*Say Nigeria not afraid of any country
*Explain why Nigeria envoy in South Africa not recalled
*Senate delegation unnecessary—Gbajabiamila

By Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru

ABUJA-THE House of Representatives yesterday told the South African government that the recent attacks on Nigerians living in that country should be the last attacks on Nigerians as the country (Nigeria) has the capacity to retaliate any form of treatment given to her citizens.

The House also reminded the South African government and her people to be mindful of the consequences should Nigeria decides to retaliate on the incessant attacks on her citizen in South Africa.

Besides, it explained why the Nigeria High Commissioner in South Africa had not been recalled despite the enormity of the attacks and the outcome of series of meetings so far held with the Foreign Affairs ministry, the minister and Nigerian High Commissioner in South Africa.

Addressing journalists in Abuja, the Majority Leader of the House and leader of the delegation, Femi Gbajabiamila debunked insinuations in some quarters that the visit was a mere jamboree and waste of the nation’s resources.

The Majority Leader who was flanked by the Chairperson, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Ukeje and Rep Henry Nwawuba said the visit would afford members of the delegation the opportunity to have a first hand information on the reason for the attacks and why the security operatives in the country had failed to bring those behind such attacks to book

Reasons behind the visit

Giving reasons why the House considered it expedient to send the delegation to South Africa, the Majority Leader said, “We are hopeful that our engagement with the South African Parliament and authorities will provide lasting solutions.

“We will attempt to meet with the South African Parliament to discuss the possibility of both our countries enacting hate crime laws. This would cover crimes committed based on nationality.

“We intend to engage the SA Parliament and other authorities on areas of mutual benefit and how much both countries could lose from xenophobia and possible retaliatory actions or severing of diplomatic ties.

“This delegation will seek to strengthen the Nigerian /South African Bilateral Commission which only exists on paper for now. We hope to meet with Nigerians who reside in SA and assure them of governments intervention.

“We will advance and hopefully get a commitment on the need for payment of compensation for the victims of this last attack.”

Continuing he said, “The House believed that it would be almost an irresponsible act or omission for any Parliament or Legislative body confronted with an issue such as this not to take proactive steps in addressing the issue.

“There is in a representative democracy such as ours such a thing as parliamentary or legislative diplomacy and not all international discussions are government to government. We would like to talk a little bit more about this to underscore the need for this trip and hopefully explain to Nigerians who are asking genuine questions on the necessity for it.

“The Nigerian Constitution which we all swore to defend, uphold and protect declares that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the citizens. It does not limit this to citizens only if they reside in Nigeria but citizens wherever they may be found.

“The same constitution gives the legislative arm of government oversight functions. Again the constitution does not limit oversight to the four corners of Nigeria. Where legislators are able to access information and go on fact finding missions necessary for proper framing of laws then they can embark on external oversight, even for investigative purposes.

“The United States after which we fashioned our democracy for years has this same long standing practice of legislative diplomacy where groups of legislators visit foreign countries and engage their officials on issues ranging from terrorism to free trade to human rights issues.

“Indeed we are all aware of the congressional foreign oversight led by Representative Jason Chaffez to Benghazi/Libya on the murder of the then US Ambassador Christopher Stephens . Even more recently in defending his notorious contact with the Russian Ambassador, the Attorney General of the US who was then a senator claimed as his defence that his communication was in his capacity as a US senator which was normal.

“Again legislative diplomacy. Surely the attack on Nigerians on foreign soil must be addressed frontally using every ammunition available in governments arsenal including elected representatives. The moral and psychological uplift this would give to our citizens abroad and the comfort in the knowledge that they have not been abandoned by their representatives cannot be quantified.”

Foreign diplomacy

“Foreign Diplomacy and constructive engagement of foreign officials in modern day and constitutional democracy is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Executive.

“Diplomacy and engagement of foreign countries especially when it involves the security of a country’s citizen has become extensive and non traditional to the extent that some countries even use private citizens or former Presidents for engagement .

“Today Presidents address foreign Parliaments, an indication that diplomacy is best practiced beyond executive confines and has since dovetailed into legislative arena. We must remember that the debt forgiveness this country enjoyed through constructive diplomacy with our creditors during the Obasanjo regime had the House finance committee at the time play a pivotal role.”

On why embarking on such trip which will gulp huge sum of money when the country was facing recession, Gbajabiamila said, “Recession does not stop the parliament from going into South Africa to look at issues.

