A letter titled “Nigerians and Botswana” published in The Guardian of Sunday 18th January 2009, and sent in by Ifeoma Ogbodo from Lagos caught my eye. The letter basically drew our attention to the treatment being meted out to Nigerians by the Government of the Southern African country of Botswana. The letter recounted that the Government of Botswana in January 2008 banned the employment of Nigerian health and other professionals in their public sector including doctors, pharmacists, lecturers etc on the grounds that Nigerians are crooks. Other people banned are Indians, Pakistanis and people from Bangladesh for various reasons.
Mr Ogbodo, quite patriotically and understandably, lamented this development and attitude towards Nigeria from a fellow African county, who Nigeria has helped over the decades and contributed immensely to their political, judicial, economic, educational, academic and technological development for several decades. He further wondered why “Botswana knowing that Nigeria is a country of crooks came in 2001 to ask for Technical Aid from the Federal Government of Nigeria which supplied them with more than 50 doctors and other health professionals. The country of ‘crooks’ also trained their President in the Nigerian Air Force and the same country of crooks produced their first Chief Judge who wrote their Constitution. The same country of crooks built their Princess Marina Hospital and gave them money before they discovered diamonds”.
What made me want to comment on this phenomenon is that such xenophobic attitude towards Nigeria from our supposed African brothers and sisters has been going on for a long time, and our leaders and Government still play “Big Brother” to many of these often belligerent African countries, who never have anything positive to say about us.
Some of the benefits that accrue to Nigeria from being the ‘Giant of Africa’ includes but are not limited to sacrificing for the rest of the continent. Other issues where Nigeria has sacrificed are (and the list is by no means exhaustive, as I am sure most readers will also have numerous examples):
• As far back as the mid-60s, just after the independence of most African colonies, Nigerians were the Chief Justices of countries like Uganda and Gambia, where they were very much instrumental in setting up the judiciary of those countries.
• We know what Nigerians soldiers did to help end the upheavals in countries like Congo, now Zaire, in the 60s; Angola in the 70s; Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 80s and 90s, and we have our soldiers in Sudan currently.
• President Shehu Shagari’s government donated Mercedes Benz cars to visiting delegation of ECOWAS in 1981. In some of our poorer neighbouring countries; they still drive those cars and dispatch bikes to date.
• Nigerians in Togo are accountable for up to 60% of the country’s GDP; the same – perhaps to lesser extent is the case in countries like Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal.
• And we all know about the commitment of Nigeria in supplying electricity to neighbouring West African states despite our own perennial, epileptic and almost non-existent power supply. Add to that is the fact that we virtually give our neighbours free petroleum every time.
• Presently, Nigerian students make up about 60% of the earnings in Ghanaian Universities – no thanks to ASUU’s incessant strike actions in Nigeria and our epileptic and irrational education policies.
• Obasanjo’s Government in the 1970’s made tremendous impact on the Apartheid Regime in Southern Africa. Among other things, he dealt economic blows to companies like British Petroleum and Esso by nationalizing them. He sent 10,000 soldiers to fight against apartheid and gave the pro-democratic independence fighters the sum of Ten Million (£10million) Pounds – at that time! I personally remember that when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Ibadan between 1975 and 1979, there were hundreds of Zimbabweans and black South African ANC students studying various degrees in Nigerian Universities. In fact I had 2 South Africans as room-mates, and they could not believe how free Nigerians were. And they were even better looked after than most Nigerian students in those days. I remember that the first thing most of them did was to buy the latest high-powered motorcycles, and they used to travel from Ibadan to Ife to Lagos to Benin, partying and enjoying life in Nigeria.
• Following his release from Robben Island in 1990, Nigeria was one of the first countries that, that greatest of Africans, Nelson Mandela visited to express his thanks.
• Furthermore, after democratic institutions took root in the Republic of South Africa, they were supported by the academia drawn from Nigerian universities, who to-date, are still making homes and shaping the academic structure of their different institutions. Among the earliest are Professor Adamu Baiki – Vice Chancellor, University of Lesotho, Professor Ambrose Adebayo, Head of Architecture, University of Natal, Durban, just to name a few.
Of course, South Africa knows the impact of Nigeria’s contribution at that time, but who knows? Human memory can be short – at times.
However, according to a friend of mine, Ade Adewolu, who wrote in response, there are many reasons for why statements such as in Mr Ogbodo’s letter may generate divergent responses. “First of all”, Adewolu opined, “Nigerians are not united. We call our people and our governments all sorts of names. These foreigners are not deaf. When we call our leaders by the most ignominious names and descriptions, why and how do we expect our ‘neighbours’ to respect them when we don’t respect them? Among the English-speaking community all over the world, Nigeria arguably has the largest adjective for her leaders and people alike. Why are we (leaders and followers alike) so debased in our own eyes? Simply because everybody wants the ‘share of the national cake? That simply, to my mind is laziness glamorized!
Re-read the essay again: The writer simply said there are all sorts of people everywhere. Since it is human nature to want to eat without working, to enjoy where they have not sown, it is therefore a unilateral law that there are bound to be crooks all over the world. Now, about Nigeria and her neighbours; again, there are many reasons why Nigerian government officials press for certain things – look at the Technical Aid Corps Programme Scheme. The idea was very laudable and commendable, but most of it was whenever Nigerian government officials see how they would benefit from a programme is it ever recommended to the policy-makers. Millions of Dollars would be siphoned to individual pockets, so the programme must continue…
In the mid-90’s, Adewolu went to some West African countries and made a strong recommendation to ECOWAS and MFA – Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja about urgent infrastructure in some of those countries. They said that was thoughtful of him and the case ended there. Since Adewolu’s recommendation was that they put up simple structures and encourage development of the areas affected through a transparent system of implementation, it never worked. There is a place for writing a meaningful petition or a letter that gets a response. It is not with the present crop of civil servants and politicians. If what Nigeria has suffered in the hands of South Africa, Zimbabwe or any other government in Africa alone is to be considered, there are many projects that Nigeria would either have abandoned or would have undertaken and consequently have totally colonized some weaker countries altogether.
