The Igbo have a saying – popularised by the acclaimed novelist, Chinua Achebe – that he who brings home ant-infested faggots should not complain if he is visited by lizards. That proverb is apt in describing the type of treatment Nigeria receives from the Western world, led by the United States of America.
Last year, President Barack Obama made his second “ward round” to Africa. Again, he excluded Nigeria from his “patients’ list.” The official excuse was that Nigeria’s democracy was not commendable. Also, since President Goodluck Jonathan signed the anti-gay bill into law early this year, the Western world, led by the US, has not allowed us to drink water and drop the cup, as the saying goes. Presidential visits have been allegedly cancelled; threats of cancellation of aids have been issued; patronising and condescending comments have been directed at us.
Compare this to the treatment the West metes out to two other countries: China and Saudi Arabia. China is the largest non-democracy in the world. China doles out the death penalty for many offences, including corruption and drug trafficking. China regularly arrests and detains those who speak against its dictatorial policies. China censors what its citizens can see on the web. China restricts the number of children a Chinese couple can have. China uses the iron fist against the self-determination efforts of Tibet, and since 1959, the spiritual leader of Tibet – the Dalai Lama – has been in exile (double the length of time Nelson Mandela spent in prison).
In its 2013 report, Human Rights Watch noted that in 2012 “Chinese people had no say in the selection of their new leaders, highlighting that despite the country’s three decades of rapid modernisation, the government remains an authoritarian one-party system that places arbitrary curbs on freedom of expression, association, religion, prohibits independent labour unions and human rights organisations, and maintains party control over all judicial institutions. The government also censors the press, internet, and publishing industry, and enforces highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.”
Yet, the US sees no evil, hears no evil, keeps its mouth shut and continues to do business with China. Its president continues to exchange presidential visits with his Chinese counterpart. Even when the US president attempts to raise his voice against a Chinese policy, he speaks in a muffled voice.
Why is that so? China is the US’ largest creditor: The amount reached a record $1.317tn in November 2013. China crawled out of its retrogressive communism and embraced open market and industrialisation, with the result that it was catapulted to the second largest economy in the world. Its status as the most populous nation in the world and a member of the Security Council are also great assets. No sane man talks down on his creditor or benefactor, unless the man has made concrete plans to stop depending on the benefactor. The US, Canada, Asia and the European Union know that anybody who messes with China gets a bloodied nose. China does not condone any criticism, no matter how subtle. So, every country respects itself where China is involved and looks for beggarly countries to bully.
In the same vein, Saudi Arabia does not allow its women to vote. It does not even allow its women to drive. It cuts off the heads or limbs of those found guilty of certain crimes. Saudi Arabia does not allow political or human rights associations. It arbitrarily arrests and detains peaceful dissidents and uses undue force on demonstrations. Homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. But the US develops not just foot-and-mouth disease at such but also eye-and-ear disease. Its business with Saudi Arabia gets oilier by the day. Human Rights Watch said in its 2013 report: “The US did not publicly criticise any Saudi human rights violations except through annual reports…. The US concluded a $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, its largest anywhere to date.”
Why would the US criticise Saudi Arabia? The oil from Saudi Arabia runs deep, and the US and its allies benefit from it. Also, Saudi Arabia is the headquarters of the Muslim world. Any criticism of it is viewed as a criticism of Islam. Muslims are touchy about any criticism of their practices, especially when such comes from the West/Christians. The US does not want to be seen as anti-Islam. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the US and the West in the Arab world, where there are deep-seated anti-West sentiments. Therefore, the US and EU prefer to look the other way on the human rights records of Saudi Arabia.
They turn their focus on Nigeria and make it their whipping boy. Why? We still beg for aids when we should be giving others aids. We still beg for foreign investments when we should be seeking new territories to invest in. We still allow external monitors during our elections when we should be helping some countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia to conduct elections. We still kill and burn down property over elections and religion. We still steal the money meant for the development of the nation and hide it in other countries while our people suffer and die because of lack of potable water or health care.
If we had built a nation that is comparable to South Korea; if we had dropped the lazy oil-sharing and oil-dependency mentality and embraced industrialisation; if we had learnt to put the nation first and not resort to primitive ethnic and religious chauvinism and violence at the least misunderstanding; if we had stopped wobbling and fumbling and were showing inspiring leadership in Africa – no doubt, we would not be talked down upon. Any country that intends to talk to us must “chew its words” well before uttering them.
The world has given us enough signs that should propel us to rise from our slumber and stand on our feet like warriors. Most great companies are founded by men and women who were insulted in their place of work or sacked summarily. Many people would not have built their own house if their landlord had not “insulted” them. Such “insults” light a fire in the heart of a man which fires up the man to great achievements.
That is why I like President Jonathan’s policy on local manufacturing of automobiles, local production of rice, sugar, cement, etc. We need more of such. And we need to move faster, even though killjoys and detractors like Boko Haram and co are “pouring sand in our garri.” We need our people to stop going to India or the UK to die or be saved from illnesses. We need our children to stop moving in droves to foreign universities – we need Europeans, Americans and Asians to come and study in our universities.
Like Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited as saying, “if a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap, than his neighbour, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” Despite the West’s pretensions to democracy and freedom, if ours were to be a vicious dictatorship with a buoyant and enticing economy, the Western World would look the other way and do business with us.
Therefore, let us be in a hurry to build an enviable nation. Nigeria needs not fear the Western World which threatens us with sanctions, rather let us fear Mr. Underdevelopment which makes a country not only to receive insults from other countries but also from its citizens who are weighed down by poverty, privation and despair.