By Henry Umoru, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Victoria Ojeme & Rotimi Ojomoyela
Some Nigerians in South Africa yesterday raised alarm that foreigners will be target of attacks today in different parts of the country.
To avoid being caught in the web of the attacks, they have started sending text messages to other Nigerians resident in the country to be alert, saying the South Africans planned to even search cabs and buses for foreigners to be killed.
The alarm came as President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday ordered evacuation of Nigerians resident in South Africa who are willing to return home from tomorrow.
This is even as Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, told the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organizations yesterday that 640 Nigerians in South Africa have voluntarily registered to return home.
One of such messages sent to our correspondent by a Nigerian who preferred to remain anonymous read: “Hello everyone, just wanted to pass this message for us all to be careful against tomorrow (today), as we have just been briefed by a friend from Ntuzuma that tomorrow (today) is going to be terrible in Durban.
“Locals will be checking all the taxis to find foreigners… So be alert and be careful. Pass this message to all your friends and family members to caution them about tomorrow (today). If possible, no one must make a move to town tomorrow (today). If you must go out, first wait and watch. What happened in Johannesburg was just a joke. Thanks for your understanding. Be warned.”
Responding to some of the text sent to Nigerians in South Africa and other blacks asking them to leave with immediate effect, the Nigerian Consul-General in Johannesburg, Godwin Adama, told Vanguard on phone last night that those messages were not authentic.
Adama said: “It is not authentic, the police authorities have said even the taxi drivers have denied it as well, it is hoax.
“All we are doing right now is to protect the Nigerians who are to be evacuated. It is our responsibility to take care of every Nigerian living in South Africa.’’
Buhari orders evacuation of willing Nigerians
Also yesterday, President Buhari ordered immediate voluntary evacuation of Nigerians willing to return home from South Africa.
The President gave the order when he received report from Ambassador Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, the Special Envoy he dispatched to South Africa to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa on the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.
He told the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, to continue to engage with appropriate authorities on the concrete measure the South African government was expected to take.
The President’s directive was contained in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina.
It read: “In the wake of the xenophobic attacks by South Africans against other Africans, including Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari sent Amb. Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, NIA, as his Special Envoy to South Africa, to convey a special message to his counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The Special Envoy, who was in Pretoria from Thursday, 5th to Saturday, 7th September 2019. President Buhari stressed the need for South African government to take visible measures to stop violence against citizens of brotherly African nations.
“President Buhari is worried that the recurring issue of xenophobia could negatively affect the image and standing of South Africa as one of the leading countries on the continent, if nothing is done to stop it.
“The Special Envoy conveyed the assurance of President Buhari that the Nigerian government is ready and willing to collaborate with the South African government to find a lasting solution to the involvement of few Nigerians in criminal activities, and to protect the lives and property of the larger groups of other law abiding Nigerians and, indeed, Africans in general, against all forms of attacks, including xenophobia.
“President Buhari further assured that the Nigerian government will guarantee the safety of lives, property and business interests of South Africans in Nigeria.
“On his part, President Ramaphosa agreed that the violence was most disconcerting and embarrassing, and that his government completely rejects such acts, which undermine not only the country’s image but also its relations with brotherly African countries.
“President Ramaphosa reaffirmed his stand against criminality and commitment to do everything possible to protect the rights of every Nigerian and other foreign nationals in the country.
“The Special Envoy also interfaced with his South African counterpart, where they reviewed the situation of foreign emigrants in general and Nigerians in particular. They agreed to work together to find a permanent solution to the root causes of the recurring attacks on Nigerians and their property.
“President Buhari has taken note of the report and instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs to continue to engage with appropriate authorities on the concrete measure the South African government is expected to take.
“President Buhari has also given instruction for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians who are willing to return home.’’
640 Nigerians willing to return home
Speaking in a similar vein, Chairman/CEO of Nigeria Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, told the Senate Committee on Diaspora in Abuja yesterday that the number of Nigerians eager to return to Nigeria now stood at 640, adding that their documentations were still being prepared.
