Concerned by the recent xenophobia attacks in South Africa, a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bimbo Daramola, in this interview says African countries can be reunited through musical concerts. He spoke with MUYIWA OYINLOLA.
What is your take on the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa?
It all started long before now. It’s not even a later day reality. Way back on March 8, 2012, I moved that motion on the floor of the Nigerian House of Representatives, pointing the attention of not only Nigerians but South Africans and those who have interests there, but far and beyond anything else, in the interest of our citizens who are the prime object of attacks.
If you go to the literary meaning, xenophobia means big resentment for foreigners. I guessed that if we do not cut the branches of an Iroko tree when it is young, it would require sacrifices when it grows older. That was why I moved that motion. And the House resolved that the issue should be looked into. Unfortunately, like every other thing else in this country, they swept it under the carpet.
So, when I saw repeated attacks thereafter, I just shrug it away; the worst that can happen is that I will not go to South Africa and I don’t think I have any relative there that I know one-on-one. The only one I know, who is the owner of Dr. Lui Medical Centre, he is in Lekki today. He has relocated back to Nigeria.
So, what propelled me at that time was a fact that; one, we have shared history between the two nations. Two, I am saying this thing altruistically, if the continent of Africa will be defined by two nations, the foremost nations that will be on the front burner will be Nigeria and South Africa. Unfortunately, those grounds have been ceded to Kigame’s Rwanda now.
So, when this last one happened, AIT invited me to speak about it, ostensibly deriving from the fact that I moved a motion seven years ago. I said to them, I am not interested. I took a hardline position, particularly knowing that every new attack gets more ferocious than the previous one. If they had killed two people, now it would be three or four and then you begin to see ministers of government in South Africa owning up and taking responsibility.
I saw a video of one of the commissioners of police where he kind of agreed that what they did was right. I said if this is the way, ‘to your tent oh Israel’. So, I went on television and went ballistic…I even contemplated on television, a severance of our bilateral relationship with South Africa, so that we can renegotiate the basis of our relationship.
Of course, I was very sad when it assumed a different dimension, when Nigerians had to retaliate. The second worry for me was that before, it used to be South Africans against Nigerians, but this last one, they brought more nations into it; Zimbabweans and some of the frontline states. And, if we are not careful, what that would bring, we won’t have an African continent that is respecting our ‘blackness’ anymore. We would lose that sense of commonality that we are blacks.
Everything that the Leopro Sengos, Steve Bikos, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Noh Alimus, Olusegun Obasanjo, did; all of those things will be lost. We cannot expect that an Olusegun Obasanjo will be the one that will be fighting against xenophobic attack today. He had already fought xenophobia by action and principles way back in 1979 when he authorised the Tambo Mbeki and even Nelson Mandela to stay at the expense of government in Nigeria. Those were realities.
If a man says “I am sorry”, that means he has chosen to take responsibility. Now we have something to weigh his action against.
So, how do we cure this ill?
To me, diplomacy may have its part in it, bilateral talks may have a part in it, but it looks like those things can’t do too much and that was why I say to myself, what can we do? And I came up with the idea of ‘End Xenophobia Forever Concert”.
It is going to be a pan-continent concert and I will tell you why, it is a concert that will lead to a theme song with memorabilia and also having to go and erect eternal memory where those things happened.
But let me start with the idea of the concert. If you look at the guys who are xenophobic, you will not find a medical doctor, an engineer or anybody who is gainfully employed there. So, that resentment can be cured by enlightenment and education, but you cannot, in the sense and manner it is today, teach that in the four walls of the university or put it in a book.
Everybody today agrees that one of the greatest exports of Nigeria is our music and to our continent, to a large extent. If you go to clubs in South Africa, they are playing Wizkid’s music, they are playing Davido, Tiwa and they are dancing. That time they don’t remember that they are xenophobic, but immediately they leave, xenophobia starts. So, I discovered that every bilateral discussion and diplomatic discussions ends within the portals of government houses and ministry of foreign affairs.
President Buhari and President Ramaphosa are talking right now but the xenophobic are isolated somewhere in Johannesburg. But when we introduce this export; the strength is that these exports are influencers; they influence them with by music, they influence them by their dressing; they are the ones following these people on facebook, giving them one million views.
If a Davido among other continental superstars, not only Nigerians alone; the Chaka Chaka; incidentally, Chaka Chaka’s cousin who is a pharmacist, her store was also destroyed. That was when I discovered that this thing has gone beyond Nigeria. I heard that Chaka Chaka is not from South Africa.
