The recurring ugly decimal of premeditated brutalisation of Nigerians, by South Africans in their country has become a handshake beyond the elbow, calling for a vicious wrestling combat. That, in itself is a most unfortunate development. What with Nigeria’s famed
Big Brother role in the African continental politics and economy? What about spearheading the struggle to free the country from the iron-grip of the blood-letting and asphyxiating Apartheid policy that claimed some 21,000 innocent lives, going by statistics from International Human Rights Organisation (IHRO)?
It therefore, smirks of gross ingratitude, quite antithetical to the African Union Charter and the much-cherished African traditional ethos of hospitality that Nigerians should be at the receiving end of the transferred aggression of the same South Africans! According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mr. Ikechukwu Anyene, President, Nigeria Union, in a telephone call from Pretoria confirmed attacks on members and looting of Nigerian-owned businesses in Pretoria West on Saturday.
In his words: “As we speak, five buildings with Nigerian businesses, including a church have been looted and burned by South Africans. One of the buildings is a mechanic garage with 28 cars under repairs, with other vital documents, were burned during the attack. The attack in Pretoria West is purely xenophobic and criminal because they loot the shops and homes before burning them.
Also, the pastor of the church was wounded and is in the hospital receiving treatment.” He said that the union had reported the incident to the Nigeria mission and South African police.
This statement has since been confirmed by Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs. In spite of urging Nigerians in South Africa to exercise caution and calling on the host government to institute measures to protect them, there are reports of series of threats to the lives and property of Nigerians living in that country. Yet, this is not the first, second or third of such attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa.
Equally important is that of Dabiri-Erewa reminding the South African government that further xenophobic killing, maiming of Nigerians would have dire consequences. And honestly so. Its business relations with Nigeria is grossly skewed in its favour. For instance, as at March, 2016 when its President, Jacob Zuma addressed the joint session of the National Assembly he disclosed that South Africans own some 120 companies here in Nigeria. Notable amongst these are its telecommunications giant, MTN, the DSTV brand, Shoprite, Food Concept Plc and Retail clothing line, PEP store. Most are thriving, with huge profits made repatriated back home. What about the recent irony of the infamous shooting of ‘Big Brother Nigeria’ there in South Africa!
A disturbing feature of the inequitable relationship between the two countries is what Mrs. Rita Orji, the chairman of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs has rightly tagged ‘conspiracy of silence.’ She noted that while South African businesses here enjoy maximum protection the same cannot be said of ours there. Enough of such arrant nonsense; that one would express greater love for another, other than himself. The holy books never taught us so.
The despicable inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians in some countries, especially Malaysia, Indonesia and Libya leaves much to be desired. About 171 Nigerians have just been deported from Libya where they were forced to drink their own urine!
To find lasting solutions to the avoidable loss of lives of Nigerians in South Africa, we should take a look at the root causes. A report by the Human Sciences Research Council identified four broad causes for the violence. These include: “Relative deprivation, specifically intense competition for jobs, commodities and housing. One other factor is group processes, including psychological categorisation processes that are nationalistic rather than superordina.” There is also the South African exceptionalism, or a feeling of superiority in relation to other Africans. The last listed is exclusive citizenship, or a form of nationalism that excludes others.
A subsequent report, “Towards Tolerance, Law and Dignity: Addressing Violence against Foreign Nationals in South Africa” commissioned by the International Organisation for Migration found that poor service delivery or an influx of foreigners may have played a contributing role, but blamed township politics and leaders for organising the attacks.
The current Zuma-led administration should therefore, do more than it says, in putting in place pro-active security mechanisms to guarantee the safety of Nigerians and other nationals plying their trade in the country.
In retrospect, it is on record that prior to 1994, immigrants faced discrimination and violence in South Africa. But contrary to expectations, the incidence of xenophobia increased after democratisation in 1994. Between 2000 and March 2008 at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, a series of attacks left 62 people dead; although 21 of those killed were South African citizens. In 2015, another nationwide spike in xenophobic attacks against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.
All these have continued over the years because no country or organisation has shown South Africans that they do not have the monopoly of violence. On our part, we need credible data on all Nigerians in the Diaspora; where they live, what they do and sustained linkage with the different embassies for their protection. Also, the embassies should be well funded.
The Federal Government should set up a committee to investigate the true causes of the recent attacks on Nigerians. This should be followed by a high-powered delegation to South Africa to warn of likely reprisal attacks on their interests here should her citizens continue to revel in violence. We should thereafter renegotiate the terms of our international relations. As the maverick showbiz impresario, Charly Boy would say: ‘Our mumu don do.’