Aidoghie Paulinus, who was in Johannesburg
The Consul General of Nigeria in Johannesburg, South Africa, Godwin Adama, has said the conception by some communities in South Africa that Nigerians engage in drug peddling and drug sales is responsible for xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in the country.
Adama said he had in fact been told in certain areas in South Africa that they will not have youths in the next 10 years because some of their youths have taken to drugs. But Adama, however, said that most of the killings are not as a result of xenophobic attacks, adding that Nigerians kill themselves in South Africa as a result of cult-related issues and drug-deals.
Adama said: “One thing here is that cult-related killings are so high. Some Nigerians belong to certain cult groups: Aiye Fraternity and all these other things. They are here. And most of the killings that take place mostly around Sunnyside where Nigerians reside a lot in Pretoria are as a result of such cult-related killings.
“The second one is drug-related issues like what happened in Ozubulu. It is here because the two sides are here. What they did in Ozubulu, they do it here. Recently, two of them were killed and then, there was a revenge again immediately after. So, this is a continuous something and we have tried every means, but it is difficult to get into that, to really resolve it. I believe that resolving such issues will be more from home because they come from the same area.”
Below is the interview with Adama at the O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa. Excerpts:
How has it been as the Consul General of Nigeria in Johannesburg? Has it been challenging?
Well, it is quite challenging and it is also a wonderful experience. The experience mostly as you know, there is quite a huge population of Nigerians here. And, of course, when Nigerians are in any place, you know the challenges that come will become automatically part of the challenges we have to tackle.
Is that why we hear more about your activities than the High Commissioner in Pretoria?
Yes, I believe so because the reason we have two Grade A missions in South Africa is the fact that the strategic importance of South Africa to Nigeria in terms of bilateral relations and which is, of course, one of the biggest economies in Africa, and politically, it’s also a strong nation, that cannot be overemphasised. And of course, we have a good number of Nigerians in South Africa.
What is the population?
We don’t have an exact figure, but it is in the region of hundreds of thousands, over 500,000.
What are they engaged in?
We have some medical doctors. These are the very professional group that we have here. Almost every hospital in South Africa you go to, you are likely to meet a Nigerian doctor. And not just Nigerian consultants, there are quite a good number of them here. The last time we talked about them, there are over a thousand of them here.
How are they fairing?
They are doing very well. They don’t have any problem. They are well paid and they are well settled. You can see that each of these cases you are talking about, they will never tell you that a doctor has been harassed or killed.
Do you think Nigeria’s diplomatic ties with South Africa is excellent?
Well, it is. I believe the diplomatic relations, we don’t have much challenges there. Why? Because we have a bi-national commission between the two countries which meet periodically and it is now at the presidential level. And from such meetings, we tackle bilateral issues and that is why today, a South African with a diplomatic or official passport going to Nigeria does not need a visa. And also, a Nigerian with diplomatic or official passport does not need a visa to come to South Africa. At that level, I think diplomatic relations is good. If not, you cannot negotiate such. And, of course, we have Bilateral Air Services Agreement, but currently, no Nigerian airline is flying here. Arik used to fly here. And then, that is what makes South African Airways to fly to Nigeria. They used to fly to Abuja, but currently, Abuja has been suspended since the last time that the airport was closed for repairs of the runway. In fact, I used the last South African Airways flight of 27th of February to this place.
Are they making efforts to begin flights to Abuja?
We have been talking about it, but it appears as if they may not do that soon because they are already cutting down on their flight schedules because of the challenges they are having with fleets. And I don’t think that particular route, according to insider sources there, is very profitable to them.
What areas do you think South Africa and Nigeria need to strengthen relations?
Like we were discussing just now, I believe one area which is something you came for, is tourism. South Africa has a very well developed tourism industry and they earn a lot of money from it. I believe we can discuss with South African companies that will make us to have a very wonderful development in that sector. And, of course, as it is today, there are quite a number of South Africans; over 100 South African companies are operating in Nigeria and they are doing very well – MTN, Multichoice, Shoprite and a lot of them. But we don’t have much of Nigerian companies that are operating here and I believe in investment drive because South Africa, as you see it today, appears to have a well developed infrastructure and the economy is sound, although they are also having challenges. They came out of recession not too long ago. Some companies are actually closing down here too. But on the relative side, we can partner with them to also develop some of the infrastructure like the companies and all that they do have here. You can see industrial zones in South Africa. A little out of the airport here now, you will see a lot of industries.