Dabiri-Erewa, who noted that emergency travel documents were being issued to some of the home-bound Nigerians whose papers had expired, said two aircraft had landed in South Africa to bring the first batch of Nigerians home.
She also disclosed that eight South African policemen were already being prosecuted over various xenophobic cases against Nigerians.
She said: “As I speak with you now, we have 640 Nigerians voluntarily registered to come home and they will be home in a couple of days.
“We believe that more will still be coming to register. Two planes will convey them; the envoy will be briefing the President. When we receive the first two batches, we will know how many more will come.
“With the envoy’s briefing of the President, we will be having everything in place. In the meantime, we continue to demand compensation for Nigerians that have been attacked in South Africa.
“Also, we know that eight policemen have been charged to court for their involvement in the killings of Nigerians in South Africa and four more have recently been arrested.
“We are demanding that these investigations must end so that we can know exactly what is happening. As it is now, Nigerians in South Africa are very excited about the move taken by the government.
“We continue to reiterate Mr. President’s directive that no Nigerian should be treated anyhow anywhere in the world. We assure Nigerians wherever they are that the Nigerian government will continue to come to their aid.
“As for Nigerians in South Africa, we advise them to remain calm. There are some shops in volatile areas which should not be opened while we continue to engage to get justice for all Nigerians affected.”
Dabiri-Erewa, who noted that despite the move being made to bring interested Nigerians back home, said the Federal Government would continue to demand compensation from South Africa for what has happened to Nigerians.
Asked what government has in stock for Nigerians heading home voluntarily from South Africa, Dabiri-Erewa said: “They went on their own and have volunteered to come back. They belong to states as well but on the part of the Federal Government, we have the Special Intervention Programme that we’ll encourage them to enrol in.
“This administration is doing everything possible to make Nigeria a better country to live in. We will also be issuing more advisory as to what to expect, where to go, and what to do.”
Dabiri-Erewa’s position was corroborated by the Nigerian Consul-General to South Africa, Godwin Adama, who told AFP in Johannesburg yesterday that the first flight out of South Africa would leave tomorrow with 320 Nigerians.
“We will have another one immediately after that,’’ said Adama, who also noted that at least 100,000 Nigerians live in South Africa.
AU body to take action on SERAP’s petition
In a similar development, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has expressed its readiness to take appropriate action on the request by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, to submit a case on the escalating xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other African citizens in South Africa to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
SERAP is also seeking an effective remedy and reparation for Nigerian victims.
Recall that SERAP had in a letter to Chairperson of the commission, Ms Soyata Maiga, last Friday maintained that the xenophobic attacks constituted serious violations of the human rights of Nigerians and other African citizens in South Africa.
The group also urged the commission to seek in the African Court, punitive damages and adequate compensation of $10 billion to hundreds of Nigerian victims and their families.
In an email response to SERAP yesterday, Maiga said: “Thank you for your open letter requesting our commission to take action to the court. I have just shared the letter with Ms Jamesina Essie King, the Chair of the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for follow-up and appropriate action.”
Responding to Maiga’s email, SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “Thank you very much for your email and quick response to our request. We really appreciate your commitment to human rights in Africa, and the indication and assurance that the commission will take action on this very important matter, and to address the grave human rights violations of Nigerians in South Africa. “Please let us know if you have any questions or need any further information. The fact that a preeminent African human rights body has decided to take action on the matter shows the commission’s willingness to stand up for the human rights of Nigerians and other foreign nationals in South Africa, and to become more responsive to rights holders and victims.
“This will put massive pressure on the South African authorities and political leaders to uphold the highest standards in the protection of human rights of Nigerians and end their political rhetoric and incitement to hatred, violence and discrimination.”
Attacks on Nigerians, result of failed governance — NLC
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has ascribed the killings of Nigerians and destruction of their property in South Africa to failure of governance .
The labour union said the mass migration of Nigerians abroad for greener pastures was an indictment on the government and an indication of poor management of resources.