There are various forces at work here: The Politicians who are caret
akers of the policy-making institutions, the Technocrats – i.e., the civil-servants, and the ‘errand-boys’, whose job is always to identify any ‘promising’ projects, from where they would be able to deliver to their grand-masters… It is a complex phenomenon.
Abdul Gafar Gbadamosi read the letter with dismay and annoyance and opined that the lesson that should be learnt here is that we should put values in our skill and let countries who need our services buy it at market prices. He is of the opinion that “our leaders are selling us cheap all over the world. If they developed and made it interesting and rewarding to practice ones’ skills at home, foreigners will come to buy our services at great prices. That is why people come to England, France, Germany and America. These so-called developed world developed their peoples and environment and make it worthwhile for their people – and indeed, useful foreigners – to thrive in their countries”. Gbadamosi advised that we should promote ourselves first before looking outward.
Chuka Egboka thinks it is time for our country to start pursuing foreign policies that are beneficial to our national interest. He said “Our country can no longer afford this Father Christmas approach to African countries though I can understand this approach in the West Africa region. Moreover, Botswana is more prosperous than us and they are receiving lots of foreign aids from the USA (one of the hallmarks of Bush’s administration). Even for such a small populated country, they have strong institutions of government and a very vibrant economy comparable to western countries judging from about 40 years of uninterrupted civilian leadership. We should even be learning from them. We should be ahead of the curve and know when to get out. Who knows how many other Botswana that would pop out soon? This is not good for our image. I heard this kind of attitude is also brewing in South Africa. Yar ‘Adua should really start reviewing our foreign policies a soon as possible. I think it is long overdue”.
Another friend, Yomi Oladele wrote “Well, if a country like Botswana that just discovered diamonds whose market is based on women’s desire for the stone (‘Diamond is a woman’s best friend’ until the woman no longer requires the diamond, what next?) can treat your professionals this way, don’t come to me when Burkina Faso discovers some resource and tell you and your government to shut up and get lost. Do I need to remind you of Nigeria’s contribution (putting her head on the block) towards bringing the white minority apartheid system down? Well, that’s your reward. By the way Ibrahim Babangida (ex-military Head of State) is now this government’s spokesman with the right to speak for the President as he claimed, and yet to be denied by the President (not the government.) as he recently did on the military coup in Guinea condemning the legitimate Foreign Minister’s view on the military coup.
Certainly, and there is no doubt about this, Nigeria is not an island, and we do have a lot to learn from our neighbours, not only in Africa, but the whole world. A recent example is the seamless and trouble free, perfect elections in Ghana. Other countries in Africa, previously thought to be ”inferior” to Nigeria, are unifying their peoples, maximizing and managing their meager resources to develop, progress and better the lives of their peoples at such pace that Nigeria has been totally left behind and struggling to catch up. Incidentally, and ironically, Nigeria and Nigerians have contributed, and are still contributing, immensely to several of these other countries’ developments and progress. Nigerian banks and other entrepreneurs are springing up all over Africa. In the Gambia, and elsewhere in West Africa, Nigerian-owned hotels are supporting their thriving tourism industries, albeit with money stolen by Nigerian leaders. Even, there are rumours that a Nigerian ex-Governor owns an oil refinery in South Africa, and in his own country, the refineries do not work. Our armed forces are training the Liberian and Sierra Leonean armed forces, after helping to end the civil wars and upheavals in those countries, with the accompanying loss of Nigerian lives. Nowadays, South Africans are running our communications industry and TV industries, and in the process remitting billions of dollars to their own country from what they make in a country of 140 million mobile phone- and football-obsessed country. And even illegally are the thousands of barrels of our petroleum that find their way to the Republic of Benin and Togo and Ghana, and even Cameroon.
Why, there was even talk of Cameroon preparing to go to war with Nigeria, backed by France, if we had not agreed to cede the Bakassi Peninsula to them, all because of the oil from that region. As a matter of fact Cameroonian gendarmes and soldiers were routinely and boldly raiding Bakassi villages and killing our soldiers and civilians. Yet, Nigeria, under Obasanjo, maintained the “Big Brother” stance and hardly retaliated. For ages, Malian and Chadian forces had been raiding inside northern Nigeria with impunity, and some northern villages even pay taxes to these countries.
Yes, our corrupt leaders are selling us cheap. Ironically, again, whenever there is any sign of trouble in our African brother’s countries, their top officials and even Presidents are in Abuja, smiling and sucking up to our leaders, and they go away, with something. But what do we know? The next thing they are making policies and laws that ban Nigerians from coming and working in their countries, citing Nigeria’s corruption, fraudulent practices, drug-smuggling, as if themselves are not corrupt and as sinful as any other people. Even recently, Nigerians were set upon in South Africa and killed and maimed.
So what do we do? The answers have been given above by Adewolu, Gbadamosi, Egboka, Oladele and Ogbodo. President Yar ‘Adua and Ojo Maduekwe, our Foreign Minister need to work on this, but can they?
Well, one thing for sure, as our wise sayings go “Pick the splinter in your eye first before you attempt to pick the log out of somebody else’s eyes”. Our own people in Nigeria are even faring much worse than the citizens of the countries we are always helping.
Some Big Brother!
MEANWHILE, congratulations and the best of luck and success to the 44th President of the United States of America, President Barack Hussein Obama, sworn in today – 20th January 2009 – and making history. Suffice it to say I thank God for letting me witness this historic occasion in my lifetime.