So, we need to do something and that is why we are saying after all bilateral talks, all the diplomatic shuttles have not addressed anything, let us explore something else. It is only a mad man that will be doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Let us explore this. The solution we are exploring is measurable, it is target-oriented, it speaks straight to them and then we can quantify the impacts.
How far have you gone about this?
Beyond concerts, theme music and memorabilia, we will put all those continental stars in a room and we will call the xenophobic – the low of the lowest and we will call Nigerians and we will call other Africans within and outside South Africa and we will say these people want to talk to you; of course we would have briefed them on what to say on how to curb this thing and to tell them that we are all Africans and that we are brothers, we can’t continue to kill ourselves. That is in a nutshell what this project is all about and I am reaching out to Pan-African continental stars from Nigeria, South Africa, Lesotho, Ghana; they will be performing in major cities across Africa and it will be televised.
I am talking with the Ministry of Information, I have reached out to the South African ambassador here, I have reached out to AIT for support and we are in partnership with an organization called Inspiro, an organisation that has done something called a tale of ‘Two Cities – South Africa and Johannesburg’ that was talking about the two cities. But now we are talking about real enlightenment, real information and real education on the basis of the fact that we have influencers who can crown the efforts of our blackness and of our Africanness.
After former president Obasanjo met with the South African president recently, he advocated that Nigerians that were deported should return to South Africa that the place is now safe, are you on the same page with him on that?
It would have been an interesting thing but we can’t bank on such assurances. We are saying real resentment! What exactly have they done in terms of constructive engagement, re-enlightenment and education? Former president Obasanjo met President Ramaphosa, he didn’t meet the young unemployed people from Zulu, on the street! The music of Davido gets on to the streets. The music of Wizkid is being played on the streets of South Africa. In fact, if you see our new dance, it’s in South Africa. They are already copying it.
The first thing in attitudinal change is that the person you are talking to is ready to listen to you and it is not about Nigerian artists alone, it is just because we have to play this our role. Nigeria must drive it and we are expecting there will be strong partnership across the length and breadth of the nation.
I think one of the major cause of xenophobia attacks in South Africa is the growing unemployment, which they believe Nigerians and other foreigners are the ones taking their jobs. How do you address this?
Once again, this is one of the engagements we are doing. I already said that beyond concerts we will provide an opportunity outside of concert halls, stadia and all of that for these people to re-engage them. Don’t forget, some of them are looking for opportunities. They want to be creative stars, they want to be music icons and all of that, now is an opportunity. Don’t forget that some of our starts are from that kind of background. They can relate with such people. Maybe a few of them are sons and daughters of the rich like Davido but some of them are not the sons and daughters of the rich but they have invested their skill.
Two, we expect that from this concert, a little bit of money will be raised, so we expect to go into those areas in any way that we can, to invest in small medium scale enterprises. So, we will plough back from resources coming out of it, apart from the education.
How soon do you want to start this project?
We have started already. One of the things that we have started is to start this serious media campaigns – build up towards it but because we know some of the artists are billed already between now and the end of the year, we are targeting February or March next year.
As a former parliamentarian, are you saying that the option of a review of bilateral relations cannot work?
To what extent? The question we will be asking ourselves is, what do we want to achieve? Are we promoting the cosmic interest at the expense of the lives of our citizens?
I have discovered that what has agitated people so much is that ‘we have our businesses there’, have you forgotten that dead men don’t trade? So, let us first and foremost bring ourselves to a point where a South African does not see a Nigerian, regardless of what is going on – this is not to excuse our people who are not conducting themselves well there, but all of those will be issues that will be on the table as we begin to preach this renewed revival and renaissance of the new Africaness between us.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot live in isolation. If we decide to say ‘to your tent oh Israel’, yes, South Africa may survive and we may survive but the truth of the matter is that we are better together.
Beyond music, what other instruments do you think can be used to foster that relationship among Africans in South Africa and in Nigeria?
I think one of the things that we have to do essentially is that we must go back to history. There must be a conscious adoption of our shared history. That must be distilled. Anybody who is less than 35 – 40 in South Africa and Nigeria may not be able to appreciate how far we have come. So, the place of dissemination of our shared history must come into this. That is number one.
Number two, the bilateral issue people raise and talk about is more like bilateral talks on paper. Let us give life to some of those things.
Do you know that Technical Aid Corps was not about providing man power, assets to deficient nations alone? It was also a way of re-integrating cultures. When we send a nurse in Nigeria to Tanzania for instance, it is not largely because you want to make up for the short fall in those places, it also provides you an opportunity to regionalise. If our bilateral relationship begins to drive citizenship diplomacy we would be standing on a surer ground because when people are blended so well, it becomes too difficult to allow those resentments and nobody should allow any gap to happen.