For every columnist, the constant question is: What topic should I write about? Sometimes, the news landscape seems so dry that getting a quick answer to this seemingly simple question becomes difficult. On the other hand, there are times when so many things are happening simultaneously and choosing one topic above the others becomes equally challenging.
The latter scenario was the case with me when I was to pen this piece. My initial plan was to write about the Chibok girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgents over a year ago. Although I had also considered writing about the “mysterious” disease killing people in Ode Irele, Ondo State, however, as a father, I have always tried to imagine the daily trauma of the parents of the over 200 girls since their abduction on 15 April, 2014. I strongly believe that the Nigerian nation has failed those school girls. Thanks to Dr Oby Ezekwesili and the Bring Back Our Girls campaign group, the Nigerian government has been constantly reminded of its failure to those girls and, by extension, all Nigerian parents and pupils. The minimum atonement is to do whatever is necessary to bring the girls back as early as possible. The Nigerian government owes it as a duty.
Still, I was forced to change my mind on what to write about when I started following online the barbaric xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals going on in South Africa. Initially, when the xenophobic violence news broke, following a hate speech by the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini in Durban, South Africa, I paid little attention, believing wise counsel would prevail and that the South African government would take charge of the situation.
However, and surprisingly, the situation rapidly degenerated in a matter of days, with the South African government seemingly demonstrating criminal inertia to firmly stop the mindless attacks on innocent people.
I watched some mind-boggling videos of the attacks posted online and felt sick trying to understand how any sane human being could perpetrate such acts. In the videos, the cruel and barbaric criminals randomly chased and clubbed harmless people to death.
In one sickening video, a man I later confirmed was from Mozambique was surrounded by a baying crowd and was cruelly clubbed to death with planks and other metallic objects. One of the hoodlums cruelly smashed the man’s head with an axe. How anybody could do that to a fellow man baffles me. Even in war situations, some things are abhorred.
Aside the mindless killings, the South African hoodlums have also been engaging in wanton destruction and looting of properties belonging to foreign nationals. Nigerians in South Africa are reported to have lost millions from their properties being destroyed or looted.That this can happen in South Africa, a country the whole continent supported in its long fight against a brutal white-minority rule is really saddening. What has happened to the gospel of unity among Africans that was preached for years by our founding fathers? What can the African Union (AU) give as an explanation for these inhuman acts by South African brigands in the 21st century?
The fact that this has happened before should have prompted the South African government to act promptly to curtail the attacks. The fact that the government started taking drastic steps after people across the world started expressing outrage is even more inexcusable. I was a reporter working in Accra, Ghana, in 1998 and could recall that a similar xenophobic outbreak occurred in that country that year. But the Ghanaian government acted promptly and decisively to halt it. Many Ghanaians were also against it.
I must however acknowledge and commend the South African citizens who are against the xenophobic attacks and have even dared to speak out against it. This makes it wrong for anyone to generalise and tag all citizens of the country as xenophobes.However, more South Africans must speak out against this atrocity and put pressure on their government to be more proactive in dealing holistically with the intense hatred of some South Africans for their African brothers.
The Nigerian government must also be more proactive in coming to the aid of its citizens anywhere in the world. Perhaps, a more prompt and forceful statement from the Nigerian government that what was happening in South Africa was unacceptable could have made the South African government act more quickly.
I also urge the Nigerian government and leaders of other countries in the continent to provide the enabling environment for their citizens at home to pursue their dreams. There are citizens who had had to leave their countries, not because they wanted to, but because the environment was not conducive for them to thrive.
That notwithstanding, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa show man’s inhumanity to man and should never happen again for whatever reason.