems have been documented; what is left is implementation. The issue of power, for instance, has lingered for 50-plus years without any end in sight for its solution. Why?
Nigerians have not been mad like the xenophobic attackers of South Africa. But some Nigerians have been madder by killing their fellow compatriots or colluding with foreigners to inflict terrorism and banditry on their own people. Desperate for survival in an economy that offers no hope, some have taken to such crimes or even sold their own biological children for a few naira notes.
We must return to the words in the National Anthem: “Guide our leaders right/Help our youth the truth to know/In love and honesty to grow/And living just and true/Great lofty heights attain/To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” If we don’t build this country so it could offer opportunities for those who wish to work and earn legitimate income, our youth will keep embarking on dangerous trips to countries that are less endowed than Nigeria. Every day, we read reported cases of young Nigerians dying in the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea as they seek to cross over to Spain through northern African countries like Morocco and Libya. Those trapped or kidnapped in Libya tell horrifying stories: Many have become slaves by choice just to escape imminent death.
The latest humiliation by South Africans should serve as a wake-up call for everybody. It is time for soul-searching. And we urge the political leaders of the country to reexamine their ways. Let us build a better country for this and future generations.
With: The Oracle Today