The Federal Government finally bared its fangs over the incessant killing of Nigerians and looting of their business assets by South Africans, who have shown their dislike for people from other countries, especially Nigerians. In its first major decisive action since the sustained attacks on Nigerians by South Africans, the government did what many had expected long ago.
As a mark of protest to the oppression and killing of Nigerians, the federal government recalled its ambassador to South Africa. It boycotted the World Economic Forum (WEF) holding in Cape Town, South Africa. It asked Nigerians to avoid travelling to South Africa. It ordered the evacuation of Nigerians in South Africa. It demanded the compensation of Nigerians whose assets had been looted or destroyed and who were killed. It also sent a special envoy to South Africa to register its protest and tender its demands.
Announcing the boycott of the WEF, a presidential aide stated in a tweet: “VP Yemi Osinbajo was to represent Nigeria at the World Economic Forum in South Africa but called it off in reaction to the gruesome attacks on Nigerians.”
The attacks on Nigerians in South Africa as well as the looting of their shops have happened over the years. It graduated from isolated attacks to brazen daily mob action by mindless hooligans. In the past, Nigeria protested, but the protests were feeble. The South African government gave assurances, but they were just lip service. Indeed, in the face of the persistent problem, there has not been any tangible action aimed at stopping the humiliation and killing of Nigerians, in a country where all people are supposed to be free.
The action the federal government has taken, in saying that enough is enough, therefore, is commendable. One of the cardinal duties of a government is to ensure the protection of its citizens anywhere in the world. No government should fold its arms and watch while its citizens living in other nations are treated with so much odium. Nigerians have the right to live anywhere in the world, just as other countries’ nationals are living in Nigeria. Where Nigerians fall foul of the law, in countries they live, the law should take its course. Where they have not committed any crime but are earning their legitimate living, nobody has the right to molest, maltreat or kill them. Therefore, the federal government should pursue this matter to its logical conclusion, to send signals to other nations and governments that it would not tolerate this.
Since the so-called xenophobic attacks started in South Africa, I have not seen much effort by the government of that country to end it. I have not seen any conscious effort to protect Nigerians, who are major targets. The attacks are direct and sustained. People are killed. Shops are raided and looted. There has not been any case of bringing the perpetrators to book. I never heard of any of the hooligans put on trial or found guilty of assault, willful damage or murder. When lawbreakers are not punished, they would continue their unconscionable acts. That is the situation in South Africa.
It is really shocking that South Africans, especially blacks, are attacking Nigerians. Thinking about such atrocious acts, let alone executing them, is very sad for a people whose freedom came from Nigeria’s sweat and blood. It is obvious that these people, who, I must say, are not xenophobic but suffering from inferiority complex, do not know their history. If they knew their history, they would have known that Nigeria sacrificed much for the freedom they are enjoying today. In the days of apartheid, Nigeria stood behind the blacks of South Africa in the fight against white supremacy and the policy of racial segregation. Nigeria invested its resources and used its influence as well as contacts at continental and global levels to campaign against apartheid. Nigeria mobilised and galvanised other African nations, including the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union), to fight for the liberation of black South Africans.
In the1960s, Nigeria invested in the liberation of blacks in South Africa. Then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, provided a direct financial aid to the African National Congress (ANC). In the 1970s, Nigeria spent $5 million annually as subvention to the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Also, Nigeria set up the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SAFR) through which it sent relief materials to the victims of apartheid in South Africa. The highpoint was the donation from government and individuals to the SAFR, which was known then as “Mandela tax” in Nigeria. The General Olusegun Obasanjo military government, in 1976, contributed $3.7 million to the SAFR. Obasanjo also made a personal donation of $3,000, with members of his cabinet contributing $1,500 each. Also, Nigeria’s civil servants and public officers donated 2 per cent of their monthly salary to the SAFR. In all, Nigeria donated an aggregate of $10.5 million. That is the extent to which Nigeria went to free the fathers and mothers of the misguided South African youths rampaging now.
Inasmuch as Nigeria and Nigerians would not claim South Africa or have a right over the country, the attacks on Nigerians by South Africans are not the best way to treat citizens of a nation that sacrificed much to ensure equal rights and justice in South Africa. South Africans and their government owe Nigeria a debt of gratitude. Unfortunately, they have not shown that they appreciate the role Nigeria played to set them free.
Recently, there was a report that South Africa granted visa waiver to Ghana, which means that Ghanaians could travel to South Africa without visas. However, South Africa insisted that Nigerians must have visas before they could be allowed in. The issuance of visas to Nigerians is another matter, as there are strict measures when it comes to our people. It does appear that South Africa, as a government and a people, see Nigerians as interlopers.
However, the reprisal attacks in Nigeria against South African companies is wrong. Nigerians should not descend as low as South Africans, who have proved that they are incapable of facing competition from Nigerians, whose progress and enterprise in their country have become a source of envy. Attacking South African companies in Nigeria would not deter South Africans. Rather, it would serve to them as justification for their actions. South African companies and South Africans in Nigeria have the right to carry out their legitimate businesses. They live within the ambit of the law and pay taxes. They employ Nigerians and pay their salaries. They have no hand in the acts of violence against Nigerians in South Africa. Therefore, angry Nigerians should let them be.
The government and security agencies have done well by swiftly moving to protect South African companies in Nigeria. That is what a responsible government does. However, the federal government should not stop at recalling its envoy from South Africa. It should also send the South African ambassador in Nigeria home. It should insist on the compensation of Nigerian victims in South Africa. It should demand prosecution of those involved in the attacks against Nigerians. It should ensure that the discrimination against Nigerians in the issuance of visa to South Africa is addressed.