The South Africans are an ungrateful lot. After all Nigeria did for them during the struggle against apartheid, white minority rule and the relentless tyranny of the Boers they have done nothing but treat us with disrespect, disdain and contempt. A glaring example of this is their shameful treatment of our Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, at Johannesburg airport a few years ago when this respected and much-loved international statesman was stopped by the immigration officials, treated like a common criminal and kept waiting for hours simply because he was a Nigerian.
Though Soyinka had a valid visa he was only allowed into the country after the intervention of a high ranking South African government official who was contacted by the Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa in the middle of the night. So unpleasant was that experience for Professor Soyinka that he vowed before the world that he would never travel to South Africa again.
Sadly nothing appears to have changed since then. The deportation and humiliation of no less than 125 of our people (all of whom had valid visas) at Johannesburg airport just a few days ago for allegedly not having valid yellow fever vaccination certificates is just the latest chapter in that sordid catalogue of insults. They did this after Arik Nigeria, our leading airline carrier, faithfully flew our people from Lagos directly to Johannesburg. The South African authorities denied them entry and promptly put the majority of those passengers back on board the plane and compelled Arik to fly them back home there and then. I feel particularly bad about this because as Minister of Aviation a few years ago I was one of those that fought hard for Nigerian airline carriers to secure most of the international routes that they are plying and that our people are enjoying today.
I am particularly impressed by Arik’s robust reaction to the incident when they threatened to simply stop flying to South Africa if the authorities were not ready to treat our people and their passengers with respect, fairness, sensitivity and decency. I am also glad that the Federal Government itself has risen to the occasion and has found the courage to reciprocate the South African gesture by denying entry into our country and promptly deporting 75 South African air travellers that arrived at Lagos airport just a few days. They gave the same reason as the South Africans had earlier done for this action. This was an appropriate reaction though it is only a first step. However more steps have to follow and we must go much further than that. Nigerians in South Africa have suffered racial discrimination, unjustifiable incarceration, humiliation, murder, beatings, insults, persecution, unfair trade practices, the most vicious form of racial-stereotyping and all manner of crimes and indignities from the South African authorities and the local population on a regular basis. This has been going on for the last twenty two years, it is institutionalised, it is systemic and it appears to be getting worse.
Such cheek and consistently uncharitable acts channelled towards a friendly African country is inexplicable and sickening. This is all the more so when it is coming from a so-called ”rainbow nation” with black legs, a brown torso, a coloured neck and a big white Boer head and mentality. Can this sort of thing really be happening to our people in the land of the great Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramphosa? Nigeria shed her blood, spent her treasure and made monumental and painful sacrifices for over 40 years for these people and for that land through the darkest years when they were regarded as being sub-human and mere ”drawers of the water” and ”hewers of the wood” by their white Boer overlords and compatriots.
Have our South African brothers and sisters forgotten so soon? We may have our own fair share of challenges in this country and we may still be struggling with our own internal differences and contradictions but let those that seek to shame and humiliate our people make no mistake about it- Nigeria is still the giant of Africa and no-one, not even the biggest economic players on the world stage, have ever been able to bring us to our knees. South Africa would be best advised not to provoke a regional conflict whose outcome she cannot predict and which she cannot possibly contain, control, handle or win.
The number of South African companies that are fleecing Nigeria today are enormous. In the light of what has happened they should all be closely scrutinised and probed and where they are found wanting they should be kicked out. Enough of these insults from people that are very far behind us in terms of enlightenment, civilisation, culture and education. Nigeria is just too big and too good to be treated in this way. The South Africans may have more fighter jets, tanks and war ships than we do but they do not have the fighting spirit, discipline, courage, ferocity, professionalism and experience of the Nigerian ground forces and infantry. No nation on the African continent does. Our efforts in Chad, Sierra Leonne, Liberia, Somalia, Burma, the Congo, Angola, Mozambique and countless other nations over the decades where we have fought, shed our blood, kept the peace and made our input can bear testimony to that.
The average South African does not have the spirit and appetite for war and aggression and the ability to forcefully resist evil and stand up against injustice that the average Nigerian has cultivated over the last 52 years. Our civil war, in which over two million people died for a cause, is sufficient evidence of that. In any case they are the ones with the massive economic and financial investments in Nigeria whilst Nigerian companies have been effectively and systematically shut out of the South African market right from the outset. In this respect if the conflict widens and it comes to an economic war the South Africans have far more to lose than we do.
The truth is that nothing forges Nigerian unity more than any form of aggression or hostility from outsiders and foreigners. This is because before anything else we are first and foremost Nigerians and we are ready to sacrifice all in order to defend our honour, our land, our dignity, our citizens and our integrity even if it means doing so with the last drop of our blood. The South Africans must not mistake our liberal values, our generous disposition and our friendly and genial nature for weakness or stupidity. Behind our smile lies a proud heart and a resolve of steel.
We do not shirk. We are slow to anger but irresistible in battle. Our history, our lineage, our stock, our ancestry and our strength of purpose tells our story. They should read that story well before going any further. Nigerians are very tough, very resilient and very hard people. We are not just titans but we are the immortals. The South Africans would do well not to not dare us and not to wake up our sleeping sword lightly.