Once again Nigeria’s image problem rears its ugly head, only this time, it has to do with how little care is taken by other countries before stepping on the toes of Africa’s proverbial giant. On December 6, 2021, Nigeria joined seven other African states on the United Kingdom’s red list, which essentially bans Nigerians from entering the UK as a result of ‘rising’ cases of the omicron variant. This is even though Nigeria has only 3 recorded cases; a figure that is far less than the number of cases in countries with continuous access to the UK such as the Netherlands (19), Portugal (19), or even Germany (13), albeit with negative Covid-19 test results.
As the World Health Organization announced, there is no conclusive scientific evidence suggesting that omicron causes severe illness or is more transmissible. This is as the number of recorded cases in the UK, which is currently put at 246, significantly surpasses figures in Nigeria. Even if these are necessary precautionary measures, targeting only African states while sparing their European counterparts, calls into question the integrity of this policy. To call it what it is; it is duplicitous and dubious.
For what it is worth, not all of us expect the UK to relate with Africans in the same way it does with Europeans. It is foolhardy to even idealize the existence of an equal and reciprocal relationship between African states and their western counterparts. If anything, these travel restrictions reinforce the subordinate, peripheral, and quite frankly, inconsequential status of most African states, especially Nigeria, in the comity of nations. More importantly, it sustains the argument that when a country demonstrates a heightened level of ‘anyhowness’ or carelessness in the way it manages its domestic affairs, treats its citizens, and conducts its external affairs, others will treat it anyhow.
It is ok for Nigerians to frown at the UK because this decision stinks of disrespect. It reinforces prevailing sentiments that Africans don’t matter. However, the reality is that in the committee of nations, countries are self-interested and prioritize some geostrategic relations over others. This traditional practice, which has consistently characterized COVID-19 international politics, is simply the dictate of power relations that restricts countries like Nigeria to the fringes of international interactions. Beyond these, any country with an acute sense of responsibility to its people will take steps to protect them, no matter how discriminatory and duplicitous these steps may appear. That Nigerian leaders lack this basic understanding is by no means the fault of No. 10 Downing Street.
Consequently, it is misplaced aggression for Nigerians to condemn the UK for projecting its interests while forgetting to call out successive political leaders that have consistently failed to assert Nigeria’s role in the world and project the image of a country in constant ascendancy. Bearing in mind that how a country is perceived by others is very instrumental in how it is treated, for decades Nigerian leaders have demonstrated a high dose of inferiority, subserviency, and ineptitude to the global public as evidenced in the cataclysmic failures that characterize domestic governance, and the lack of foresight and strategy that is presently the bane of Nigeria’s global influence.
The UK’s travel ban may be the latest, but the practice of countries discounting Nigeria’s interests is nothing new. If in doubt, look no far from the case of Late Itunu, who was imprisoned unjustly in Cote d’Ivoire, or the attacks on Nigerian traders in Accra in 2020. These are not Western countries, they are African, with strong historical and bilateral relations with Nigeria. What then is expected of a country with a legacy of slavery, colonialism, discrimination, and racism under its belt, and a strong sense of understanding of the retaliatory limitations of Nigeria?
The reality is that save, perhaps, for the Obasanjo administration, successive Nigerian leaders have continuously perpetuated the image of a country in constant decline, both through their docile foreign policy posture and the embarrassingly incompetent manner domestic governance has been handled. Nigerian oil, as we know it, no longer carries the leverage it once did in international relations. It can no longer be bandied about to acquiesce others. That giantry status that was once expected of Nigeria is now a pipe dream, at least to those who hold an unsentimental or unbiased view of the current trajectory of things. Insecurity, economic decline, rising inequality and poverty, corruption, and increasing cases of human rights violation are some of the challenges bedeviling Nigeria that are readily obvious to the global public.
The extent to which these realities shape global perceptions of Nigeria and its citizens are not readily obvious to the eyes and may be anecdotal, at best, without empirical backing. However, policies of this nature, with detrimental effects to the interest of Nigeria, are useful proxies to suggest that Nigeria’s global reputation and standing in the committee of nations may be dwindling.
In essence, while there are enough reasons to be angry at the UK, perhaps some of that energy should be channeled at Nigerian political elites for their nonchalant approach to governance and consistent demonstration of ‘anyhowness’ in conducting foreign policy. In the current trajectory of affairs, Nigerian leaders as sadly failing in their duty to position the country as a relevant player in international interactions armed with sufficient retaliatory force to deter discriminatory policies.