There are strong indications that many Nigerians have been shunning trips to South Africa in the last two weeks.
The PUNCH gathered on Thursday that since the latest xenophobic attacks on Nigerians by South Africans, many travellers had been boycotting trips to the former apartheid enclave.
Also on Thursday, the House of Representatives described the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama’s denial of its invitation as an insult.
The House stated this just as the Federal Government disclosed that Nigeria and South Africa would set up a bilateral-commission aimed at ending xenophobia.
In spite of the peace initiative, a number of travel agents told one of our correspondents that Nigerians were not buying tickets to South Africa, except for special reasons.
I haven’t sold tickets to Johannesburg for two weeks – Agent
“I have not booked a single ticket to Johannesburg in the last two weeks,” a travel agent, who did not want to be named, told The PUNCH.
“Nobody is going there at the moment. It is as if there is a total boycott except it is extremely important. Since the problem between Nigeria and South Africa began, the only people travelling are those that had booked their flights long before now and students that need to return to school and have no choice but to resume,” the agent said.
Another Lagos-based agent said the situation had degenerated to the point that special travel packages that were put together for tourists to the country had either been cancelled or diverted to some other destinations as people were no longer interested.
Nigerian tourists changing destinations from SA to Dubai
According to the agent, Nigerian tourists are changing their vacation destinations to Dubai, Mauritius and other places.
“There are people with pending tickets that have requested change of airline or destination. Even people scheduled to travel; some have said they no longer want to travel to South Africa,” he said.
Findings show that South African Airways, which operates daily flights between Lagos and Johannesburg, has been affected.
South African Airways enjoys a near monopoly on the route being the only airline that offers direct flights from Lagos to Johannesburg; other airlines on that route such as Kenyan Airway and Rwandair have to get to Nairobi and Kigali respectively, before taking off to Johannesburg. The airline, when contacted, declined to comment on the issue.
I left SA when attacks became frequent – Mother of two
Meanwhile, a woman who was among those evacuated on Wednesday shared her experience with The PUNCH, saying that she decided to leave South Africa when the attacks became frequent.
The single mother of two, Ololade Atere, from Oyo State, said her nail studio was destroyed in the recent xenophobic attacks.
Atere said, “My experience was bad. I was into fixing of nails and one day I got a call that my shop had been destroyed. I decided to come home because the violence became too much and I couldn’t keep running with my two kids.
“I lived in South Africa for five years, but I have no plans of going back. I am tired of the violence. I have to be safe. I am home now. I have to find a job or business.
“I left Nigeria when I was pregnant. The intention was to have my baby, have some travel experience and return. I wanted to come back after I had my first baby but people convinced me to stay. But now, I have had enough.”
S’Africa said my children were its citizens – Mother
Atere said she was supposed to be among the first batch of Nigerians to return, but was stopped at the airport.
“They said I couldn’t travel with my kids because I gave birth to them in South Africa and they are citizens,” she said.
She added that she was made to swear an affidavit before she was allowed to bring the children with her to Nigeria.
‘I left my child in S’Africa’
Another returnee, who identified himself as Uchenbi, told the News Agency of Nigeria that South Africans harboured hostility towards Nigerians.
He stated, “South Africans are angry at Nigerians for no reason and would blame them for whatever reason they deem fit.”
Uchenbi, who was in South Africa for 12 years before he returned to Nigeria on Wednesday, said he left his child in South Africa, while she was sleeping.
The man, who is married to a South African, said his wife would have suffered, if he had been killed in South Africa.
S’African police didn’t probe my husband killing – Woman
Another returnee, Blessing Chioma, accused the South African police of inaction when her husband was killed in 2012.
Chioma said, ”I’m coming from South Africa, Johannesburg; I was married to a Nigerian, but South Africans killed him during the xenophobic attacks. I reported the case to the police, they know about it; they look for the guys, but you won’t know them because they come in groups, so nothing was done; the case is closed,” she said.
”Since then I’ve been coping with the children, but I returned them to Nigeria because I was no more meeting up in training them. So they’re here now in Nigeria; I came back to take care of them, but we came with nothing because they burnt our shops.”
Only traders, others in informal sector leaving – NUSA
The President of the Nigerian Union South Africa, Adetola Olubajo, said the Nigerians who had indicated interest in being evacuated from South Africa were informal traders.
