Its two weeks since the video of Nigerians protesting the death of a fellow national in Panaji, capital of Goa, has become headline news. I was shocked, infuriated and helpless after watching the footage from miles away – thinking where did it all start to disintegrate?
For me, Goa is, and always will be home – where I was raised after being uprooted from Saudi Arabia during the gulf war in the early nineties. But what happened to a Goa that was once famous for its idyllic beaches, guileless locals, and beautiful coastlines?
Two weeks ago, it started with more than 200 Nigerians taking to the streets to demand answers about their compatriot’s death. Not satisfied with the obscure response and delayed action from the police, they pulled out a dead body from a hearse and protested in the midst of a highway leading to the capital Panaji.
What ensued was a story overshadowed with emotional reactions from politicians who added fuel to the fire by pandering to public sentiment and likening the Nigerians to ‘cancer’.
This has not only incited anger and hatred towards the Nigerian community among the locals, but a smooth cover up for our politicians’ own failures, corruption, and ineptitude, unable to control the drug havoc in the state.
Many locals boycotted rentals of bed and breakfast houses, car and bikes to the Nigerian community. While many are victims to right wing propaganda, others have been vigilant enough to understand Goa’s battles with the drug nexus that has been self-perpetuating.
What the locals and Nigerians say?
“No that’s totally unfair,” said Stand-up comic Daniel Fernandes, from Goa living in Mumbai. “If anything it’s a political move to deflect blame from the government. This has unnecessarily exacerbated into a racist issue.”
“By their theory, if the Nigerians do sell drugs, then who is buying them? It is the Indians”, Daniel added.
“We’ve used labels and stereotypes to mask the bigger issue, the mess that has been created is by the the Goans themselves. The drug cartel is not owned by the Nigerians. They are the carriers, the Goans own it.”
Naturally, many Nigerians, after seeing the video have been appalled by the behaviour of their fellow nationals but also feel the Goa government’s reaction has been a bit severe.
“Why wait until now,” said Abimbola Bode-Olaoba journalist and broadcaster for Continental Broadcasting in Lagos.”I watched the video footage online and was horrified, of course the Nigerian community would be stigmatised, and it’s awful how they acted.”
She was also quick to point out: “It’s reflective of the Igbos tribe in Nigeria who are quick to take action. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had nothing to do with it.”
Chinedu Udezue, Nigerian Communications Director living in London said: “It’s easier to reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes than to express true leadership and confront lies and misinformation”
India – Africa relations and tourism
Perhaps, what politicians like Dayanand Mandrekar and Subhash Desai haven’t factored before delivering snide remarks against the Nigerian community; is the large Indian population in Africa, many who have built thriving business empires.
The rising tensions with Nigerians in Goa and other places in India is already seeing repercussions to Indian communities in Africa.
India’s relationship with Africa dates back to the nineteenth century. Mahatma Gandhi spent two decades in South Africa before returning to India and first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru supported several African Nationalist movements in the 1950’s.
An approx. 1.5 million Indians live in Africa, although more than 800,000 Indians live in Nigeria and they own approximately 100,000 businesses there.
Before the government hits out at the Nigerian community through vile comments and severe deportation techniques, it will be wise to get to grips with Goa’s ongoing battles with drug cartels, lying politicians and abysmal governance.
Shifting blame is a temporary solution to a long term problem. If Goa doesn’t clear its act up now, the state is setting a terrible precedent not only for the future of Indo-African relations, but international tourism as well.