The apartheid era in South Africa saw Nigeria as one of the foremost supporters of anti-apartheid movements, including the African National Congress. It is on record that Nigeria spent well over Sixty-One Billion US Dollars in fighting apartheid in South Africa. Nigeria has since been in the fore front in peace keeping operations in South Africa and other African Countries with devastating effect on her human and material resources. The Nigerian government issued more than 300 passports to South Africans seeking to travel abroad during the apartheid era. Sunny Okosun, the late popular Nigerian musician, wrote the hit song “Fire in Soweto” in 1977 to commemorate the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid in South Africa. He waxed others for our brothers and sisters in Southern Africa: “Which Way Nigeria”, “Papa’s land”, “No More Wars”, “Tire Ni Oluwa”, etc.
In fact, all Nigeria’s Civil Servants and public officers made a 2% donation from their monthly salary to the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SARF). These donations were widely known in Nigeria then as the “Mandela tax”. Nigeria even boycotted the 1976 Olympics and Commonwealth games in 1979 to protest against this hideous apartheid system.
The Nigerian government and her people contributed over $10.5m to the SARF. These included students.
In 1960, the Nigerian government set up the National Committee Against Apartheid (NACAP). It provided about $5 million to the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) annually. Nigeria later founded the SAFR in 1976 to enable her bring relief materials to Apartheid victims.
When apartheid eventually ended in 1994, several South African businesses sought for Nigerian professionals to immigrate and help build their battered economy. Over 24,000 Nigerians are estimated to be currently living in South Africa. Much of South Africa’s good will towards Nigerians for supporting the ANC during apartheid suddenly disappeared due to wrong perception by most South Africans as a result of activities of some Nigerian organised crime in their land. Truth be told, many Nigerians have engaged in criminal activities. But, this can never be justification for taking it out on all Nigerians, most of whom are innocent, clean and hardworking.
The term xenophobia
“Xenophobia” is a singular term used to describe the irrational fear developed against foreign elements, which manifests in hatred, discrimination and violence against such foreign elements. The recent horrific and agonizing wave of xenophobia which has swept through South Africa is mostly directed at Nigerians. The tragedy of Elizabeth Ndubuisi-Chukwu marked the commencement of a reign terror against Nigeria. She was murdered in cold blood through xenophobia anger, and strangled in a hotel room in Johannesburg. Elizabeth’s only crime was being a Nigerian, a non-South African. Till date, the culprits are still walking freely on the streets of South Africa. Businesses of non-nationals, especially Nigerians, have been vandalized, looted and burnt in areas around Johannesburg, including the Central Business District and the township of Alexandra. The glaring failure of the government of South African to deal with the rampaging blood-thirsty crowds is seen by many as a tacit endorsement of the advocacy.
South Africans have been attacking foreign nationals, particularly Nigerians, whom they scapegoat as the reason for rising rate of crime in their society and diminishing jobs and social benefits. One wonders how Nelson Mandela would be feeling in his cold desolate grave. His idea of a truly democratic and free South Africa anchored on a society where all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities, is furlong and distant.
The increasing competitions between the two countries for positions at multilateral organizations across the globe appear to have worsened relations between Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria has been championing the course of South Africa without corresponding benefits to her national interest. Nigeria’s foreign policy should be “Nigeria! Nigeria!! Nigeria!!! No more, no less.
As we speak, Nigerians are being cheaply maimed in large numbers. Our government cannot forestall same. Many have been killed. By way of mutual retaliations, some South African brands and interests are currently facing attacks as their shops are being closed in fellow African nations such as Nigeria and Zambia. More worrisome is that just between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in South Africa in identified xenophobic attacks. In May, 2008, a series of attacks motivated by xenophobia left 62 people dead. In 2015, another nationwide spike in xenophobic attacks against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.
The Nigerian government led by President Buhari has been virtually helpless about these gruesome and unprovoked killings, looting, and arson of properties belonging to Nigerians. Most Nigerians were shocked by the irrational action of authorities at the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa, when they locked the gates against our compatriots in the face of bloody attacks. This left them to the cruelty and savagery of their assailants.
