Nigeria, South Africa and powerless punches By Gabriel Akinadewo

Gabriel Akinadewo

Take it or leave it, South Africans know what they are doing concerning the maltreatment and summary deportation of 125 Nigerians on March 2.

My father tells me that when a man is drunk and he abuses you, it is not the Gulder or Stout that is controlling him. The beer only aided his decision to abuse you. If not, why is it that a drunk will never go to the Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos and abuse the soldiers at the gate?

South Africa is testing our will as a country, no doubt and they knew that we will only react and soft-pedal which is what has happened, despite Nigeria’s deportation of 28, 56 and 42 South Africans on March 4, 6 and 7 in retaliation.

Nigeria has also reportedly given South Africa five conditions to normalise relations between the two countries.

On Thursday, South African Deputy Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Ibrahim, apologised, saying:“We wish to humbly apologise to them, and we have. We are apologising because we deported a number of people who should not have been deported”. Beyond the rhetorics from both sides and Nigerian combatants ready for war, so to say (we should not even try it with South Africa), why did Nigeria suddenly wake up to realise that South Africa has been abusing Nigerians for years?

When Soyinka was detained at the Johannesburg International Airport in 2005 for almost eight hours, what did the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency do to stop the insult on Nigerians? We all know the history of South Africa and how Nigeria sacrificed everything to ensure that South Africans were totally free from apartheid rule in 1994 when Nelson Mandela emerged as the country’s first Black President.

Nigeria played a very big role in dismantling the apartheid system but since their independence, South Africa’s reaction to Nigeria has been harsh, negative and antagonistic.

Even at the South African High Commission in Lagos, Nigerians are being treated like “uncircumcised Philistines” in their own country by the mission’s officials. They usually treat Nigerians shabbily when it comes to visa issuance with applicants standing for hours, even when majority of them will eventually be denied visa.

At the American Embassy and other European embassies, Nigerians are relatively treated like human beings. I was at the American Embassy last year with my wife and children and we were out in less than one hour.

Newspapers had published many times the maltreatment of Nigerians by South African embassy officials in Lagos but there is no action on the part of the government to deter the officials.

Majority of those in charge of affairs in South Africa today were trained in Nigeria, especially at the Universities of Ibadan and Lagos during the apartheid era and they cannot claim not to know the help they got from Nigeria during that dark era.

What led to the March 2 deportation of Nigerians? South Africans claim that all of them were carrying fake yellow fever cards. How is that possible? How can 125 Nigerians travel to another country with fake documents, not one, two but 125?

Also, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) has certified Nigeria a yellow fever-free country, why should South Africa insists that Nigerians must still have the certification cards before entering the Southern African country? I have been to many countries in the West and I was never asked to produce a yellow fever card.

What is South Africa trying to prove, that it is better than the United States (U.S.), Britain and others, healthwise? How did South Africa know that the cards with the 125 Nigerians were fake? At least, South Africa did not issue the cards. If their visas were original, how come their yellow fever cards were fake? Is South Africa in any position to determine the genuineness of the yellow fever cards issued in Nigeria?

In anger, Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said: “It is curious that a country that had issued entry visas to intending travellers, which issuance was predicated on the presentation of a valid yellow card, will then turn around to deport those travellers. If these travellers had fake yellow cards, how did they come about valid visas?

So far, no country, no individual, no group has made any report to the ministry on the possession of fake yellow card by an individual. If there are such cases, the ministry would like to have reports for necessary investigations. The action of South African immigration towards the Nigerian travellers is against the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 Article 32”.

His Foreign Affairs counterpart, Olugbenga Ashiru, also said: “It was a shock and I find it difficult to accept that the deportation was on the basis of yellow fever card. Normally, the visa would not have been issued without the yellow fever card. Even in the event that the traveller was without the card, normal convention demands that such a person is quarantined, innoculated and allowed to enter after about three hours, if there is no adverse reaction. In this case, there was nothing like that. I was not informed of the incident before the deportation and neither was any official from our High Commission informed. Our officials were supposed to witness the deportation process as demanded by protocols”.

