How Nigeria got enmeshed in xenophobia – Blueprint


It’s sad, very sad but we must admit that xenophobia is still subsisting in today’s world.

Xenophobia did not start in South Africa and it will not end in South Africa. Nigeria now a victim, has aggressively indulged in xenophobia before. The worsening economic situation in most countries of the world is encouraging xenophobia and there is no solution in sight. As a matter of fact, it will become worse. Even within nations and within the various ethnic groups, there is economic discrimination. It will become more aggressive and turn more violent later. It will happen earlier than expected. There is frustration everywhere. Everyone is under pressure in the words of Rastaman Kimono.

Its many faces

In our desperation, anyone can be a scapegoat– neighbours, friends, foreigners, etc. The immigration policy being pursued in the United States of America is part of xenophobia. Even the referendum of United Kingdom to quit the European Union commonly referred to as Brexit held on June 23, 2016 of which fifty-two percent were in support of leaving the union, is another form of xenophobia. Even the recent closure of our borders could be interpreted as another form of xenophobia. Imagine the way we celebrated the closure of the borders.

Economic distress leads to social unrest, breakdown of law and order and stagflation. Social unrest is generally characterized by the general dissatisfaction of a group and the unconventional and sometimes violent way people tend to show it. One example is rioting or when a large group of people behave in a violent and uncontrolled way. 

Xenophobia defined

According to Wikipedia, Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. Xenophobia can involve perceptions of an in-group toward an out-group and can manifest itself in suspicion of the activities of others, and a desire to eliminate their presence to secure a presumed purity and may relate to a fear of losing national, ethnic or racial identity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”. Ancient Greek as  example  

 An early example of xenophobic sentiment in Western culture is the Ancient Greek denigration of foreigners as “barbarians”, the belief that the Greek people and culture were superior to all others, and the subsequent conclusion that barbarians were naturally meant to be enslaved. Ancient Romans also held notions of superiority over all other peoples, such as in a speech attributed to Manius Acilius. In short xenophobia is fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners.

The Ghana example  

Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia (1913-1978) was Prime Minister of Ghana from 1969 to 1972. As a nationalist leader and Prime Minister, he helped restore civilian government to the country following military rule. In 1969, he invoked the Aliens Compliance Order and deported an estimated 2.5-million undocumented African migrants, the majority of whom were Nigerians.

Before then, Nigerians had grown annoyingly enterprising, their business acumen sharper, to the detriment of Ghanaian businesses. It was this order that forced my late friend, Dr. Wale Oloyede, the former deputy Comptroller general of prisons from Ghana to Nigeria. Mr. Layi Alabi, former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank was also affected. Also partly affected by the order like many others was Chief Christopher Adebayo Alao Akala (69), the former governor of Oyo state who is from Ogbomoso. In fact, the First Baptist Church in Oke-Elerin in Ogbomoso and its environ became a refugee camp for the Nigerians deported from Ghana. Also affected by the order was my in-law, Chief Edward Afolabi Abimbola (1930-2017), the Lijofi of Idanre Land the first industrialist to build a bicycle factory in Ghana.

The returnees were mostly children but of Nigeria parents. They knew no other country than Ghana and that was during the Nigerian civil war. Mostly affected by the order then were Yorubas from Ogbomoso, Ikirun, Ilorin, Oyan, Offa, Inisha, Oke-Imesi, Ogotun, Ejigbo, Ede and other towns from the then Western states. They lost their properties and money in Ghana for they were given less than fifteen days to pack out. In spite of appeals by then head of state of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon and other African leaders especially, Emperor Haile Selaisse of Ethiopia (1892-1975) and President Hamani Diori (1916-1989) of Niger Republic, Dr. Busia rejected those appeals.

Reasons by Ghanaian govt

Dr. Busia’s order of November 19, 1969 was that all aliens without valid residence permit were ordered to quit the country within fourteen days, that is, latest by December 2, 1969. Official explanations for the expulsion as offered by the Government of Ghana included the following: i. that there were about 600,000 registered unemployed in Ghana, which would be relieved by the expulsion of the aliens; ii. that the continuing balance of payment deficit was worsened by immigrant workers and traders who remitted home some of their earnings; and iii. that the aliens engaged in smuggling, especially of diamonds.

Another important reason for the expulsion order of 1969 was the economic misfortunes that befell Ghana.

Oil boom for Nigeria  

Expectedly most Ghanaians hailed Dr. Busia’s action. On January 13, 1972, he was overthrown. Later fortune smiled on Nigeria. Drilling of oil commercially by Shell, Mobil and Agip doubled in the Niger Delta. The oil money was steady and hopes were high that Nigeria could prosper, despite the brutal military regimes that marred that period. In the 1970s the economy exploded when oil prices soared worldwide.

