ON July 25, 2019, the remains of Mrs Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu will be interred in her hometown, Ihiala, Anambra State. And that may be the end of the story. But it shouldn’t be if Nigeria is, indeed, desirous of being accorded the respect due to sovereign states with gravitas.
Uju, deputy director-general of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, CIIN, was strangled in her hotel room while attending the African Insurance Organisation, AIO, conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.
That a citizen who left the country hale and hearty was brought back in a body bag is bad enough. But it is even worse than this killing took place in South Africa because it is one murder too many.
Uju, together with her colleagues, was at the farewell dinner on Wednesday, June 12, but on June 13, the day she was billed to come back to Nigeria, she was found dead in her room at Emperors Palace Casino, Hotel and Convention Centre, Johannesburg.
Sadly, there is hardly any form of investigation into this murder by the South African authorities. Even in her home country, Uju was literally abandoned in death if not for the conscientious activism of Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, NHRC.
First, the management of Emperors Palace Hotel refused to hand over the CCTV footage to South African police notorious for its lethargy in investigating crimes, including murder, against Nigerian nationals in their country.
This was even as a June 27 autopsy report signed by the Director-General of the Department of Health, Republic of South Africa, stated categorically that the 53-year-old mother of two died of “unnatural causes consistent with strangulation”.
But what did we get a reaction from the Nigerian government?
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, executive chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, decided to play the devil’s advocate for hotel management that impetuously stalled investigations for 26 days by claiming that the CCTV footage, which the hotel refused handing over to the police, showed that no one entered the deceased’s room.
The hotel only agreed to grant the police access to the footage few hours after Abike’s tweet and even at that, it tweeted that the South African Police Service, SAPS, was yet to make a formal request for it.
“Emperors Palace is fully cooperating with the SAPS and has given permission to view any required footage – however, as of yet, SAPS has not requested it,” the hotel said.
It is absurd that a hotel in which this grievous crime was committed was the one determining who and when to give access to the tape. It even gets weirder that 25 days after the murder, the police didn’t find it necessary to ask for the footage. But Abike’s claim of what the footage revealed beggars belief.
As Odinkalu, who, unarguably, has become the nation’s conscience asked if the police were yet to ask for the footage, a very abnormal development, from where did Abike then get her information as to what the CCTV showed?
What is happening to Nigerians living in South Africa is really sad. It is even worse than back home, we have a government that does not care a hoot.
Any self-respecting country whose citizens are routinely killed as Nigerians are killed in South Africa will raise diplomatic hell. Yet, the so-called giant of Africa has become so clay-footed that other countries treat her nationals with utmost disdain.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Nigeria last year, he blamed the persistent killings on “criminals”.
That may well be true. But does that possibility stop the state from prosecuting the criminals? So, why is his vow to bring perpetrators to book not being followed through?
Ramaphosa’s claim that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians in his country is not true. For too long and no just cause, Nigerians have become South Africans bête noire.
By claiming otherwise, he was only massaging the bloated ego of his hosts. No serious country would have allowed him to go with just a mere diplomatic slap on the wrist.
And because he was let go without being made to understand that there would be consequences if the heinous acts continued, the killings have not abated. Uju is only but the latest addition to the ever-growing list of fatalities.
In fact, barely 24 hours after Ramaphosa’s visit, a Nigerian, Martin Ebuzoeme, was killed in Yeoville, Johannesburg on July 12. On July 6 of the same year, Ozumba Tochukwu-Lawrence was killed at Mpumalanga.
ThankGod Okoro was shot dead in West Rand, Johannesburg, on April 9, by the South African Police Flying Squad, the same month that Clement Nwaogu, a father of two, was burnt to death by his assailants.
On April 28, 2019, Ebuka Udugbo, who was arrested by the police in Cape Town over a quarrel with his South African girlfriend, was pronounced dead same day in custody. Without providing any evidence, the South African police said he committed suicide while in custody. The Nigerian community in the country disagreed.
On Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6, Goziem Akpenyi and 48-year-old Bonny Iwuoha, a native of ihite-Uboma, Imo State were stabbed to death in Cape Town and Johannesburg respectively, victims of xenophobic attacks. The Nigerian community in South Africa reported Iwuoha’s murder at the Booysens Police Station in Johannesburg South. Nothing is yet to come out of it. And nothing will.
The Nigerian community also reported that four other Nigerians were shot dead in March, three of them murdered in Pretoria and one in Johannesburg.
The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, has done a yeoman job on its reportage of the senseless murders.
In May 2018, NAN reported that 118 Nigerians had been killed in South Africa since February 2016. Seven in 10 of these killings were carried out by officers of the South African Police.
The Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Union in South Africa, Habib Miller, told NAN that two more Nigerians were killed within eight days in May last year.
Francis Ochuba was shot dead alongside his estate agent, a female South African, on May 5, 2018, as they visited a tenant occupying his property in Johannesburg, while Chidi Ibebuike was shot dead at the entrance to his house in Mpumalanga on May 13.
On August 30, 2017, 27-year-old Kingsley Ikeri, was killed extrajudicially by the police in Vryheid town, Kwazulu Natal Province, prompting Abike, who was the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, to condemn yet another case of extra-judicial killing of Nigerians in South Africa.
Aside from describing the despicable act as “worrying, condemnable” and “unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria,” no form of diplomatic pressure was piled on South Africa.
It is good that after Abike’s initial faux pas on Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s murder, the Federal Government is telling South Africa to account for this latest killing by ensuring that those responsible are brought to book.
But the question to ask is this: What if South Africa refuses to act as they are wont to do? What options are available to Nigeria? Do we have the diplomatic balls to deal with the situation?
For too long the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has created the very false impression that Nigerians killed abroad are criminals. It is particularly so in South Africa where most victims, without any proof, are labelled felons.
But even if they were criminals, other countries would first secure the lives and property of their nationals in foreign countries before passing value judgments.
President Buhari’s indifference to these killings is fuelling the insinuation that he does not care because most of the victims hail from the very section of the country that gave him five per cent of the votes in 2015. I hope that is not true because that will be taking vindictiveness too far.
But this extant murder should be a test case of the resolve of the Nigerian state to protect the lives and property of her citizens living in the Diaspora.
Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu, a woman at her prime, was a top corporate executive who was representing Nigeria at a meeting in South Africa. She cannot just be killed without any explanation.
The least that the South African government can do is to ensure that this crime is transparently, clinically and expeditiously investigated and those found guilty brought to book.
If we as a people don’t follow through with this case, the joke will be on Nigeria, not South Africa.