Senator Mark and his African enemies

President of the Nigerian Senate, David Mark, seems puzzled that many African countries are hostile to Nigeria. His evidence, he said, was observing how dignitaries in the state box of the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, all rooted for Nigeria’s opponent, Burkina Faso, during the final match of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). The support for Burkina Faso must be nearly so overwhelming that Mark and other top Nigerian officials couldn’t help but notice how either unpopular we had become or how enviously other African nations viewed us. Mark voiced his observations during a Senate special session to mark Nigeria’s unexpected and unusual victory in the 2013 edition of AFCON, about 19 years after we last lifted the prestigious continental cup.

Senator Mark was not exaggerating, even though he refrained from adducing reasons for that envy or unpopularity. Indeed, there is hardly any Nigerian who is unaware of the Africa-wide hostility to Nigeria, with many of those haters actually indebted to us. The Senate President’s observation should, therefore, be a challenge to the government of Nigeria. Could we be doing so many things wrong vis-a-vis our African brothers? Are we intimidating our neighbours? Indeed, are we irredentist in any way, or are Nigerian citizens engaged in unwholesome activities in other African countries? Whatever the reasons are, it is perhaps time we examined all the factors that have made us to be loathed.

As the experience of two brutalised Nigerian journalists showed on their last day in South Africa covering the competition, that Southern African country has a special dislike for Nigerians. And this is in spite of a remarkable history of solidarity and friendship between the two countries, one in which Nigeria virtually made the sacrifice and gained only a grudging initial thank you. Nigerians are similarly treated with scorn in Namibia, another southern African country Nigeria sacrificed so much to set free from the clutches of their white oppressors.

With the exception of Liberia, where Nigeria is still somewhat regarded with respect, there is hardly any African country, north or south, east or west, where we are respected in proportion to the love we show other African countries, or the sacrifice we made for them. For instance, in spite of the huge sacrifice we made in Sierra Leone during their 1991-2002 civil war, the British calmly walked in towards the end of the war and took the prize after a very short and limited military engagement. Today, on the subjects of Sierra Leone and Liberia, some European chroniclers choose to remember only the contributions of Britain and the United States. The sacrifice Nigeria made is conveniently glossed over or denied.

It is important to go beyond merely observing how poorly Nigeria is rated and scorned in many African countries. The Federal Government should call its foreign policy experts and historians together to examine the factors responsible for this anomaly. It is an anomaly that has lasted for far too long probably because of the incompetence of the government in planning the aftermath of our foreign policy actions. The problem should be arrested now, for on its own it will not go away, no matter how much we wish it.

The place to begin, it seems, is to recognise that other countries will respect us only when we become the continental leader in instituting the highest grade of democracy and assiduously promoting it, achieving incomparable economic development feats to give Nigerians a very high standard of living, respecting human rights by eliminating extrajudicial killings and all forms of torture, and generally running an orderly and disciplined society, the toast and envy of the world. The loathing other African countries have for us may in fact be connected to how self-deprecatingly we have carried ourselves than what immeasurable contributions we have made for other countries’ comfort and wellbeing. Whatever the problems are, and whatever the solutions might be, it is important we never ignore the problems as if they do not exist.

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