It stated further that the inability of the government to provide enabling environment for its citizens forced Nigerians to seek greener pastures in other climes, thereby subjecting them to attacks.
The NLC appealed to Nigerians not to destroy the property and businesses of South African nationals over the xenophobic actions, saying such would further compound the unemployment problems in the country, contending that the solution to xenophobia was for the federal governments to provide reliable jobs for its citizens.
“This situation was very unfortunate. It confirms that our government has not done enough to protect us in terms of provision of employments .
“Nigeria remains one of the worst country that suffered the highest incidences of brain drain. It is sad Nigerians would have to leave their country and sojourn to an economically weaker country like South Africa and be searching for jobs.
“We saw how Nigerians are being killed, beaten and their property destroyed. I know that the crisis can be resolved through diplomatic means, but the best way to save Nigerians from this kind of embarrassment is to provide jobs for them at home.
“If they are at home, they will be safer in their fatherland,” he said.
On the protests by some Nigerians which culminated in the destruction of property and investments belonging to South Africans, NLC advised that Nigerians shouldn’t act in a manner that would portray them as lawless citizens.
“The fact that South Africans decided to be lawless doesn’t mean we should toe their line of action. We must let the entire world know that we believe in African unity.
“I want to commend the Nigerian citizens for rising to defend their fellow citizens. This confirmed that they still see themselves as an indivisible entity,” said NLC which spoke through the chairman of Ekiti State chapter, Olatunde.
Meanwhile, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, South Africa’s Minister of Defence, said yesterday that the xenophobic attacks in her country were “well orchestrated by criminal elements.
The minister said South Africa was “an angry nation” and denied that the attacks were targeted against foreigners.
In an interview with eNCA, a South African media outfit, Mapisa-Nqakula described what was happening as an attempt by criminals to take advantage of the country’s current challenges.
She said: “People are saying it is xenophobic attacks (but) it is not the first time we have had them in the past. Here, we have criminals that have read the situation and are aware that we have challenges right now.
“We have talked on the issues of high rate of unemployment, of some foreign nationals who are not conducting themselves in an appropriate manner as we would expect, those breaking the bylaws of the country, and you now have criminal elements who have decided that we are going to use all of those things to find reasons to attack people. It is unfortunate and should not happen.
“The reality is that we need to have a serious dialogue about what is happening, we must take responsibility. The reality is that we are an angry nation and we must talk about it.
“Why are we an angry nation? Why are we so determined to collapse our project of nation building and social cohesion? We need to hold hands together between government and all state entities and the civil society and find solutions to what is happening.”
She added that the crisis in the country “can never” be prevented by any government, and that the South African government must discuss with the people on the way forward.
“People are saying some heads of state decided not to attend WEF; we should be talking about why this whole thing is coinciding with the World Economic Forum.
“We should talk about this which clearly is well orchestrated by criminal elements. Nothing political whatsoever,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Plans afoot to end attacks, says SA’s police minister
In the same vein, South African Police Minister, Bheki Cele, said yesterday his government has a plan to end the xenophobic attacks which have engulfed Gauteng but noted that the plan would not be released to the public.
Bheki Cele spoke a day after two people were killed in the Johannesburg inner city during xenophobic attacks.
Cele met with business leaders in Randburg to discuss the xenophobic attacks which have resulted in a diplomatic fallout for South Africa in the rest of the continent.
“No. We are not going to stand here and tell you the plan and then say to criminals you go and counter us. They (criminals) have strategies; we are not going to give them our plan. We don’t have their plans. The plan [for the country] is there.
“I must put you at ease, even with the business [community] we only gave just the top of the plan rather than actual plan [detail],” said Cele.
About the chaotic gathering on Sunday, Cele said: “The meeting had nothing whatsoever to do with government, hence you did not see a single minister, an MEC or the premier. Don’t ask us about yesterday’s meeting. You go and ask the people that addressed the meeting… I blame nobody [for what happened after the meeting].”