What is the vision, and the mission of this group, One United Africa,’ led by you?
I believe it is self-explanatory. It is clear enough. After all the challenges that this continent is grappling with-malnourishment, infrastructural deficit, bad, tottering economic outlook, deaths, low GDP, crisis in Rwanda-when you have to deal with these challenges along xenophobic attacks on the continent, I think it portends a lot of dangers for us.
I believe strongly that we should go back to history. Over 80 years ago, the forebears of the political leadership in this continent-the likes of Nwalimu Nyerere, Kenneth Kanuda of Zambia, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara, and latter day addition, Mohamad Ghadaffi, all espoused the idea of a continent that is undivided and indivisible. The reason for that was that the prospect and the possibilities of the continent could be harvested, if we are united. By reason of that unity, we conquered apartheid, military dictatorship, sit-tight syndrome. Today, we are confronted with one of the most leather weapons of destruction. The weapon of mass destruction is not only atomic bomb, nuclear weapons. But, when you have a people who by themselves kill themselves, there is crisis.
Today, we are witnessing on this continent, regrettably so, black on black attacks; killing of blacks by blacks. The dimension is scaring. Originally, when they say xenophobia, you believe it is only South Africans attacking Nigerians. Now, this evil is crippling to Ghana, our next door. It has crept into Kenya and all of that.
Now, my background was that on March 8, 2012, I moved a motion on the floor of the National Assembly. I pleaded that Africa, this continent called the motherland, should not allow any manifestation of divisive tendency. Since then, nothing has happened till today. I left the parliament in 2015. This is 2019. We are bordering 2020. Imagine the number of innocent lives that have been lost. Imagine the number of properties that have been destroyed. Then, the regional dimension of that is what I worry about. If I moved that motion in 2012 and today, look at what has happened.
For the first time, there was a retaliatory attack in Nigeria to the extent that businesses of innocent people in Nigeria were looted. People have adduced reasons; that those who did those things were criminals. How come we provided the environment for criminals to ventilate their criminalities? Don’t forget that MTN has been in Nigeria since 2001. SPAR has been in Nigeria for the same period of time. Although they are South African businesses, some of them have Nigeria directors. Then, just by the trigger of what happened in South Africa, people took laws into their hands, violating businesses that are even owned by Nigerians. One of the guys whose business was looted in Shoprite said he lost good worth N200 million. He was dealing in wrist watches. Now, the final detail is that that guy must have employed five people for his store. They would have lost their jobs. The dimension is worrisome. If the political leadership in Africa allows it to degenerate whereby the 54 nations on the continent begin to see themselves, not as brothers as espoused by their forebears, as people who resent themselves, then, this continent is gone.
In what way is your group now intervening in the situation?
What we have done is that we have analysed the situation. We are canvassing legislative intervention. We have moved motion on the floor of the National Assembly, but it couldn’t do much. Another is to get an envoy to go and talk to another envoy and all of that. We have seen that as government to government. But, the real xenophobic are on the streets. Those fueling xenophobia are on the streets. We are taking the whole challenge to the street. We are starting a crusade that people can take ownership and drive, regardless of bi-lateral talks, envoys talking to envoys, government talking to government. It is people-to-people initiative. I give you five of them. The first one is: ‘End Xenophobia Charity Concert.’ People are now coming. But, it is not for entertainment. It will be an opportunity to harvest the goodwill of many renowned artists in Africa. they will symbolically sing ‘an end to xenophobia’ songs. By reason of that song, the consciousness is raised. How many people listen to a foreign minister, compared to the how many people listen to Davido? How many people the ministers? How many people follow the musicians? It is not as if that government to government relationship and bilateral talks are not important, fantastic and desirable. But, we can do more. That was what we did during the apartheid struggle. Sonny Okosun from Edo State begun to sing ‘There is fire on Soweto.’ Is Soweto in Nigeria? When one musician sang ‘free Nelson Mandela, to see you back in Soweto,’ everybody across the continent learned that song. So, we will convey the spirit of cordiality. We now see it as a common challenge. Elevate the situation of xenophobia in Africa to that status. We Africans take ownership and that crusade will become one-to-one, far beyond talking to government, a minister of foreign affair talking to another government.
We intend to take 10 to 15 artists from Nigeria, Ghana, some from South Africa because they are influencers. They have capacity. It is not that they are going to sing their regular songs alone. They will sing a song that will minister to the reality of the continent. We cannot treat xenophobia as a light event. Every time, it causes problems. Imagine that 500 Nigerians were evacuated from South Africa when South Africa and Nigeria are not at war. Then, businesses were lost. We are not saying that criminals cannot or should not be punished. Punish criminals, but don’t criminalise being black. So, those are the two initiatives.
