By Olurotimi Osha*
Most regular folks of Western nations are ignorant of the true state of Africa, and the role their respective countries play in the du jour underdevelopment of Africa, which forces African migrants to risk their lives to make it to the West, only to generate increasing acrimony among their hosts.
I recently had an interesting conversation with my Italian roommate, after I had expressed my deep gratitude to the Italian people for taking in African refugees, treating them well, and giving them a chance to start over in Italy. While out jogging, I had met a Nigerian, who crossed the desert and survived adrift an inflatable boat for three days in the Mediterranean Sea until the Italians rescued them and brought them ashore to Sicilia. Although the Nigerian man now had a job as a cleaner, but because he supported his wife and Italian born kids, he still had to rely on panhandling for the generosity and mercy of kind Italians, to supplement his income. My roommate explained that the increasing numbers of Africans is putting a huge pressure on the average Italian and is causing growing “irritation” (not racism though) in the southern parts of Italy.
He mentioned that Africa was the only place where the people did not fight for their independence and break away from foreign domination by Europe, but had its independence was negotiated through help from Europeans and Americans. He lauded places like Italy, France and America, where independence was fought for through violent revolution and war. He wondered why Africans did not appear patriotic and stay in Africa to build it. And he referenced Africa’s proverbial poverty. Needless to say, my roommate knew of the history of Africa’s path to independence from a myopic European perspective, and consequently, was ignorant of the brave liberation struggles of African nationalists, who left European powers no other choice but to jettison physical colonisation of most of the continent.
Then I decided to enlighten my roommate from Rome—the city that was a bastion of the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century—a bit about the African paradox, which also exists in part because Europeans and intelligence operatives from other parts of the world, have not really left Africa, but continue to exploit its resources through fifth columnists camouflaging as African leaders. And then I asked him if he was aware that majority of the world’s natural resources used in western industries are extracted from Africa. I asked him if he knew that Nigeria for instance was among the biggest oil producers in the world and has among the top five largest reserves of natural gas and oil in the world and that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product was US $1 trillion from mainly oil production. He said he did not know this, but that when he heard of Africa, he only understood it to be the poorest continent in the world that Europe and America help—and of course, when he hears of Nigeria he hears of Boko Haram, terrorism, and corrupt Nigerians who defraud westerners.
Consequently, I proceeded to enlighten him a bit more. He was quite surprised to learn that, according to Forbes magazine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has the world’s richest deposits of tin and coltan, used to make electronic devices and chips in our computers, etc. It has among the world’s largest deposits of cobalt, used in jet engines. The Congo has oil and diamonds too. It has been described as the most richly endowed mineral resources place on earth. I remember one closet bigot colleague of mine who was a stockbroker. When I tried to discuss the issue of looking to investments in Africa because of its resources, the Lebanese American derisively cackled, “that he knew of a company that has thought of investing in water in Africa.” Water was the only resource the American of Lebanese descent could think of, when I raised Africa as a region for investment. I will get back to the issue of Lebanese folks, who have a close relationship with Nigeria. (I am not prejudiced or bashing a nationality. Just one moment and I will reveal more.)
My roommate also got to know that an Italian energy company called Eni, currently has a corruption case in Milan, where we live, regarding its involvement in scandalous bribes of Nigerian government officials to the tune of billions of dollars, for oil field concessions in Nigeria. He had not known of this, until I informed him. He knows a lot about Italian politics. And he belongs to a party that is nationalistic and while not racist, is critical of immigration. However, what he did not know was that the value in oil deals and concessions which the Italian oil company has gained from Nigeria alone, is far greater than the cost to Italians, of all Nigerians who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean to work in Italy. Besides, I also learned in my International Criminal Law class, that the Italian mafia also controls and facilitates the trafficking of Africans into Italy.
Now he had learned that Africa despite having tremendous resources, ingenuity (he is a rap aficionado music student who wants to be a rap producer, and praises black creative genius), and hardworking people (Africans were used as slave labour to build America and historically were used as slave labour to build Middle Eastern empires), remained paradoxically populated with impoverished people, because of continued detrimental activities of the West and the Middle East in the continent.