“I believe one Nigeria life is a lot more valuable than any money, you cannot quantify it, you cannot put money on a Nigerian life. And I believe it will be shirking from our responsibility. We represent people who are in South Africa, Mexico and India.”

Engagement with Nigeria High Commissioner

“We have engaged with the Nigerian High Commissioner in South Africa, we had a conversation yesterday (Monday). In fact on the contrary, they are absolutely delighted over the move that we are deploring all possible ammunition to deal with this very serious problem.”

Senate shouldn’t duplicate the visit

He explained that, “This is bicameral legislature, both houses are independent but for the ease of governance and diplomacy, it would have been proper or better to have one house and not two houses, this duplication of labour is absolutely unnecessary for both houses to travel.

“I believe it was an oversight on the part of the senate. If you know our history, normally when the senate has done something, most times even if it comes up on the floor of the House, if you follow our debate, we will say this matter has already been decided by the senate.

“I believe in this particular case, the senate was not aware the House has taken a resolution on this matter.”

On why the delegation should go to South Africa when in Nigeria innocent citizens were killed like the killing of youths in Port Harcourt, Rivers State during The inauguration of President Donald Trump of United States of America without government showing concern, he said that the House had always stood before the masses.

He said, “On the issue of IPOB, and issue of southern Kaduna, charity begins at home, keen observers of what happens in the national assembly will noticed that the House has not sat down idly without doing anything about these killings that happen here in Nigeria.

“Southern Kaduna for example, this matter is brought up on a regular basis and delegations were sent and where they are attacks in parts of Nigeria. I don’t believe we sat down idly and done nothing.

“The international dimension is a different dimension, other countries are involved and it has become international and so we are going on a fact-finding mission.”

If the mission fails

“If this mission fails, for me I always have a positive mind and if fails, let’s assume the worst case scenario, at least it will be for want of trying, the national assembly will be accused ‘where were you guys when this was happening in South Africa’, the national assembly is a bedrock of democracy, anything that happens it is the national assembly that will be looked at.

“Now we are doing something out of the ordinary and again we are hearing ‘why are you doing it’. Let’s look at when it succeeds we will all be the happier for it.”

Nigeria not afraid of retaliation

Continuing, Gbajabiamila said, “Our country Nigeria is afraid of no one, but when you say are big brother, retaliation is not always the first step to diplomacy. Cutting of ties and retaliation are always the last resort, it will always be on the table but it will be last resort.

“Not too long ago Nigeria fined perhaps the biggest south African company N3.5 billion – as fines there was no question of being afraid to slap such a hefty fine which many argue could cripple MTN, we did it because they broke the laws.”

Parliamentary diplomacy

Supporting the position of the Majority leader, Chairperson, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Ukeje said, “We are absolutely engaging parliamentary diplomacy especially as we recognise that Nigerian government and South African government have very close relationships as far as bilateral and multi-lateral agreements are concerned. A very close relationship.

“The Committee on Foreign Affairs has engaged with the Ministry and we have engaged with the Minister. As parliamentarians, we feel that we must prepare every arsenal or everything in our arsenal to deal with this.

“You recall that in 2015 when we were facing the same issue, the Nigerian Ambassador was called back home to brief the government and it was misconstrued internationally that Nigeria has recalled her ambassador.”

She further explained that. “We will be looking at pieces of legislation that says to them that they must resist structural racism, Xenophobia, we will be reminding them that they are signatories to the United Nations treaties against Xenophobia and racism.

“We shall also be reminding them that silence is complicity. I don’t see how that can fail because we are taking a message to them. Now in the event that now fails, we shall be reminding them and as the leader said, that retaliation is only to the mutual detriment to both countries.

“And we will be reminding them of their businesses in Nigeria and the fact that we have the capacity to retaliate.”

Also making his own contribution, Rep Henry Nwawuba, who represents Mbaitolu/Ikeduru Federal Constituency of Imo State said the primary concern of every government was the protection of lives and properties.

He said, “If there has ever been a time to kill an ant with sledge hammer, this is one of those occasions. Since 2008, we have heard Nigerians living in South Africa raise concerns about their safety.

“We need to open our minds as Nigerians that this is the first legislative intervention that we are about to embarked upon, we need to give it a shot.

“We need to believe that there must be something that we can say to their parliament especially to strengthen the laws because we have had reports where some South Africans have actually been recognised during the attacks and perhaps have even been identified but they have been released afterwards.

“When we go on this trip, we will come back with first hand information and we will be able to tell Nigerians, this is the situation we have found on ground and we can come up with solutions that we believe will give succour to our people.”

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