December 1st 2017 – Why Nigeria Deserves Respect & Praise From Other African Countries
By Olubode Lucas
The political events in Zimbabwe which culminated in the eventual removal of Comrade Robert Mugabe as the President of that country after 37 years in power, expectedly elicited a lot of comments in the print and electronic media all over the world. Our political commentators in Nigeria did their best to educate Nigerians on how Mugabe, who started well got derailed and turned a once prosperous country into penury.
Of all the articles written in the print media on the unfortunate situation in Zimbabwe in Nigeria, the one that I enjoyed most was the one written by the erudite Emeritus Professor Jide Osuntokun. In his piece, the Professor brought home vividly to Nigerians, the ingratitude of Zimbabwe under Mugabe towards Nigeria, the country that identified closely with Zimbabwe during its grim fight for independence through huge financial and diplomatic support. Despite this support which more or less forced Britain under the imperious Margaret Thatcher to accelerate the process of independence of Zimbabwe, the eminent and well informed Professor told Nigerians the following facts: That Zimbabwe under Mugabe had always ridiculed Nigeria in The Herald, the newspaper bought for his government with Nigeria’s hard earned money and that Zimbabwe always opposed Nigerian candidates nominated for international posts. He told Nigerians further that throughout Mugabe’s 37 years rule, no street in Zimbabwe capital of Harare was named after any Nigerian leader or the country and this is different with regard to Kaunda and Nyerere who had streets named after them in Harare.
The above depressing report about ingratitude towards Nigeria is not limited to Zimbabwe alone. Many other African countries helped by Nigeria at critical stages of their nation building had also paid back our country with astonishing ingratitude and hostility. Despite our difficulties at home, Nigeria has been very generous to other African countries through military, financial, political and diplomatic support. Cases in which Nigeria goodwill and brotherly gestures towards fellow African countries were met with ingratitude are many and few will be highlighted in this piece.
A few years after becoming an independent country, Nigeria even under a conservative Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, sent Nigerian troops to East Africa to save and stabilize the regimes of Nyerere of then Tangayika, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Milton Obote of Uganda from rampaging force of John Okello that had toppled the Arab-dominated government of the then Zanzibar. Later it was the same Nyerere who benefitted most from the intervention of our troops that supported the dismemberment of our country through his recognition of Biafra during our unfortunate civil war. He also influenced Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to do the same. It is interesting to note that despite his miscalculation, Nigeria treated him with magnanimity when University of Ibadan, the premier university, gave him an honorary doctorate degree after the civil war.
In Southern part of Africa from Angola to the Republic of South Africa, the role played by Nigeria in the attainment of independence by the countries in this part of Africa is highly significant. At the height of the struggle, Nigeria, despite its location which is far from these countries, regarded itself as a frontline state in order to be part of the liberation struggle of these countries. Emeritus Professor Osuntokun has talked about Zimbabwe. With regard to Angola, the recognition of MPLA of Agostinho Neto and the huge financial support given to the party by the Murtala / Obasanjo regime went a long way to help the party to rout the Portuguese colonialist in the country’s liberation war. Despite this, Angola has not shown any particular warm attitude towards Nigeria. At best it has been passive towards Nigeria that did so much for its liberation from Portuguese colonial oppression. The role of our country in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa was heroic and well known but after the dismantling of the heinous regime, South Africans have nothing but disdain for Nigeria and many of our people living there are subjected to all manners of indignity and ridicule.
Coming nearer home to West Africa, Nigeria has left no stone unturned to help its West African neighbours. Nigeria is responsible for 70% of the budget of ECOWAS which it helped to form with the Republic of Togo. Nigerian troops had been massively deployed to bring sanity to trouble spots in the region like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia at a very huge cost to our economy. While one can say that there is no open hostility towards Nigeria from countries in West Africa, one is disturbed about the recent moves of some of the countries in the sub region to support the application of Morocco to join ECOWAS. This is a design to whittle down, for reasons best known to these countries, the influence of Nigeria in the ECOWAS.
The above examples are not exhaustive. Since independence, Nigeria has been involved in numerous United Nations Peace Keeping operations in Africa and beyond starting with the operation in Congo in 1960. The Technical Aids Corps (TAC) programme in which Nigerian professionals are sent to other African countries has gone a long way to help develop the manpower needs of many African countries. Nigeria has also extended its generosity to black countries outside the shores of Africa. We remember Yakubu Gowon’s generosity to Grenada in the Caribbean when he paid the three month salaries of the workers of that island country. It was the time ‘ money was not our problem but how to spend it’.
On any rational scale, Nigeria has not shirked its responsibilities to other African countries and it deserves respect and praise from other African countries. I am not unaware that resentment to Nigeria and Nigerians especially in Southern part of the continent stems from the unnecessary overbearing and criminal tendencies of some of our compatriots living in that part of Africa. For Nigeria to earn its well-deserved respect, Nigerians living abroad especially in Africa should refrain from engaging in activities that can blight the image of our country. At home too, we should get our acts together. Reports of mind boggling corruption and other unwholesome activities no doubt lower our esteem in African continent.
About the author: Professor Lucas writes from New Bodija, Ibadan.