What is your take on the issue of xenophobic attack?
The truth of the matter is that, just getting to the background, there are xenophobic attacks here, I mean. But that is not what you see every day. One thing which is here and which we must all appreciate is that South Africa has very serious security challenges. Violent crimes are very, very high. The statistics on the Internet, if you even see the police official statistics; I stumbled across information that said in a year, you have 18,000 plus murders in South Africa. Murders alone! And these are not just other accidental deaths and all that.
What accounted for that?
It is because violent crimes are very, very serious issues here.
Are they making efforts to tackle the situation?
I believe the government does not necessarily have a solution to that now. I think it must have been from the background of; you know they got independence from a very violent perspective. And as they have come, you discover that South Africa is the one that currently hosts almost all the countries of the Southern African zone, most of which even have challenges. Some are coming out of war – Mozambique, Zimbabwe and all that. And everybody tries to come here to now have survival and in the process, some may also have come with some criminal people or discharged soldiers from some of the troubled countries around too are many here. Mozambique has a lot of even discharged soldiers into the security arm. So, what you see here is that it is okay here, but if you were in the Central Johannesburg now, as you are passing, you see people being robbed openly and those who try to resist are stabbed. They can be killed immediately. So, sometimes, some of the deaths of our people, relatively, are part of those violent crimes that are ongoing. To be honest with you, even among the South Africans, the people that die in one day here is so high. Somebody can go to a family and kill everybody. It is not a big issue here. Every day, if you read papers now, you will see how many people have been killed. Somebody may have slaughtered a whole family and all that. That is a very common issue here.
Aside from crime-related issues, Nigerians sometimes fall victims of what you may call xenophobia. Why?
Some of the reasons have backgrounds. Some of the communities, because I have visited a lot of the communities here, some of the communities believe that Nigerians engage in drug peddling and drug sales. In fact, I have been told in certain areas that they will not have youths in the next 10 years because some of their youths have taken to drugs. And sometimes, some of these xenophobic something starts mostly from the localities where people are not many. And then, Nigerians prosper in such areas. All of them may not necessarily be into drugs, but because they have seen Nigerians physically on the streets, peddling drugs in some areas, any Nigerian they see that is doing well, riding a good car, automatically, they assume it is from drug money which I believe is actually not exactly the same. But one thing that is responsible for that is that in this place, there is high rate of unemployment. Many of them are not doing something. It is mostly the foreigners: Pakistanis, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Malawians, Somalis and all that. They are the people that own even some of these small, small shops and other things. So, they believe that they are not into some of these areas where they can create wealth and the formal employment is not there for a number of them.
As you can see, one of the reasons I can tell you again is that the South African economy is still dominated by the whites. About 90 per cent of the economy is still dominated by the whites. They own most of the economy. The blacks have not been able to seize that particular aspect of them. And where you control anything, I am sure you dictate the pace of it. So, employment is still a big issue. Standard Bank just retrenched about 1,200 people and closed many branches, which is part of the ongoing restructuring in terms of the economy and this affects an average South African.
What is the way out of xenophobic attack?
From what I can seen here, it is not something that is just targeted at Nigerians. It is mostly the immigrants generally and not only the blacks. Sometimes, when there are such xenophobic attacks, they affect the Pakistanis because they also control certain areas of the informal trade. Many times, they feel that it is the blacks that have come to take their jobs. Relatively, where you can see this is that most of the restaurants now, if you see the majority of those working in this restaurant (referring to the restaurant at the O.R. Tambo International Airport), they may be either Zimbabweans or Mozambicans. But that is not the real formal sector. It is something that is like the type of job you do and get anything paid.
So, how can it be resolved?
It will be very difficult except if the economies of those countries are doing well.