The golden decade had arrived and the country became Africa’s wealthiest, securing its title: Giant of Africa. By 1974, Nigeria’s oil wells were spitting out some 2.3-million barrels a day. The standard of living improved. There was an influx of people from the farms into the cities; when they travelled, robust iron boxes were generally preferred over cheap plastic sacks. The influx came not just from within Nigeria, but from across the region. Even Nigeria’s leader at that time, General Yakubu Gowon was reported to have boasted that money was not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it. Suddenly Nigeria became an Eldorado.

 On September 24, 1979, Dr. Hilla Limann (1934-1998) was sworn-in as the elected President of Ghana. Mr. Limann, a Muslim from Gwollu in the Sissala West District of the Upper West Region part of Ghana was elected on the platform of Peoples National Party (PNP). Seven days later, on October 1, 1979, Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari was also sworn-in as the President of Nigeria. They became friends. The friendship extended to parliamentarians of both countries.

There was a strong bond between Ghana and Nigeria at that time. On two occasions, I was part of the entourage of the chairman of Senate Committee on Transportation, Senator Uba Ahmed to Ghana. On another occasion I accompanied the then Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas to Ghana. On the three occasions, we were hosted in Accra by President Hilla Liman. He even granted me an exclusive interview in Kumasi, Ghana.

Nigeria sends Ghanaians packing  

The relationship between Nigeria and Ghana broke down on December 31, 1981, when Jerry Rawlings deposed Dr. Limann in a coup. Initially, President Shagari refused to acknowledge Jerry Rawlings as the President but later he had no choice. In 1982, Flight Lieutenant General Jerry Rawlings raised an alarm that President Shehu Shagari wanted to help Hilla Limann to overthrow his Military Government in Ghana. Nigeria stopped the shipping of crude oil on a lone deal to Ghana. And as this animosity continued between the both governments, so did it between citizens of both countries.

By 1983, Nigeria’s economy was collapsing due to mismanagement and the golden era of Nigeria was fading. And then came the oil crash. Ghana’s nightmare was being replayed in Nigeria.

As it began to feel the crunch, Nigeria started to turn inwards looking for scapegoats. By 1982, politicians started to use words like “aliens” in their manifestos in preparation for the 1983 general elections. They blamed African migrants, especially Ghanaians, for the flailing economy. Ghanaians had taken all the jobs and brought crime to Nigeria and, if elected, they would chase them out, they promised. It didn’t take long for this animosity to spill over into relations between Nigerians and Ghanaians.

Ekwueme residence robbery

The last straw that broke the camel’s back which Culminated in the Deportation Saga of the African Immigrants during the Shehu Shagari’s Government, was the Robbery Incident at Alex Ekwueme’s house in Ikoyi, Lagos. Dr. Alexander Ekwueme, the then Nigerian Vice President was robbed by a group of armed robbers which consisted mainly of immigrants.

When the robbers were caught by the police, it was discovered that two of them were Ghanaians. This revelation sent the whole of Nigeria in rage. Instant action was taken by the Nigerian Government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

On the 17th of January, 1983, the Nigerian Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Alli Baba, from then Gongola state announced the immediate expulsion of all illegal immigrants in Nigeria within two weeks.

Those who could pack their belongings used the biggest of bags available which happened to be the big bag which is now referred to today as GHANA MUST GO. This mass deportation met global criticisms.

Reporter’s experience  

My then Editor, Mr. Sola Odunfa, sent me and our photographer, Thomas Umoru, to the Seme border to cover the expulsion of immigrants mostly Ghanaians. What I saw was shocking. There was no food or water at the border. People were begging to be deported. Millions streamed out through any possible exit they could find — through Shaki, to northern Benin. Down south, at the Seme border in Lagos, stampedes would kill many. Dozens were loaded onto open haulage trucks headed for Ghana. The United States sent in aid. The League of Red Cross Societies airlifted 500 tents, 10 000 blankets and thousands of buckets. It was tragic. Children were abandoned by their parents. And all these happened in spite of the ECOWAS treaty.

Shagari toppled

President Shagari won the election for the second term. On December 31, 1983 he was toppled by Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Months after General Buhari took over, nothing improved economically. The prosperity  General Buhari promised never came in spite imprisoning prominent politicians. For the first time, Nigeria started to queue for essential commodities like sugar, salt, milk, etc. There was anger in the land. The government distanced itself from the people. Nigeria’s foreign friends abandoned her after Nigeria ridiculed Saudi Arabia as “We are unlike the Sheiks who do not know how to spend the oil money”. There was resentment all over in the land. 

On April 15, 1985, the Nigeria government ordered an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants to leave the country by May 10. If they failed to do so, the government declared that it would be ‘constrained to take necessary steps to ease them out of the country.’

 The recent xenophobia in South Africa was carried out by a mob. The one carried out in 1969 in Ghana and in Nigeria 1983 and 1985 was a state policy carried out by Ghana and Nigeria government. 

Xenophobia is bad, very bad indeed. It should not be encouraged. It should be condemned no matter what.

 Mr Teniola, a Lagos-based journalist, retired as Director of Press, Office of Secretary to the Government of Federation

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