Mandela memorial: Why was Nigeria left out?

2013-12-22 06:00

Nigerians are angry that their president Goodluck Jonathan didn’t get a chance to speak at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last Tuesday.

Of the 37 African heads of state at the event, only President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia got a chance to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of his age.

It’s not that Nigerians, who have complained loudly and bitterly, love to weep more than the bereaved.

Or that they think each of the more than 90 world leaders present at the event should have been permitted to mount the podium.

They feel gutted and betrayed that, on a day when South Africa should have shown gratitude for all that Nigeria had done, all we got was a nameplate on the dais and a mention that Jonathan was in the crowd.

This is not just pointless whining. The angsters have a point.

Okay, between the 1980s and 1994, Namibia contributed about $61?billion (R632?billion at today’s exchange rate) to the anti-apartheid struggle.

But that’s small change compared with Nigeria’s contribution in cash, minus the financial losses that followed the nationalisation of British Petroleum and Barclays Bank by the Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

Not a single one of the eight front-line states could match Nigeria’s financial contribution to South Africa’s liberation struggle.

Beyond cash, Nigeria provided military training and support, and offered temporary shelter to ANC leaders.

We took the battle as our own?– and indeed it was.

Nigeria led the boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games, while leading musicians such as Fela Kuti and Sonny Okosun chewed the apartheid regime in their hit songs.

In the words of Mandela himself, as contained in a recent article by Hakeem Baba-Ahmed: “Nigeria stood by us [South Africa] more than any other nation.”

It’s ironic that the US took centre stage at the funeral?–?this was the same US which, under Ronald Reagan, turned a blind eye to apartheid and even listed the ANC as a terrorist organisation.

Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was no different. She vigorously opposed sports sanctions against the apartheid regime in a display of craven indulgence. She was on the wrong side of history, yet, Thatcher being Thatcher, she was not ashamed of it.

But whose fault is it that Nigeria is getting shabby treatment? In our relationship with South Africa?–?and with a growing number of African countries?–?we have fallen from a place of respect and honour.

Nigeria has come from a position where its citizens got a near-free pass into South Africa to one where we now have to line up at the high commission for weeks to get three-month visas, with yellow fever certificates, to enter Joburg.

How is that South Africa’s fault? While the same US that produced Reagan also produced Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, two of the world’s most inspiring leaders, we have produced some of the worst human beings as leaders in the last two decades.

What would Jonathan have said at Mandela’s memorial that would not be a damnation of his own presidency in the last three years?

From the ratings on standards of living to those on security, corruption, good governance and longevity, Nigeria has consistently come short under Jonathan.

How could he have said anything to inspire a crowd which knows that but for South Africa (Nigeria’s junior brother), we would still be helpless about Henry Okah, a self-confessed terror gang leader?

I don’t have any patriotic mush about what happened that Tuesday.

It might have been good for our egos to have Jonathan stand there and pretend to be saying a few nice things about Mandela.

But I’d rather the task was given to Robert Mugabe, who is confident in his own madness, than to a man without a mind of his own.

I became more convinced that excluding Jonathan from the speakers’ list was a good thing after reading Baba-Ahmed’s piece entitled Why Mandela was Angry with Nigeria.

In the article, he quoted Mandela as saying: “Your country used to be respected. After your suspension from the Commonwealth, many Western countries approached me to help in isolating Nigeria so that it would be easier to bring down your military dictators.

“I consulted many African leaders and all were unanimous in their advice. They told me to steer clear of Nigeria, that you would fix your problems. You have done it before. But you have not. Not this time. The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect.”

Although this was said six years ago, when Obasanjo was president, things have become worse.

We should be grateful to the organisers of Mandela’s memorial for leaving Jonathan off the list of speakers. It was a mockumentary we didn’t need.

»?Ishiekwene is the group managing director of Leadership Group, a media and education company in Abuja, Nigeria


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