Olubajo said, “I can say that all of the people affected are in informal businesses. They are people that established their own businesses. So, it’s an informal business area. It does not affect any of those companies that are in the formal sector.
“They are those petty traders that have shops; small and medium scale traders on Jules Street (Johannesburg), Van der Walt (Pretoria) and Lilian Ngoyi Street (Johannesburg). In Nigeria, they (Nigerians) targeted mainstream companies owned by South Africans.
“But there, it was not like that, they went to informal traders (and places) where they are densely populated. There is no company at all. There were even two car marts burnt down; one was owned by a Nigerian, but I think the other one was not owned by a Nigerian. So, they were informal businesses.”
The situation would normalise soon – High commissioner
When contacted, the acting High Commissioner of South Africa to Nigeria, Bobby Moroe, expressed confidence that the relations between Nigeria and South Africa would soon normalise.
He noted that every issue would be sorted out during the forthcoming visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to Pretoria.
He said, “We are concerned by the development, but we are already working to improve relations with Nigeria and this was the reason for the visit by the special envoy. We believe the situation would improve soon, South Africa is a tourism destination and we are open.”
Onyeama’s denial of our invitations, an insult – Reps
The House of Representatives berated the Minister of Foreign Affairs for denying invitations by the lawmakers to brief them on the xenophobic attacks and the Federal Government’s evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa.
The House, which insisted that the minister ignored its invitations, said the National Assembly was considering actions against government officials who shunned its summons.
The Speaker, Femi Gbajajiamila, had in plenary on Wednesday, accused the minister of shunning the lawmakers’ invitations even when the leadership of the House invited him. Gbajabiamila had said he would raise the matter with President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had, however, denied the allegation. The ministry’s spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, in a statement, said Onyeama could not appear before the House on the scheduled date because he was engaged in the Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa.
Briefing journalists after the plenary on Thursday, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, stated that the lawmakers were people of integrity, who would not lie against Onyeama.
Kalu said, “I represent the House of Representatives comprising men and women of integrity; men of honesty, men of high reputations.”
According to him, describing the statement of the lawmakers, especially that of the Speaker as a lie is casting serious aspersions on the integrity of the House of Representatives.
He stated, “I wish to maintain that an invitation was duly extended to the minister in question and that invitation was not honoured and the House frowns upon it. I can assure you that we are taking steps to ensure that in the future, such disobedient act, such dishonour to the House of Representatives, will not be tolerated.
“We know what to do as allowed by the provisions of the law.He was invited. He did not honour it. I am sure he would honour it. If he didn’t get it, we have made it open. We have declared it openly that there is an invitation to him. I am sure that he is a gentleman. I know him as a gentleman, he would honour that invitation.”
Meanwhile, a member of the House representing lbarapa CentraI/North Federal Constituency of Oyo State, Mr Ajibola Muraina, has urged members of the National Assembly to make donations for the evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa.
Muraina, who addressed journalists, said he was moved by the Chairman of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, who used his airline to evacuate Nigerians for free.
The lawmaker urged all Nigerians who had financial and other capacities all over the world to be selfless and be willing to assist their countrymen and not leaving the problems for only the government to solve.
Nigeria, SA to sign MOU on commission to end xenophobia
In the Senate, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mustapha Suleiman, said that Nigeria and South Africa would set up a bi-national commission to ensure the safety of Nigerians and protect their property in South Africa.
Suleiman, who stated this when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, explained that both countries would also sign a memorandum of understanding that would among others, put an end to xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.
He said the establishment of the bi-national commission and the signing of the MoU, would coincide with the visit of Buhari to the South African country next month.
He said, “Now we are trying to sign a memorandum of understanding between us and South Africa to forestall such (xenophobic) attacks in the future.
“Prior to the incident, our President has been invited to South Africa. At the October meeting, the MOU will be unveiled. The essence is to determine what to look up to if such attacks happen in the future, the documentation for understanding on how such will be remedied.
“When such happens to Nigerian citizens, what kind of remedy should we expect from the South African government?”
Suleiman, who represented the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said President Buhari would be meeting with his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, in October for bilateral trade agreement.
He commended the gesture of the Chairman/Chief Executive of Air Peace, whose airline had been giving free flights to Nigerians anxious to flee South Africa.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Mohammed Bulkachuwa, said a thriving economy would serve as a disincentive to emigration of Nigerians to other countries.