Friday, 28 June 2013

If the shoe fits

It seems there is to be a diplomatic row between Nigeria and her former colonial ‘master’. The issue concerns a proposed N723,000/£3,000 bond payable by Nigerians intending to travel to the UK, which will be forfeited if the traveller overstays their welcome and thereby becomes a potential burden on the British taxpayer. The external affairs minister has summoned the British high commissioner to ‘explain to government if the plan is true and why Nigeria is a target,’ worried as he apparently is ‘about the highly discriminatory policy which tends to portray the country in a bad light.’ He was quickly followed by  the chair of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, who opined that it would ‘not foster true relationship’ between either country because it was against ‘the spirit of the Commonwealth’.
Perhaps the first question to ask is why so many Nigerians – at least of the well-heeled variety - are so obsessed with travelling to the UK given that the world is full of countries only too ready to have us visit them with our hard-earned foreign exchange – and cheaper to boot. In fact, all it does is betray our continuing subservience to the ‘mother country’ that is the raison d’être of the Commonwealth which the House chair sets such great store by, being merely a more acceptable nomenclature than the one it replaced, with its bogus connotation that we are all the same now, no more the coloniser and the colonised - but with the Queen of England as its head. The only consolation is that we are not alone in this ignominious league. Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are also included as those countries which constitute ‘the most significant risk of abuse’ to the UK’s extensive social security system.
In a swift reaction, Professor Itse Sagay, the constitutional lawyer, argued that the proposed new visa regulation showed that the British authorities ‘have a wrong idea of their importance to us’ on the grounds that, ‘[w]e are more important to them than they are to us,’ which simplifies the matter somewhat. The British do indeed know that this is the case given that they were among the recipients of the estimated $120bn lost in capital flight from Nigeria between 2001 and 2010, UK banks being perhaps the least scrupulous about accepting dodgy money, and also the least likely to repatriate said money (Switzerland included). This is to say nothing of the $16bn Okonjo-Iweala caused to be transferred to the Paris Club in one fell swoop in 2004 in order that Nigeria might be ‘forgiven’ the original $8bn lent to corrupt military regimes prior to 1999, the country having already paid $11bn but for our tardiness in meeting up with the terms of the repayment schedule under the rubrics ‘principal’, ‘interest’ and ‘late interest’, a 419 if ever there was one. As I have argued elsewhere, the once and present finance minister was clearly a stooge sent by her World Bank employers in order to plunder the nation’s treasury. No self-respecting country would have deemed her worthy of such a sensitive position, instead of which we lauded her patriotic zeal in freeing us from the foreign debt we have begun amassing all over again when the current administration, overwhelmed by her credentials and anxious to be in the good books of the lords of poverty, begged her to come back and was duly grateful when she accepted ‘because considering the position you were holding at the foremost World Bank, it is difficult for you to come back to serve as minister in a country’. We wonder whether colonialism has ended; we should wonder instead whether slavery has ended.
In other words, the British authorities are not mistaken about our value to them even as they gratuitously insult us over the proposed visa levy. They know an abject people for what they are having had ample time to study those they forged in their own image. They also know that all the huffing and puffing by both the minister and the House chair amount to playing to the gallery. For one thing, neither of the aforementioned will be affected by the proposed policy given their privileged positions in the scheme of things; for another, both of them know perfectly well what to do if they are serious about forging a country in which such a scenario will be inconceivable. Nigeria can only be insulted because we have invited it upon ourselves by what we have done as much as by what we have left undone. It wasn’t the British – or anyone else, for that matter – who contributed to the ‘squandering of riches’ over the five decades of our so-called independence that has brought us to this pretty pass.
As things stand, it is by no means certain that the UK authorities will go ahead with the proposed visa levy, especially since India, a far more important country, has also expressed its outrage. If so, the underlying problem of what we have become – have allowed ourselves to become - in the eyes of the world (and not only the UK) will hardly be obviated. In terms of potential alone, Nigeria is far more endowed than the ‘mother country’, as all the statistics readily testify: more oil, more gas, more land, more people. Indeed, if not for the hash we have made of the independence we clamoured for, it is Nigeria, not Britain, which should be the one imposing the levy. Besides, given the evident eagerness of Nigerians to patronise the UK banking system with money meant for the development of Nigeria, it might be in order for the Nigerian government to impose the levy on its own citizens wanting to travel to the UK but for the fact that it is government officials who are themselves the culprits, as the UK authorities well know. Either way, we can well do without the sanctimonious outrage of our ministers and legislators.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

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