Xenophobia : We are not severing ties with South Africa – FG
*** Govt to Protect over 800,000 Nigerians in South Africa, Pushes for compensation
By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- DESPITE the continued cases of Xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African nationalities in South Africa, the Federal Government, today said that its diplomatic ties with South Africa will not be severed.
According to the Federal Government, rather than the take such an action, a wide range of diplomatic moves were being made by the Nigerian Government to get South African Government and her citizens realise the need to prevent such attacks against Nigerians and other Africans.
Briefing Journalists yesterday in Abuja at the Senate wing of the National Assembly after an emergency closed-door meeting with the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non Governmental Organizations, NGOs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama disclosed that the Federal Government would however strongly push for compensation from South African Government for Nigerians affected in the latest xenophobic attacks in the country.
He, however, said that the push for compensation would be despite the declaration by the South African Government that there would be no compensation for affected people in the last Monday attack.
He, however, appealed to Nigerians not to retaliate the attacks in any way for the sake of interests of both countries, particularly the 800,000 Nigerians resident in South Africa.
According to Onyeama, the government was yet to reach the decision to cut off relations with South Africa but trying to explore different diplomatic roadmaps to find lasting solution to the crisis, adding that part of that roadmap was the decision by government to send a special envoy to discuss with authorities in South Africa at the highest level.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said that while Nigeria was thinking of definite steps to take, it was also necessary to protect the interest of almost Eight Hundred Thousand Nigerian citizens living in South Africa.
Onyeama further disclosed that while no Nigerian was killed in the Xenophobic attacks; the Federal Government will do everything within its powers to ensure adequate compensation is paid for the property destroyed.
Onyeama said, “We met with the senate committee and reviewed the situation in South Africa, and examined all the possible options and the causes and agreed on a road map of moving forward and part of that road map from the executive side we have sent a special envoy dispatched by Mr President who will be holding discussions with the South African Government at a very high level and they should be back tomorrow and that would give the government a basis on which further action should be taken . In the meantime, the government is very much on top of the situation and following the situation.
“We know for a fact that no Nigerian life has been lost so we are extremely concerned now that there would be adequate compensation for the property that has been lost or damaged.
“We know that a private Nigerian Airline is making available a plane at the disposal of those Nigerians who are ready to take the opportunity to leave South Africa , but that is totally voluntary but we are particularly determined that this crisis should not re-occur it’s been happening for far too long and it’s almost endemic.
“So with distinguished Senators, we have been looking at some of the options we have to ensure that this would be the last time that we shall ever be meeting to talk about all these attacks in South Africa and take necessary measures. We have all the facts available and we shall take all the necessary measures.
“We are not close to the stage of cutting diplomatic ties there are various options. We are not by any means at a stage of breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa but as I said we shall wait for the envoy to come back there are different actions that can be taken at the diplomatic level.
“Without necessarily breaking diplomatic ties but we want our decision and that of Mr President to be an informed decision after assessing all the facts and of course the way the South African Government itself and what it said will be very important in helping make a decision.
“The envoy is not going there to fact check because we have people on the ground we have a high commission there and we also have a consular general with the Nigerian union in South Africa and the facts are coming from them on the ground.
“We have a Nigerian union in South Africa and them in touch with pretty much the Nigerians who are there in South Africa and all the facts available indicate that no Nigerian life was lost
“The Nigerian Government will be demanding that the victims be compensated. Now, this is a very important issue because the South African Government has been reported to say that nothing provides for them legally to provide compensation for these people. That they would have to resort to the insurance companies or that kind of private arrangement but as a Government is going to challenge that. Because we believe that in the past no compensation was paid to these people so for us we feel we have to insist upon.
“We understand that there are some people who are interested in returning. It would not be right to make our decision known to the public or any other appropriate action that we intend to take those are options only and those are options that will be contingent or dependent on other things happening. So we can’t categorically say that we would take these things in hypothetical cases. We don’t want to be dealing with hypothetical cases, we want to be dealing with facts as they develop.”
Speaking, Chairman Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs, Senator Surajudeen Bashiru Ajibola ( APC Osun Central) who noted that diplomatic options were the best approach to the problem and not retaliation or diplomatic face-off, advised Nigerians to remain calm and not take the laws into their own hands.
Senator Ajibola said, “As a committee on diaspora, civil societies and Non-governmental Organisations we actually called this meeting with the Honourable minister for foreign affairs and his team to brief the committee on behalf of the Nigerian Senate as to the incidence in South Africa and what has been transpiring and the steps that have been taken.
“The Senate under the leadership of our President Senator Ahmed Lawan, the Honourable minister came here today we have been briefed as regards the background of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa and the action that was taken in the past and the possible solutions to those attacks.
“We have also given an assessment of what had transpired in the recent attack and one of the highlights was an assessment of the extent of damage to life and property but we are assured that based credible information from the Nigerian mission in South Africa that no Nigerian life was lost , although there were damages to property and there’s already an on-going effort to assess the extent of damage to those properties and with a view to making a clear demand to the South African Government to give compensation to those whose properties have been damaged and the basis of that is as a matter of duty under international law as a responsibility to protect everybody under its domain whether they are foreigners or citizens and that is the demand that we have been assured that the Nigerian Government is going to make in this regard .
“We have been briefed on the strategy to be employed by the Nigerian Government with a view of finding a permanent solution through the ministry of foreign affairs to the re-occurring xenophobic attacks. The options that are being considered are such that would be weighty enough to ensure that the Government of South Africa lives up to its responsibility as regards to the rule of law.
“But fundamental at resolving this matter is to appeal to Nigerians not to take law into their hands as emphasised earlier by the committee on diaspora to the Senate and we need to exercise restraint and Nigeria is a leader in Africa and as a country we must also show that we are responsible and that two wrongs cannot make a right . So we appeal to Nigerians to remain calm and so far from the briefing that we have received, we strongly believe that the Nigerian Government at the executive level are doing very much that the suffering of our people in South Africa is alleviated and bring a lasting solution to the problem.
“In terms of evacuation we also join the private airline, the Federal Government are assessing the situation and will also be ready to support whatever effort, while ensuring that whatever steps we take we must weigh the advantages and disadvantages and how it will promote the interest of Nigeria.
“From the reliable information, we have almost 800,000 Nigerians living in South Africa. So if you want to take a decision in that regard some of them are in businesses, some are professionals, some of them have been tied to the South African so any decision that we are taking must promote the interest of all Nigerians in that country. We are optimistic that when the Federal Government’s envoy returns and the President meet with other members of the executive and clear decision has been taken in ensuring that we have a final solution to the problem of xenophobic attacks in South African.”