In what appears his last interview before he finally flew away in that tragic Ethiopian Airline crash of March, Pius Adesanmi—-patriot and model intellectual—-declared that he was in an “abusive” relationship with Nigeria.
A less discerning reader of Professor Adesanmi, a master satirist and frontline essayist, could easily mistake that line for one of his numerous satirical interventions on the official anyhowness that is Nigeria’s directive principle of state policy. But nothing strikes at the heart of the concept of Nigerian citizenship—-and its attendant frustration—-better than Adesanmi’s description.
In that interview, conducted by my boss and Editor-in-chief, Musikilu Mojeed, Professor Adesanmi captured quite beautifully why many Nigerians are unrepentant patriots despite the harsh manners the nation has treated them and continues to treat them.
“I am in an abusive relationship with Nigeria,” he said, matter-of-factly. “No experience, no matter how horrific, can reduce my commitment to Nigeria. Nigeria is that malevolent, abusive, beastly husband who is physically violent, beats and hurts you but you remain in that relationship and people wonder why.”
Since the fresh wave of attacks on Nigerians and other Africans across South Africa dominated the headlines some weeks ago, I have had to ruminate on Adesanmi’s poignant description. His words are particularly haunting if placed within the context of the Nigerian government’s somewhat aloof posture in the wake of the criminal attacks on its citizens.
Then came that viral video of Air Peace Chair, Onyema, welcoming Nigerians evacuated from South Africa upon their arrival in Lagos. Even if anyone had misgivings about Air Peace operations in the past (and there are many Nigerians who have genuine misgivings, to be sure) one message was clear throughout the 12-or-so-minute duration of the video: no singular act could have been more patriotic at this juncture of our nationhood. The whole thing got to its crescendo when the crowd burst into an emotional rendition of the Nigerian anthem, their voices a perfect expression of the bitter-sweet experience of fleeing a diaspora that was home for a home that feels eerily like another foreign land.
Or, pray, how else does it feel to be homeless if one’s security isn’t guaranteed in one’s presumed fatherland amid Police harassment, banditry, kidnapping, and widespread insecurity? And apart from the social insecurity, what about the uncertainty that clouds the looming “economic insecurity” that must have driven them to the hotbed of xenophobic attacks in the first place? And, again, what about the government’s seeming insouciance at the inception of the kerfuffle? Yet, packed inside that airplane, upon arriving Lagos, they rendered the Nigerian anthem beautifully, all of them.
Pius Adesanmi’s analogy of an abusive relationship, at that moment, appeared truer than it ever was.
The fresh wave of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and others are largely steeped in the politics of “protectionism” playing out in the midst of scarcity. But Xenophobic attacks are not quite alien to foreigners living in South Africa. They have occurred since the early 1990s. As recent as a few months ago, some Nigerians also reported attacks on their businesses and property in major parts of South Africa. As a defence, some native South Africans allege criminality on the part of the foreigners, Nigerians particularly.
To be sure, it will be foolhardy to assume that ALL Nigerians (and indeed other Africans) living in South Africa are into legitimate ventures—-or as we are wont to call it in Nigerian street lingo, “hustle”. There have been confessional cases of criminality involving some; just as there have been others involving indigenous South Africans. In any case, crime has no nationality and all of these could be addressed with careful application of constitutional provisions that serve as checks.
To then address issues of law and society with illegal actions that border on arson and sheer criminality is to throw society into lawlessness.
Again, part of what drives the Xenophobic attacks on Nigerians is the covert consent given to the attacks by South African officials. There are reports of the Police looking the other way as violence was being visited on foreign nationals. In the heat of rhe crisis, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, was even quoted as saying that “Nigerian nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abusive practices”, and “harming our young people”.
Clearly, there is sheer criminality on the part of the citizens and there is official indifference—-if not veiled collusion—-by the South African authorities.
This, more than anything else, makes the case of Nigerians fleeing the rainbow nation more pathetic. For, while it is becoming increasingly delusional to expect the South African authority to provide protection for Nigerians or remain neutral in this case, it was most painful seeing the Nigerian authority maintain official aloofness in the middle of the madness. The government had to be dragged across the media before it acted.
While international politics and diplomacy must not be subjected to social media frenzy (because it requires tact), the point must be made that a nation would be respected based on how it reacts when its citizens are being murdered or molested in a foreign land.
Sadly, many Nigerians would have no business in South Africa in the first place if life here isn’t Hobbesian: short, nasty and brutish. Quite ironically, while the South African craze got to its crescendo, kidnapping, banditry and other cases of criminality intensified down here.
I remember reading reports of Xenophobic attacks side-by-side with the disturbing move by the Katsina State Government to exchange bandits for some abducted citizens. Nothing captures the helplessness of the state better!
Yet if there is one takeaway from this whole kerfuffle, it is the very urgent need to fix our nation and rescue it from gluttonous officials. For, while we continue to grandstand on social media, proclaiming the “giant” size of our nation and how we supported the country during apartheid rule, nothing would change if we do not create opportunities for the mass of our people here. To put it matter-of-factly, it is plausible to conclude that as we evacuate Nigerians from South Africa, tens of thousands of other Nigerians would do all they can to move into same South Africa in search of greener pasture—-the very same way they are dying in the Mediterranean sea on their way to Europe. Why? For the helpless average Nigerian, it’s a case of what the Yoruba would refer to as “…Ile o gba, Ona o gba…” (loosely translated as ‘Neither home nor abroad is conducive enough’). What else explains Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, pray?
The solution, therefore, is not ambiguous: We must fix the nation; no more, no less.
Pius Adesanmi, even while stuck in the “abusive” relationship with Nigeria, understood this point quite well and his idea of what could serve as redemption was clear.
“Well, you know that Nigeria’s beastly, cannibalistic nature (she feeds on her own ordinary citizens) is the handiwork of a few,” he said in that same interview. “The road that nearly claimed me is the handiwork of the visionless animals in the political leadership of the country. To reduce my commitment is to surrender to our enemies in the leadership. As I always say, Nigeria is a struggle for meaning and we must not allow the filthy political leadership to have the last word in that argument.”
This, more than empty grandstanding, will provide socio-economic protection for our people and forestall dangerous migration to other climes.
Ultimately, if socio-economic stability is achieved, Nigerians would need not migrate to dangerous climes. Similarly, others at home would not find official insouciance of the incumbent frustrating neither would they have to binge on the illusory expectation that some other person would finally come—-or is it c*m?
Oladeinde tweets via @ola_deinde