While supporting Nigeria’s retaliation, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, said: “Nigeria is finally doing the right thing. South Africa deserves it. I am in support of the Federal Government action. Nigeria must demand respect from other countries. Nigeria should take action to protect its interest. Nigeria should let South Africa know that there are other steps to be taken that would affect its interest in Nigeria. It is unfortunate that the African National Congress (ANC) does not realise that it is biting the fingers tha fed it during its difficult days. ANC is playing the game of white establishment”.

The main issue here and the lesson for Nigeria is that Nigeria lost the power game to South Africa years ago. Forget the story that Nigeria funded the Blacks during the apartheid struggle. What did we do since then to ensure that the superiority between the two countries is on the Nigerian side or, at worse, paralleled?

One of my younger brothers, Jide, travelled to South Africa about six weeks ago (just for four days) and it was mandatory that he must take the yellow fever card along.

In 2012, I just wonder why any country should be telling Nigerians to have yellow fever cards before entering their countries.

Of course, South Africa has the right to decide the documents you must have for you to enter her territory. The country can even ask for small pox and leprosy-free cards. I have no problem with that but in power relations, can’t Nigeria stop this nonsense? What will happen if we insist that Nigerians will no longer go to South Africa with yellow fever-free cards? Why can’t we demand for HIV/AIDS-free cards from South Africans entering this country?

The worse that will happen is that nobody from Nigeria will go there again but what happens to MTN, Multichoice, Shoprite and other South African investments in Nigeria?

Do we have the ‘liver’ to send them packing? As insulting as the action of the South Africans is, has Nigeria not lost global respect because of the appellation of a ‘failed nation’ attached to this country? In power relations, it is the strong that is always victorious. The triumphant will always write history, not the weak.

If you win a war, you are stronger. If you win the economy of another country, you are smarter. Other countries are winning our economy. There are many South African firms in Nigeria. I don’t know any Nigerian investment in South Africa. Many of the South Africans coming here are just taking up jobs meant for Nigerians and our government is turning away from the issue.

Globally, sanctions, force and adjusting trade regulations are actually valuable tools in the hands of the strong.

Sanctions are usually the first resort after the failure of diplomacy. They can take the form of diplomatic or economic sanctions and involve the cutting of ties and imposition of barriers to communication or trade.

Obviously, power in international relations is the degree of resources, capabilities and influence in international affairs. Here, we have what is known as hard power and soft power. Hard power relating primarily to coercive power, such as the use of force. Soft power covering economics, diplomacy and cultural influence.

In practical terms and if we are to follow the United States (U.S.) example, there is no clear dividing line between the two forms of power. Where is Nigeria’s power, hard or soft?

Hard power gives a country economic incentives or military strength to influence other countries’ behaviours. It relies on the possession of certain concrete resources, including population, territory, natural resources, economic and military strength, among others. Hard power will intimidate your neighbours not to mess up with you but we have a situation in which Nigeria and such a country as Togo will be struggling for the same seat in Africa.

During the cold war, U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, said: “What is possible for a state depends on its resources, geographic position and determination, and on the resources, determination and domestic structure of other states.”

If Nigeria has been aggressive in this school of thought, South Africa would not have embarrassed us the way it was done penultimate Friday. That was why the Eight Country Alliance invaded China in 1900 to quell the Boxer Rebellion, Germany invaded Poland in 1939, an action that triggered the Second World War, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 over concerns about Iraq’s weapons capabilities.

Also, the application of economic pressure can be deployed for similar ends. U.S. trade embargoes on countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Iraq, and the U.S. Iran Sanctions Act equally flows from this ideology.

Today, the U.S. is ready to wage war against Iran because of the latter’s determination to build Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Ironically, it is only the U.S. that has used this weapon to maximum advantage in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan to end the Second World War.

It is like an individual driving a limousine and telling others not to drive any vehicle more luxurious than a beetle. That is what the latitude of international relations permits.

At the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the United Nations (UN) in New York on October 12, 1960, a furious U.S.S.R. Leader, Nikika Khrushchev, pounded his shoe on his delegate-desk in protest of a speech by Philippine delegate, Lorenzo Sumulong, which accused the Soviet Union of having “swallowed up” Eastern Europe and deprived the population of “the free exercise of their civil and political rights”.

Nobody could challenge Khrushchev because it was obvious that Russian power was behind him.

After the embarrassment of Nigerians by South Africa, the punches we are throwing now are without much force because, for years, we failed to do what is right, locally and internationally.


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