Thursday, July 30, 2009

Apartheid in Nigeria?

A rather bizarre advertisement appeared recently in a Nigerian newspaper. In the said advert, the owners of a housing estate in Lekki, a suburb of Lagos, had put up some apartments for renting. They, however, said in the publication that the apartments were for expatriates only.
Nigerians could not apply. No reason was expressly offered in the publication for excluding Nigerians from applying to live in the choice estate.
Not surprisingly, the publication has sparked public outrage against the owners of the estate for what most people see as rank apartheid against Nigerians in their own country.
Responding to the controversy, a spokesperson for the property owners, Rasaq Okoya Properties Ltd, said in a tone indicative of remorse, that the advert was not intended to insult Nigerians. According to her, the only reason for the caveat as to who may apply and who may not, was that most Nigerians usually considered their rents too high and may not be able to pay. She said the apartments were usually made to suit expatriates who simply want a place where there is good security and all the conveniences.
By implication what the property owners were saying is that Nigerians can do with anything less suitable while the expatriates want the best in their living environment. This sort of self-denigration is bad for the image of the country. It also speaks volumes on how Nigerians often treat their fellow citizens with less than the respect and dignity they deserve.
There ought to be an official way of checking this sort of outright discrimination against Nigerians in their own country and by their fellow countrymen. Whatever the grounds, property owners must realize that the battle of the present age is that of the equality of all human beings, regardless of their race or social and economic status. Those who openly treat others as less than human commit a serious crime against humanity.
Rasaq Okoya Properties Ltd and all others who may be like-minded must desist from that sort of insult. It must not be said that there is any part of this country in which Nigerians are not permitted to live if they can afford it. And those who deliberately pitch their prices in such a way as to exclude Nigerians must also realize the damage they are doing to the dignity and psychology of the nation’s youth.
After all, what else is apartheid if not a system in which Blacks or certain people are forced to live away from white people? In the then apartheid South Africa, black and white people lived in separate neighbourhoods and their children attended separate schools. It was quite offensive and obnoxious. No wonder the world, in one voice, condemned such a system and saw to it that it was eventually dismantled in a country where Blacks constituted more than 80 per cent of the population.
The public’s anger over the Lekki housing apartheid policy is therefore perfectly understandable. We agree with the human rights community that the government must stop that sort of nonsense before it becomes a normal practice by property owners and managers. While those who placed that advert could be conceded their right to give their apartments to whoever they please, this right does not permit them to insult the sensibilities of Nigerians against the intentions of the Nigerian constitution.
Not even the explanation by a spokesperson of the property owners could atone for that brazen apartheid against Nigerians. By assuming that no Nigerians can afford to live in the apartments, the property owners, themselves Nigerians, can be accused of either over-pricing their property or believing the worst about their fellow countrymen. Pricing is known to be an effective tool of discrimination. The action of the company is hardly patriotic. We believe that no such egregious insult will be tolerated by any self-respecting people.
The Rasaq Okoya Properties Ltd, owned by the respected Okoya family, got this wrong. The company should therefore see the necessity to tender an unreserved apology to Nigerians for treating them with such gratuitous disdain.