LAGOS – It took retaliations from angry Nigerians before the federal government of Nigeria could take a drastic and decisive decision on the incessant attacks on Nigerians residing in South Africa.
The xenophobic attacks in South Africa have worsened in the past week leading to the destruction and looting of many business premises including those owned by Nigerians. At least five people are reported killed in the attacks which the South African government said it is trying to curb. Many Nigerians have accused the South African government of not doing enough to stop the violence there.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday, however, described the attacks by angry Nigerians on South African businesses as “deeply disturbing”, saying that targeting South African businesses is a “classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Some angry Nigerians took to the street in some parts of the country on Tuesday attacking companies such as MTN, Shoprite, PEP, Dstv, all supposedly belonging to South Africa. Though, some hoodlums took advantage of the outrage against the treatment of their countrymen in South Africa.
A major South African clothing retailer, PEP which has one of its stores in Surulere area of Lagos, was looted on Tuesday evening. Videos and pictures of the looting were circulated by several Twitter users on Tuesday. Some hoodlums on Tuesday evening burned down the MTN office in Bodija, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Also in Lagos, at least a man was allegedly killed by policemen outside a Shoprite outlet in Lekki area of Lagos. Eyewitness accounts have it that the man was shot by the police while they (police) were trying to prevent looting of the shopping mall. A police vehicle was also reportedly burnt in the fracas.
The Information minister in a statement by his spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, said noted that those attacks on the companies were needless, adding that majority of the workers in the South African companies operating in Nigeria are also Nigerians.
Mohammed stated that Nigerian workers in the companies will be hardest hit if such companies are forced to shut down for fear of attacks.
While assuring Nigerians that the federal government was already taking decisive measures to put an end to the persistent xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa, the minister disclosed that, ”President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched a Special Envoy to convey to his South African counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa, his concerns and also interact with his South African counterpart on the situation.”
He also said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, acting on the instructions of President Buhari, summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria to get a brief on the situation.
He said Mr Onyeama expressed Nigeria’s displeasure over the treatment of her citizens and secured assurance of the safety of their lives and property.
Reactions have also continued pouring in from concerned individuals in the country. The Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections, Atiku Abubakar, called for the involvement of the African Union (AU) in ending xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
Atiku tweeted on Tuesday saying that urgent steps need to be taken with South African authorities and the AU on the issue.“Reported attacks against Nigerians in South Africa are unacceptable and stands condemned. Urgent steps need to be taken with the SA authorities and the African Union to bring an end to this ill wind that can only end up destroying the fabric of our African brotherhood,” he said.
The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa on her part, said that the intervention of the African Union (AU) would be vital in ending attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
She said that although she could not verify most of the videos of the attacks, whatever decisions needed to be taken could only be done at the ministerial level. “Sad, Reports from South Africa attacking foreigners. I can’t verify most of the videos. However, whatever decisions to be taken now can only be at the ministerial level. AU intervention may be crucial. This is not what we should be doing to ourselves as Africans,” she said on Monday.
Also, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, joined in condemning the attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, describing the development as a betrayal of the key role Nigeria played to liberate the country from apartheid.
Osinbajo, who spoke in Kano during a visit to inaugurate the Energizing Education Power Project at Bayero University Kano, said: “Let me say first that these recent attacks are condemnable. It is very sad and very unfortunate that the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians living in South Africa are once again being destroyed with such wantonness and with such carelessness and recklessness.
“It is unfortunate because Nigeria and Nigerians invested a great deal in the destruction and the pulling down of apartheid. Besides, these acts of bigotry are entirely contrary to the very ideals that all the great South African leaders including the present President fought for, and for which many gave their lives.
“Mr. President has already spoken about this and obviously we are very concerned and certainly intend to take this up with the authorities in South Africa in order to ensure that this sort of thing does not repeat itself. This is absolutely unacceptable and unconscionable,” said Osinbajo.
However, the federal government has demanded for compensation for the victims affected by the attacks.
Speaking at a joint news briefing with the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Bobby Moroe, Onyeama, stated that the proposal also includes security collaboration between the two countries.
According to Onyeama, “We feel that very definitive measures have to be taken to stop once and for all this act of aggression and criminality against Nigerians in South Africa. For us, Nigerian government, we are determined that we should not have any reoccurrence of this going forward. So, we have to put in place mechanism to ensure that this does not occur.
“We made very concrete proposals to South African government today, and we believe if those measures are implemented, we will have a very good chance of ensuring that this does not reoccur. In the first place, we must address the issue of compensation. There has to be accountability and there has to be responsibility for compensating all those Nigerians that have suffered loss and we are going to absolutely push forward.
“Secondly, we believe that the two security forces (South Africa and Nigeria), can have an arrangement where there will be cooperation on the ground in South Africa to arrest such events and occurrences and this is obvious something we have to work out details with the South African government and hopefully, see us addressing at the field level the challenges caused by this incessant attacks so we have put that forward to the South Africa government. Very clear proposals and we will be discussing that and hopefully the South African government will support us in that initiative as we believe it will make all the difference.”
The minister said past efforts made to stem the incessant attacks included a jointly agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which the South African government was yet to sign.
Nigerians are hoping that these recent efforts by the federal government will address the situation in South Africa as President Muhammadu Buhari has already sent a special envoy down to South Africa to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa and register his displeasure over the killing of Nigerians in South Africa. The envoy is expected to land in Pretoria today (Thursday).
In a statement signed by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari said he was deeply concerned about the “reported attacks on Nigerian citizens and property in South Africa since August 29, 2019.”
The Presidency also stated that, already, Buhari had “instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, to summon the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria and get a brief on the situation; express Nigeria’s displeasure over the treatment of her citizens; and assurance of the safety of their lives and property.”