By Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Victoria Ojeme & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—AS fear of further attacks against Nigerians in South Africa spreads, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, has called on the South African government to take decisive measures to protect Nigerian citizens and other Africans in the country.
In a statement issued in Abuja, Dabiri-Erewa described the attacks as an unnecessary setback. Urging restraint on the part of Nigerians, she warned that further attacks without any reprimand may incur dire consequences.
She spoke as the Senate, yesterday, called for harder stance against South Africa on the issue, just as the Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Matters, Rita Orji, condemned alleged lackadaisical attitude of the Federal Government towards the protection of Nigerians outside the country, saying the government was more interested in remittances than the welfare of citizens abroad.
Anyene said the union had reported the incident to the Nigeria mission and South African police.
“As we speak, five buildings with Nigerian businesses, including a church, have been looted and burned by South Africans.
‘’One of the buildings is a mechanic workshop with 28 cars under repairs, with other vital documents burnt during the attack. Also, the pastor of the church was wounded and is in the hospital receiving treatment,” Anyene said.
Disturbed by the renewed attacks, Dabiri-Erewa advised Nigerians to be extra cautious because it looked like South African government seemed to have no control over the attacks.
The SSA, however, urged restraint on the part of Nigerians and warned that further attacks without any reprimand may have dire consequences.
Dabiri-Erewa said the AU was being called to intervene because information had it that there will be more xenophobic attacks against foreigners on February 22 and 23.
“These attacks should not be allowed to continue because it is a big setback,” she said.
Two weeks ago, Dabiri-Erewa met with South African High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr Lulu Aaron-Mnguni, on the killing of Nigerians in South Africa, who assured that the South African government was investigating the matter.
“We have lost about 116 Nigerians in the last two years. And in 2016 alone, about 20 were killed. This is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria,” Dabiri-Erewa said.
Cesspool of xenophobic attacks
Since 1994, South Africa has been a cesspool of sporadic xenophobic attacks against foreigners with Zimbabweans, Somalis, Mozambicans, Ethiopians, Kenyans, Angolans and Nigerians among others, being the victims.
In the case of Nigerians, the matter has been worsened by recurring police brutality and extra-judicial killings, which in 2014 led Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to describe the South African police brutality on a Nigerian, which was caught on camera as “horror and particularly disturbing.”
Tochukwu Nnadi, a 34-year-old Nigerian businessman, was killed by South African police on December 29, 2016.
How it began
In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth gangs in Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, destroyed the homes and property of migrants and marched the individuals down to the local police station where they demanded that the foreigners be forcibly and immediately removed.
This was to be followed by a series of more violent attacks across the country in 1998, 2000, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2016.
In August 2000, seven xenophobic killings were reported in the Cape Flats district of Cape Town. Seven foreigners from different African countries were killed on the Cape Flats. Among those attacked were two Nigerians, one Kenyan and two Angolans.
On May 11, 2008, an outburst of xenophobic violence in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra triggered more xenophobic violence in other townships. First, it only spread in the Gauteng Province. After two weeks, the violence jumped to other urban areas across the country, mainly Durban, Cape Town and Limpopo Province.
In January 2015, Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Siphiwe Mahori, during an alleged robbery in Soweto Township. The boy was shot in the neck and died within 15 minutes. Lebogang Ncamla, 23, was another victim when he was shot three times in the arm. The incident triggered waves of attacks and looting of foreign-owned shops.
On March 5, 2015, xenophobic attacks occurred in Limpopo Province. Foreigners on the outskirts of Polokwane left their shops after protesting villagers threatened to burn them alive and then looted shops. Violence erupted in the Ga-Sekgopo area after a foreign shop owner was found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to a local man who was killed.
On April 8, 2015, a spate of xenophobic violence occurred after Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini made comments that foreigners should go back to their home countries because they were changing the nature of the South African society with their goods and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people.
For almost a week, the attacks on foreign nationals reigned. On April 12, 2015, in KwaZulu-Natal, shops in Umlazi and KwaMashu, outside Durban, were torched. In V Section, a shop owned by a foreign national was set on fire by a mob. Five people were reportedly killed.
On April 14, 2015, looting of foreign shops spread to Verulam, north of Durban following a day of clashes between locals, foreigners, and police in the city centre, KwaZulu-Natal. About 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops.
Senate urges harder stance against S/Africa
Piqued, the Senate, yesterday, condemned in very strong terms, the recurring and renewed atta cks on Nigerians in South Africa and asked the Federal Federal government to take a harder stance against the country.
Speaking with journalists, Senate Committee Chairman on Diaspora, Senator Rose Oko, who expressed dissatisfaction over continuous killings of Nigerians in South Africa, said she has written a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to furnish the committee with what really transpired.
