Opinion: When the seeds of xenophobia are watered and allowed to grow

by Nnaemeka Oruh
One of the things I have learnt, first as a student of literature, and then as a literary critic, is that incidents (especially those brought about by human action) do not randomly occur in isolation, but are rather linked to other incidents.
Thus an incident would either be a result, or cause of, another incident. For instance, the man or woman who becomes a terrorist does not just wake up one day to become one. Several incidents (including indoctrination) will combine to create in him the mind-set of a terrorist. It is simply human nature.
Recently, we have all been inundated with information, pictures, and even videos of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The world stood, mouth open in shock, at the despicable level of inhumanity, hatred, and uncivility being displayed by Nelson Mandela’s children. Children, whom just a few years ago needed the support of their African brethren to be free from segregation. The fact that some of them (law enforcement agents inclusive) stood by and watched without offering any help to the victims, as their countrymen beat up, torched, and killed several foreigners show a certain unspoken solidarity to the actions of their people. Which goes to show that these few who perpetrated those despicable acts are somehow representative of the core feelings of a larger section of South Africans. The question that any discerning person would ask though is; are these xenophobic acts random, spur-of-the-moment acts? Or are they a consequence of the blossoming of a monster whose seed was sown long ago?
My education and profession as I pointed out earlier prompt me to always look for hidden meanings in random acts and to draw deeper conclusions to issues that people would ordinarily consider as unimportant and thus inconsequential. Which was why shortly after the grand finale of Big Brother Africa Hotshots last year, I wrote an essay in which I warned of a rising feeling of anti-Africanism rising among people from Southern and Eastern Africa. This I was able to deduce from the voting patterns and the words from contestants from these regions. So glaring was it that alliances were formed on this basis and even discussions reveal what they called ‘regional voting’ patterns (Regional voting pattern, they explained is a practice were voters from Eastern and Southern Africa desist from voting for contestants from Western Africa).Those contestants were confident in their assertions, and when the final votes came in, it reflected what they were saying. That was when I realised that they were not saying things in isolation; their utterances were representative of the core feelings of people from their countries and I warned about this. Thus when the xenophobic attacks occurred, my mind went back to this issue and I realised that those attacks were symptomatic of a sickness that has deeply ravaged South Africans. A sickness born out of envy, greed, deep–seated hatred, and a misguided belief that the presence of other Africans take away from the successes South Africans would have enjoyed. But as usual, this sickness showed early signs, first in the form of words, and then actions that did not physically hurt anybody, before it blew out of proportions. When the signs came in the form of words, we did not take notice enough, so we totally ignored them.
Today, the seed of another monster has been sown in Nigeria. First, in the form of words being thrown around. This seed is the call for violent actions to be taken against the Igbo people of Nigeria. Way before the Oba of Lagos threatened the Igbo with death if they do not vote for his preferred candidate, some people, following the announcement of the results of the March 28th Presidential elections had begun to call for the extermination of the Igbo. The crime of the Igbo was that they did not vote for the presidential candidate that people from some other ethnic groups preferred. So the Igbo were termed traitors, and unpatriotic elements. How it is that other ethnic groups turned out block votes for their preferred candidate and were perceived as patriots, and the Igbo’s actions termed unpatriotic attest to the ultimate hypocrisy, and a belief that the Igbo should be slaves–in their own country–who must kowtow to the will of other ethnic groups. More recently, there is in circulation, series of social media exhortations attributed to one Dallas-based cardiologist, Dr. Adeniran Abraham Ariyo, calling for the slaughter of the Igbo all over Nigeria. Dr. Ariyo went further to say that the way South Africans are slaughtering people is the way the Igbo will be slaughtered in Nigeria.
The thing about this call for the mass murder of the Igbo is that the calls have come from people from different backgrounds and therefore is following a pattern that makes one wonder if their views are representative of the unspoken views of others. This is why we cannot afford to be quiet about this. Some may say that we are crying wolf when there is really no cause for alarm. However, what history has taught us is that actions are preceded most times by words. When these words are repeatedly spoken, they begin to frame people’s mind-sets and gradually a certain worldview emerges. All it takes after that would be for one deranged person to start the attack, and others may somehow follow. This is why we must all rise and vehemently condemn all those who are making these calls for the extermination of the Igbo. Nobody should be deemed untouchable. Examples should be set so that others may desist from toeing the same path.
The thing about monsters is that once they grow to maturity, it becomes extremely difficult to destroy them. They become so dangerous that they destroy a huge chunk of our society before they are destroyed themselves. As a nation, we have a constant reminder of the need to nip monsters in the bud, in our present day menace called Boko Haram. We cannot afford to make such mistakes again. Let us learn from what is happening in South Africa today and the menace of Boko Haram and say “This monster will not be allowed to grow!”

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