He is very solutions oriented, my roommate. Thus, he asked, “What is the solution to curb Africans from emigrating and braving the perils of the desert and the hazards of racist rogue cops in America?” I asked him if it were possible for all Europeans and non-blacks to leave Africa alone – by removing themselves and going back to where they came from the way racists in America and some parts of Europe where Africans are called monkeys, chant that blacks should go back to Africa. Then arrangements can be made for all Black people to return to Africa to use their resources and labour fairly for themselves. The refugee, who was panhandling, was an Igbo man. Igbos do not beg but are industrious and take pride in their diligence and entrepreneurial skills. He left Nigeria seeking work. Because corrupt Nigerian government officials sell oil and embezzle the proceeds keeping billions in Swiss banks and hide hundreds of millions of dollars in their homes. I referred him to YouTube videos revealing discovered millions of dollars in cash, in people’s homes in Nigeria.
I asked him if these puppet Nigerian and African leaders on the payroll of foreign intelligence outfits (for instance Mobutu of Zaire was used by the Central Intelligence Agency and Belgian intelligence) would be released for the Nigerian public to deal with according to their laws and hearts’ desire. And if foreign intelligence would sever all links with Africans, so there would not be blacks working at cross-purposes with African interests and sabotaging African development. This way Nigerian graduates like the refugee I met (he said he had a degree in Statistics and I could tell he was a university graduate from his flawless spoken English), could be employed in Nigeria, when the proceeds from oil are invested in developing Nigerian industries, rather than siphoned off to banks in Europe and America, with the help of foreigners.
General Ibrahim Babangida, who used General Abacha as a fix-it man, was allegedly on a foreign payroll. He institutionalised corruption in Nigeria, and his regime witnessed the razing of Nigeria’s ministry of defence building (equivalent of the United States Pentagon), to obliterate paper trail of his nefarious activities. US $12 billion from oil proceeds went missing under his regime. He was known as an egregious human rights violator during his reign of terror and corruption. The Oputa panel has claimed that he was involved in the perfidious use of a letter bomb to kill a Nigerian journalist investigating his atrocities. Yet the Queen of England knighted him while he executed his reign of terror. Is England not supposed to be a staunch opponent of reprehensible dictators? (Knight Grand Cross of the Bath was conferred on Babangida in May 1989 by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain) General Babangida was a traitor to the Nigerian state, which his regime ruined with impunity.
Apart from Europeans who live in Lagos and Port Harcourt, and of course South Africa, there are also Asians who have lived in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa for decades and claim Africa as their home. One of the things the refugee, who left Nigeria three years ago, complained about was the increasing presence of Chinese firms in Nigeria, buying oil fields in shady deals. He said the investments from China are not leading to industries and job creation for Nigerian graduates, but instead was propelling a heavy influx of Chinese people into Nigeria, since the firms prefer to bring in Chinese workers, to work in even the most unskilled jobs in their firms and industries.
In Kano, there have been Indians, Arabs and Lebanese who have lived in Nigeria for decades, profiting off Nigeria’s oil. For instance, Gilbert Chagoury is a Lebanese (Nigerians call him a white man), worth US $4.2 billion on Forbes. He and his brothers claim Nigerian citizenship and have lived there for decades. They were close associates of the perfidious military dictator, Sani Abacha, who embezzled billions from Nigeria, and hanged a Nigerian intellectual, award winning writer, and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa complained about the despoliation of Nigerian lands from oil extraction, by foreign oil companies, which did not exercise the standards of care that would have been imposed in Europe and America. Abacha enriched Chagoury the Lebanese man, but hanged a Nigerian intellectual for seeking justice. My roommate acknowledged that there appeared to be an element of dearth of “Nigerian love for fellow Nigerians,” he called it. It can be described as self-hate, as the facially scarified Abacha, who allegedly died of a sudden heart attack in the arms of prostitutes flown in from India for his pleasure, scorned Nigerians like him.
My question was not a tacit endorsement of the extreme position of expropriation of South African lands without compensation of white farmers, taken by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa and Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, to redress historic racial injustice against Africans.
Will every non-black physically leave sub-Saharan Africa voluntarily and leave Africa alone, so that Africans do not have to keep flooding Europe and America seeking help? It is a pipe dream. Therefore, until this occurs, westerners must accept the “irritation” of black presence, just as their presence in Africa causes a lot more than mere irritation, which Africans must endure.
*Olurotimi Osha is a Doctor of Law candidate at the George Washington University Law School, in Washington, DC, United States of America.