By Marie-Therese Nanlong
The word xenophobia which connotes hate, prejudice, fear has dominated the public space recently especially with the experiences of Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa.
Xenophobic behaviour which is based on existing racist, ethnic, religious, cultural, or national prejudice is perceived by many Nigerians as something that happens abroad but sadly, xenophobic activities are unconsciously dominating our daily lives.
In Plateau State for instance, xenophobia is experienced in the many biases that exist in the State such as in polarised settlements based on religious and tribal lines, exclusive schools for kids based on Faith, political appointments and patronage based on primordial interest, among others.Religious leaders sue for peaceful governorship poll in Bayelsa(Opens in a new browser tab)
Unfortunately, instead of closing the existing gaps, government and citizens’ actions and inactions are widening them daily and reinforcing the hate for ‘strangers’ in the different ‘territories.’
A few xenophobic attitude in the State is the uprooting of the indigenous tribes from their ancestral homes in over 54 communities across Jos North, Jos South, Riyom, Bassa, Mangu and Barkin Ladi local government areas and renaming same by the new occupants without any reprimand by the relevant government officials. This is an act of provocation which can lead to violent conflict; relevant stakeholders must not wish such away if peace must reign but ensure justice for those whose property were forcefully taken.
Another is the public outrage at the recent appointment of an All Progressives Congress, APC member from the Hausa community as the Chairman of Jos North local government area, a situation which is currently causing tension in that area. Again, government must engage the people, dialogue with them and ensure its actions are understood to avoid unnecessary tension and violent conflicts.
However, a citizen, Geofrey Gotep who lamented a xenophobic attitude towards him in his locality said, “What we failed to understand is that we have been living in our own lands with the same xenophobic issues silently and differently from how South Africans define xenophobia. We are presently experiencing the crises between the Jukun and the Tivs, the Irigwes and the Rukubas, the Beroms and the Fulanis, all religious crises etc.
“I have grown to understand the word xenophobia; it also exists in my community where we are often reminded that we are settlers; the physical and political rivalries between political parties are xenophobic because most times the ruling political party sees other political parties as strangers in their domain.
“I would recommend the need to include xenophobic behaviour as a course in all levels of education curricula in order to have a better understanding of the word and ways of curbing such behaviours in the society, because it is evident that most people exhibiting such behaviours are ignorantly doing that.Bayelsa Decides: Group warns against violence, hate speech(Opens in a new browser tab)
Politicians should be unbiased and not promote sectionalism. A leaf should be borrowed from the leadership and regimes of our past leaders who fought for the unity of the country regardless of their political, religious and tribal affiliations for instance, Joseph Gomwalk of blessed memory held Benue, Nassarawa and Plateau together and united as a State.”
It is believed that if lasting peace must be achieved not just in Plateau State but the country at large, xenophobic attitudes must be discarded and citizens accept one another irrespective of the diversities we have.