What is the third one?
The third one is ‘Anti-Xenophobia Ambassadors.’ We will raise a new generation of people. Don’t forget that with the same spirit, we defeated apartheid in South Africa, military dictatorship and sit-tight syndrome. In this continent, I am not aware of any country being presided over by a military dictator. It was because Africa united in that direction. For us, the vision that our forebears saw 80 years ago, and they must be turning in their graves now that what they lived for, what they committed their lives to, the dream of one united Africa; the same Africa now is being threatened by xenophobia. It has regional dimension in terms of politics, economy, culture. Look at what China is doing. Look at what other continents are doing. This is the most endowed continent. One thing that will deprive us of havesting and harnessing the opportunities, the prospects and the possibilities is if we continue to have divisive tendencies. We have started. Now, we will raise ambassadors. We will reach out to youths who do not have connection with our historical perspectives. How many of these young people from across the continent of Africa realise that at some point the entire civil service wages of Angola, Botswana, Mozambiques, Madagasca was funded by Nigeria. They are not in touch with thosehistorical realities anymore. By reason of this initiative, we will connect them with the historical perspective. Not to connote a sense of entitlement or false justification. But, we are saying that the historical perspective; a contextual appreciation of our historical realities will foster unity.
Just as we have the World Habitat Day, Environment Day, as an offshoot of the concert, and the concert will not be an isolated one, we have other bigger initiatives. We will push it to the AU that we should have ‘Anti-Xenophobia Day,’ celebrated with the reality of the fact that the unity of one united Africa is non-negotiable. We are shooting an international documentary where political voices will espouse and get people to realise that a divided Africa is a vulnerable Africa. These initiative are driven by people-to-people, and not by government-to-government.
Who is funding this initiative?
The funding is not the challenge. What is important right now is the will. If we had the temerity to convince Nigerians to finance the death of apartheid, if we now have the capacity to do more in this information age; no doubt, we will need funding. But, we have no doubt that we have people who realise that if we allow Africa to be divided by divisive tendencies, we will be done for it. A Tony Elumelu, who is raising one hundred million entrepreneurs in 10 years. What a noble idea. That nobility of idea will be jeopardized by xenophobia. Aliko Dangote has investment worth over a hundred billions of dollars across the continent. If xenophobia acquires its fullest stature; like I said on the floor when I moved that motion seven years ago. Aitete peka iroko, to ba dagba tan, a maa gbebo. If the small iroko tree is not uprooted in good time, the tree will demand libation from human beings. Will these industrialists allow their investment to be consumed by xenophobia? So, we expect that we will get people of like minds. The corporate world is also involved. MTN almost became a corporate victim. They all suffered collateral damages. People were destroying them. Nigerians have investment in MTN. But, the fact that MTN is an entity of South Africa extraction made people to react.
Have you taken time to even inquire into the genesis; the root cause of xenophobia attacks?
The truth of the matter is that the complexity of xenophobia; people have asked how can this your initiative deal with the complexity. Some have said some of the guys who perpetuate these things are driven by crimes, that it is driven by immigration realities. There is no justification for a black man to resent a black man. Our forebears espoused and saw an Africa that will be united and hold its own against anybody on the planet. Those complexities can be dealt with. Criminality. A criminal is a criminal, either in South Africa or in Nigeria. So, punish criminals. Don’t criminalise being black.
Some have alluded to the lifestyle of Nigerians and all of that, from the simple to the banal. We must understand that Thomas Sankara at 35 advocated for a united Africa. There must be a sense in that. If our leaders had held that view in the past, we cannot imagine that Africa can be divided again, and blacks can be threatening blacks. So, there is nothing that makes it justifiable for blacks to hate blacks.
Do you foreclose collaboration with government?
We are even delighted that we have collaboration with government. We have formal endorsement from parastatals, ministries. The people at the helm of affairs in those places understand the complexity. That is why there cannot be just one drug for the cure. While the bilateral interventions are going on, we cannot react to outburst. So, the reality of today is that we cannot sit and look akimbo until there is another attack. Put critical voices behind this issue. There should be a recognition of the fact that there is a problem. When you recognise there is a problem, you look for solution. When you are looking for solutions, you try this drug and that drug. Then, you do a combined drugs. Xenophobia is cancerous. It is really cancerous. If cancer is detected on time, before it spreads. There can be excision. If it is the cancer of the breast, the breast can be taken out. Plastic surgery can be done. But, if you let it get to stage four, only God can help you.