The Senate President, Dr. David Mark, is well-known for his forthrightness, courage and candour, always saying it as it is unlike other politicians who doublespeak.
Perhaps, his military background belies his reputation for frankness. Similarly, beyond the façade of his conviviality and sense of humour lie a lion‘s heart, strong and unwavering. Those who know him well enough agree that he is made of a sterner stuff and not given to flippancy. So when he is constrained to complain, the inherent danger of the thing being complained about is real and cannot be ignored.
It is from this standpoint that his recent outburst of anger over what he viewed as general hostility to our glorious Super Eagles by African countries and their leaders in South Africa, must be examined.
In the first place, a righteous indignation is a strong feeling of anger you nurse when you think a situation is not morally right or justified. I believe Nigeriaphobia, a strong feeling of dislike, hatred and fear of Nigeria by fellow African countries, goes far beyond what happened in South Africa.
In our unpleasant experience, it is amazing, why good turns, which should deserve another, are often taken for granted, especially in Africa, an attitude that smacks of gross ingratitude? Ordinarily, the country which laboured and sacrificed so much to liberate a sister country from political boundage ought to be singled out for respect or accorded a special right as a token of appreciation.
Even our dye-in-the-wool critics reluctantly regard Nigeria highly for its peace-keeping role throughout the world. It is without doubt that Nigeria’s leading role in the decolonisation process is second to none. The countries that have profited most in this regard, are South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Guinea Bissau, not to talk of our leadership role in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chad and now Mali.
The question again arises, why despite these impeccable credentials, Nigeria is still not accorded the respect it richly deserves by sister African countries, especially those ungrateful beneficiaries of our peace-keeping and decolonisation initiatives that saw many of them out of bondage of alien rulers?
The case of South Africa is particularly disturbing because the battle against the obnoxious apartheid rule was waged more or less from Nigeria. Every Nigerian of my age and above was involved in one way or the other, writing to conscientise the world against the evils of apartheid. Musicians, civil rights activists, journalists and the military rulers were all actively involved as Africa was the centre piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.
Young South African students were brought to Nigeria to be educated at selected unity colleges. South African artists like Epitombi, were brought in to perform to sensitise Nigerians on the evils of apartheid. Nigeria was home to Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela who used Nigeria as a safe base to prosecute the “Free Mandela campaign”.
When history finally smiled on South Africa to regain freedom in 1994, Nigerians from all walks of life were there to witness the epoch making occasion. I was privileged to be a witness to the great history as I was opportuned to accompany the then Head of State, General Abacha, on the trip as his Chief Press Secretary. That experience was most fulfilling for me.
For all the role Nigeria played to facilitate the decolonization process in South Africa, people have looked forward to a very cordial relationship between the two countries, particularly with their potentials to lead and launch Africa into the new millennium.
This is because South Africa has inherited a huge military and industrial complex from the apartheid regime that could have been used to promote bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation with countries like Nigeria, another potentially rich and great African country. But somehow, South Africa prefers to look inward for its development. Could it be that an unknown influence is calling the shots from somewhere! Your guess is as good as mine.
It is plausible to say that African countries react negatively to Nigeria the way they do mainly out of envy and jealousy. Jealousy evokes a feeling of resentment on the part of the beholder because the other person is said to possess something precious that you wish you had yourself. Once a country has this prejudice against a sister country like Nigeria, even the greatest favours done to them are never appreciated.
This prejudice against Nigeria can be best illustrated with a rotary joke told to us at a rotary convention held in Owerri in 1989. On the surface of things, the joke could be very amusing but worrisome on reflection.
In the joke as told, leaders of some African countries were said to have led a protest delegation to the “Author of Universe and Giver of all Things”, demanding to know why Nigeria is blessed with good things: oil, arable land, human and other material wealth, while the rest of them contend with desert, poverty and general scarcity? Of course, the proverbial protesters saw unfairness in this situation and demanded an explanation.
In response, God in His infinite wisdom and infallibility smiled and cajoling the protesters, told them that they and Nigeria were equal in His sight and there was no way He discriminated against any of them. God concluded by assuring the protesters that at the end of the day, they will manage its scarcity better than Nigeria will manage their enormous endowment. Can you beat that?
There is no better way to situate Nigeria’s abiding paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. It is not just in Africa, the rest of the world see us through unfavourable stereotypes, a country that seems not to punish evil nor reward virtue.
Our writer argues that here in Nigeria we have an over-dose of things damaging and harmful. We ourselves have seen the need to rebrand our image by trying to do things right. That is the surest way out.
There are other more damaging jokes people poke at Nigeria. They say hyperbolically, that we have more generals than soldiers. Observers also say Nigeria is the only country in the world where “poor civil servants” become billionaires over and above practising business men and women.
It is true that Nigeriaphobia is no longer an African phenomena but a global perturbation. The beauty of the situation is that this awful discovery or disclosure was made by the number three citizen, the President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria, himself, Senator Dr. David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark, GCON.
By virtue of his being at the head of the apex legislative body, coupled with his charisma and clout, the Senate President’s righteous indignation over the seeming Nigeriaphobia will compel the redesigning of policies and programmes that will sufficiently address the problem of our carefree attitude.
This is the best time for us to be seen to be really transforming on the basis of our knowledge of our corporate weaknesses and the need to reverse the negative way people react to events and developments in Nigeria. We have had enough of image bashing and apparent show of ingratitude. We are simply seen as the Santa Claus of Africa, who dispenses favours to sister African countries not out of love and care but as an ostentatious display of its enormous might and surplus wealth. How very irritating!
These countries Nigeria has helped so much in many ways seem to suggest that our surplus wealth has deadened our feelings of anger and pain. See the way they have blatantly opposed Nigeria each time we sought their support at the United Nations or at regional and sub-regional levels.
It is no longer news that sister African countries have rushed to clamp fellow Nigerians into prison on thrumped up charges. It is true, however, that many of our citizens, especially the unscrupulous ones, have often played into the hands of their haters and oppressors.
It is the contention of this writer that more often than not, Nigeria has walked away from situations without developing mutually rewarding arrangements between us and the countries we have helped to liberate and stabilise.
This time around, our leaders must learn to appreciate the fact that there is no vacuum in nature. Don’t just walk away from situations you have created. Simple.