Besides xenophobia, there are reports that Nigerians are killing themselves here…
(Cuts in) That is very, very true. That is why when you talked of resolving it, it will be except if we Nigerians agree to change our mentality on what we do, either to make money or to be able to survive. One thing here is that cult-related killings are so high. Some Nigerians belong to certain cult groups: Aiye Fraternity and all these other things. They are here. And most of the killings that take place mostly around Sunnyside where Nigerians reside a lot in Pretoria are as a result of such cult-related killings. The second one is drug-related issues like what happened in Ozubulu. It is here because the two sides are here. What they did in Ozubulu, they do it here. Recently, two of them were killed and then, there was a revenge again immediately after. So, this is a continuous something and we have tried every means, but it is difficult to get into that, to really resolve it. I believe that resolving such issues will be more from home because they come from the same area. The issue of 419 is a very serious thing here too. A number of Nigerians are very involved in it and in the process, some also set themselves up in terms of trying to get certain advantages over each other and that is why some of them now take into fetish and occultic movements. And even among some businesses, it may not just be drug, but because I feel that you are prospering more than me, we have seen such things among Nigerians and we have settled a number of them. Some Nigerians will do business with other Nigerians and they will not meet up whatever agreement that they have made in terms of money. And it is very easy for an individual to go and take the life of another one just for double-crossing him and all that. So, there are quite a number of other things. Aside from that, the envy of South Africans sometimes on the way they see Nigerians. Nigerians generally are very hardworking people. I mean, when they come to a place, aside from those who are into crime, there are some that are doing well. But the product of their existence sometimes is loud. You can imagine in a locality where everybody is struggling, these people don’t have anything; you are living very well and living large. So, it leads to hatred and when there is little opportunity, they go against them. They loot their shops and all that. That has been something that is very, very disturbing because sometimes, there is even no need to go and attack people. Some are doing very well in their shops, but they use simple opportunity. And when they do that, that is why sometimes you can call it criminally-induced because when they do that sometimes, they want to go and loot.
How many Nigerians do we have in South African prisons?
As at the last time, though we are still trying to update it, we had over 300 to 400 of them. Though they don’t have death sentence here, there are some that are serving over 30-something, 40-something years and some of them that are in jail already, who don’t even know whether they will come out, they still engage from jail to sponsor violence outside, especially among Nigerians.
What is the mission doing to protect Nigerians?
The mission has contact with Nigerian leaders in the various provinces. Out of the nine provinces in South Africa, the consulate is in charge of six. And these six are the major provinces. We constantly engage in travels to these areas to discuss with them and meet with them and also advise them to be able to discourage those who take to crime. But this has been a very serious thing for us to do because some of those who are involved in this may not even come to the meeting. Even among themselves, some are not even in any meeting. We encourage them to group themselves into various associations, especially the state unions. Almost every state has a union here, which is easier to be able to control. But the state union will tell you that some of them don’t even belong to that.
How about the early warning mechanism mooted by both governments?
The MoU for the early warning mechanism between South Africa and Nigeria as represented by the two missions, resident Nigerians, and South Africa represented by the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation and other stakeholders, including the police, is yet to be signed or set up. This is causing delays in responding to issues of violent attacks by the locals at the slightest excuse or police brutality leading to deaths of Nigerians or extrajudicial killings. Several Nigerians have died in the past few weeks without arrest of those who either stabbed or shot them. The South African government appears slow in responding to the issues as it is believed they are crime-related rather than being xenophobic. This is part of the challenges.
Do we have irregular migrants?
I can assure you that the majority of Nigerians in South Africa are not documented. That is, if you have 100 per cent, about 65 per cent are not legally documented. And what do they do? They come under what you call asylum. They give them asylum. That is, there are people who do this as a business – asylum claims and this asylum claims, they may give you for the first time, three months. But after that, they are not likely to renew it because it is essentially to be able to investigate and they know that there is nothing that is actually driving them out of Nigeria for asylum. So, what the majority of Nigerians will tell you here is a paper they call aduro, an asylum paper, which is nothing because it is not a residence status.
Are there plans by the mission to repatriate some of them home?
We have been working on that, but of course, only when individuals agree to be repatriated home. But from what we have seen so far, not many of them want to go back home.