“We have written to Ministry of foreign Affairs to avail us with what happened in South Africa between the Police and the man. We condemned, in very strong terms, these attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
“You are aware that in 2016 alone, about 20 Nigerians were killed in extra-judicial manner. Before this time, several had been killed in like manner. There are several incidences of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. You are also aware that Nigeria/ South Africa have excellent diplomatic ties . In 2013, when there were xenophobic attacks, former President Goodluck Jonathan signed Memorandum of Understanding to re-enforce diplomatic ties,” she said.
Noting that killings of Nigerians in South Africa were against all known laws across the globe, Senator Oko said the committee would come up with a motion on the floor of the Senate on the matter.
The chairman wondered why Nigeria should have excellent diplomatic relationship with South Africa, if the country was not hospitable to Nigerians residing there.
“These attacks came notwithstanding the contributions Nigeria made towards liberation of South Africa during the apartheid regine. You begin to wonder why all these attacks? The Federal Government should take harder stance against the country,” Oko said.
Rep knocks FG on protection of Nigerians abroad
Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Matters, Rep Rita Orji, decried the Federal Government’s attitude towards the protection of Nigerians outside the country, saying the government paid more attention to remittances from citizens abroad than their welfare.
The lawmaker said even if the government decided to keep quiet in the midst of the incessant attacks on Nigerians, especially in South Africa, she will not keep mute.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, yesterday, Orji, who represents Ajeromi Ifelodun Federal Constituency of Lagos State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said the government was not doing anything to protect Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Insisting that she was not going to be part of the “conspiracy of silence”, Orji said Nigerians in Diaspora were only dear to the government of Nigeria because of the funds they remit to the country.
She also accused the government of over-protecting the businesses and interests of South Africa to the detriment of Nigeria. The government, she said, is not “taking a critical look at what Nigerians in Diaspora face in those countries.
“Are they only important to us just because they need to contribute to national development? Are we calling them ours because we needed to get hard currencies remitted by them? What about their health and their businesses, are they being protected? Are they being taken care of in the treaties we are signing in this country? Have we taken any bold step to make sure that incessant killings of Nigerians abroad unlawfully are being taken care of? These are pertinent questions that any Nigerian that loves life would ask. And why would this conspiracy of silence linger while blood is being shed? Nigerians are being killed like chicken in various countries and Nigerians are becoming endangered species?”
Orji recounted some of the gory murder of Nigerians in South Africa, Libya and other countries some of which she said her committee had investigated and given the report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with no visible action taken.
She flayed the recent South African violence against Nigerians, warning that no country has monopoly of violence.
“South Africa has a lot of business interests in Nigeria; MTN is there, Shoprite is springing up all over the place. Must we protect the foreign interest to the detriment of Nigerians? Now NCC is hell bent on reviewing upwards, the price of data and voice calls in Nigeria to the detriment of Nigerians. Even with the intervention of the National Assembly, NCC is bent on doing that just to protect the interest of the foreigners.”
Rep Orji called on the Foreign Affairs Ministry to call for a full briefing from the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa “on how many Nigerians were killed and how many houses were burnt and property looted.
“The South African Government should bear in mind that Nigerians know that they have interests, they have businesses here, they have South Africans here, they should not put their people in jeopardy.”
No provisions in the budget — Minister
Responding, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim told the committee that though it is the responsibility of the ministry to protect the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians abroad, funds were not made available to the Ministry until the 2017 budget proposals that are being considered by the National Assembly.
Her words: “It is estimated that there are up to 15 million Nigerians abroad. It is therefore a herculean task for the ministry to provide protection and welfare assistance when no provision was made for that purpose in the budget. Other countries make financial provision for repatriation of remains, lost income and loss of passport, funeral expenses, medical bills, amongst others, which our missions can’t due to paucity of funds. Yet, Nigerians expect, unrealistically, missions to offer these services.”
According to her, it is only in the 2017 budget that the sum of N400 million was appropriated. “This is clearly inadequate to cover the sheer volume and complexity of the consular challenges facing Nigerian Missions abroad, including the strategic engagement with Nigerians in the Diaspora.”
She said the number of Nigerians in prisons abroad was 15,316 as at December, 2015, noting that, “the update for 2016 is not complete as the Ministry is awaiting updates from our missions abroad.
“Regrettably, some Nigerians are on death row in countries like Indonesia, with about 13 inmates for drug related offences.”
The Minister said Nigerians in Diaspora remitted over $21 billion in 2015, and that in recognition of the huge potentials of Nigerians in Diaspora for national development, the Diaspora Desks in Nigerian Missions abroad are now to be part of the Economic Section.