The attacks on Nigerians in South Africa are terrible, but this is the price we pay for nationalism. Donald Trump says he wants to ‘make America great again’, but at the cost of attacks against Muslims and Mexicans.
Nationalism, racism and ethnic division all come from the same stable. They all result in attacks of one group of workers against another group of poor people. It may be Northerners against Southerners, it be may be indigenes against settlers, fulani herders against farmers, it may be the Federal Government against Biafra supporters.
Nationalism of any sort, including Pan Africanism, is reactionary. It claims that all people of a single country or ethnic group have something in common – we don’t, especially so when the 1% are so rich and the rest of us are so poor. What do most people in Nigeria have in common with the money bags who fly around in their executive jets?
The rich in Nigeria only use nationalism or ethnic chauvinism to help them divide and rule. If they were really proud to be Nigerian they would pay their due share of taxes. A recent report from the Federal Internal Revenue Service (FIRS) says that only 40% of super-rich Nigerians “pay correct taxes on their incomes”. As a result, the Nigerian rich only pay half the average rate of taxation for sub-Saharan Africa.
That is why it was a mistake for some leading members of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to plan attacks against Shoprite and other South African companies in Nigeria. The response to xenophobic attacks in South Africa is not to join in this stupidity. The appropriate response is to argue against all forms of nationalism.
Every time we sing the Nigerian national anthem or fly the Nigerian flag then we incite attacks like the ones that happened in South Africa recently.
The national student leadership in NANS were mistaken to mobilise students against businesses with South African interests in Abuja in February, similarly the leadership of NANS Zone B were wrong to try to organise protests in Asaba, as were the leaders of the National Association of Polytechnic Students in Ibadan who demonstrated outside DSTV, Shoprite and MTN. Good student leaders should be mobilising students against increases in student fees and the cost of living. They should be providing solidarity with the NLC in the struggle to increase the minimum wage.
Nigerians have a proud history of supporting the struggles of our brothers and sisters in South Africa against Apartheid. Now poor South Africans need our solidarity in their fight for a more equal society.
When the poor get poorer then they can easily be turned against other ethnic groups, especially in an environment where nationalism and ethnicity are promoted.
We have to patiently argue that the workers and students of each country (including Nigeria and South Africa) should be fighting together against their respective rich and corrupt elites. Part of this argument is to continually argue against nationalist traits – it is not in our interests to ‘make Nigeria great’ just as it is not in the interests of US workers for Donald Trump to ‘make America great again’.
by Drew Povey