A report credited to the CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri, said as at 2016, 118 Nigerians had been killed extra-judicially in South Africa, while an additional 88 had been killed since then. These orgies of violence against Nigerians have been continuous because the Nigerian government has been too weak in defending Nigerians and Nigerian interest. The glaring failure of government to run an economy that provides jobs and reduces poverty has also greatly contributed to the mass exodus of Nigerians abroad where they are faced with human carnage. Some drown in the sea. Others die in deserts. All to escape hunger, thirst and poverty.
If our government were to be alive to its responsibilities, the government of South Africa would have been made to pay heavy and deterrent compensation and make restitution for the killings of Nigerians, This would have awaken the South African government to their responsibility to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians and other Africans in that country.
It is obvious that these grisly acts have been perpetrated unabated for too long with complicity by South officials who are actually supposed to salvage such situation. This is why some Nigerians have been forced to resort to retaliation. But, that is not the way to go; just as the decision of South Africans to take the laws into their own hands cannot be justified. The reasons often advanced by the looters and murderers are that the people they attack are drug barons and criminals who are responsible for the high rate of crime in South Africa. This is not justified in a country with a clearly defined justice system. Rather than go into mad looting, killings and orgy of violence, why are such cases not reported to the authorities who are better equipped to handle them?
This scenario is condemnable, inexcusable, and completely unpardonable. Such can only emanate from a government that does not enjoy the will of the people and as such cannot protect their interests.
This insensitivity by the Buhari Presidency to issues of safety, welfare and rights of Nigerians living abroad (like those within Nigeria) has continued to embolden acts of violence, violations and killing of our citizens in foreign lands, especially in South Africa.
Even with perfunctory condemnation of these criminal acts by the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, the acts of human carnage is nothing but gross failure of governance.
The government of South Africa ought to have dealt decisively with these criminal elements. It has failed to apply the coercive force of the State to stem this ugly tide. This carnage must end now.
Since the end of apartheid rule in 1994, South Africa has become famous for xenophobic attacks. Same has continued unabated because of its poor handling by the authorities.
International law on compensation and restitution of victims of attacks in a foreign country
The excuse given by South Africa’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Naledi Pandor, was that local laws of South Africa make no provision for compensation for victims of xenophobia. To protect the rights of its citizens in the country, the Nigerian authorities must resort to international law and acceptable principles of common sense.
Under international law, a State has the inherent duty and right to protect its citizens, whether they reside at home or abroad. This customary international law has been the practice observed by states for years. States have, in fact, justified their acts of “forcible self-help”, carried out in the territory of another state, as being necessitated by the need to protect their own citizens.
A good example of this is the Entebbe incident of 1976: an Air France jetliner was hijacked by terrorist claiming to be members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. There were Israeli nationals on board the aircraft which had been en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, via Athens. The hijackers directed the plane to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where it was given permission to land. Israeli troops successfully stormed the airport and rescued about 105 Israeli nationals who were being held hostage by the hijackers.
Likewise, between 1813 – 1927, the United States alone used military force on at least 70 different occasions to protect its citizens abroad. In a few cases such as during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and the Congo Action in 1964, there was collective intervention to protect nationals of several countries who were residing abroad.
It therefore appears that international law has since evolved past the traditional doctrine of state responsibility where individuals are regarded as the objects rather than subjects of international law. By this doctrine, a State was at liberty to treat any persons within its borders as it wished except when the persons being injured were nationals of another state. Such foreigners were seen as a mere extension of the State, to whom they owed allegiance, and any assault on them was considered to be an assault on such a State itself.
However, with the advent of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Laws, International Law has been increasingly applicable to the individuals, rather than states. The individual is regarded as possessing inalienable rights which must never be violated, even if he is a foreigner.
The violent xenophobic attacks in South Africa constitute a violation of every sound principle of international law. It runs contrary to the principles and ideals of African solidarity enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
Articles 3, 4, 5 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which both Nigeria and South Africa are signatories, guarantee for all persons, including foreigners, the rights and freedoms from discrimination; the rights to equality, dignity and the security of their persons and properties.
(To be concluded next week)
Thought for the week
“Life and liberty can be as much endangered from illegal methods used to convict those thought to be criminals as from the actual criminals themselves.” (Earl Warren)