• Say FG’s inaction fueling S’Africa attacks
With no fewer than 118 Nigerians reportedly killed in South Africa since February 2016, the Federal Government has for the umpteenth time come under severe criticisms for allowing xenophobic attacks on her citizens to fester in that country.
Leaders of some civil society organisations in the country who spoke on the issue strongly condemned the hostility of South Africans against Nigerians, but accused the Federal Government of creating the environment to encourage such atmosphere.
In the last 20 days, two cases of extra-judicial killing of Nigerians were recorded in South Africa. The first incident occurred on April 9 when one ThankGod Okoro, 30, from Ogbaku in the Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State, was allegedly murdered by a South African police officer.
Reports quoted the Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Union in South Africa, Habib Miller, as saying that Okoro was killed by a member of the South African Police Flying Squad at Hamburg, Florida West Rand in Johannesburg.
“The officer, who shot Okoro, claimed that the young man attempted to stab him during a stop-and-search operation,” Miller explained.
Also on April 23, the Nigerian Community in South Africa announced the killing of Clement Nwaogu, who was burnt alive by a mob in the latest xenophobia attack in that country.
The announcement was also made by Miller, who said the victim, a native of Njikoka in Anambra and an upholstery maker in South Africa, was attacked and killed by a mob in Rustenburg, North West Province.
“The mob descended on him like a common criminal with all sorts of dangerous weapons in the presence of South African police officers. Eyewitnesses say the victim beckoned for help from the police to intervene and help him, but they turned a blind eye. When Nwaogu could no longer persevere, he ran for safety; the mob chased and caught him, poured petrol on him and set him ablaze,” he said.
Although the Nigerian Mission in South Africa has reportedly written a letter of protest to the South African authority over the killings, the civil society leaders believe that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has not done enough to protect the dignity of Nigerians abroad, particularly in South Africa.
Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Mr Ibuchukwu Ohabuenyi Ezike, noted that xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa were being perpetrated because “the world has seen that the Nigerian government has no respect for the sanctity of the life of the people.”
He said: “If for instance you have no respect in your family, your parents do not take you as a human being including your siblings and members of the extended family, how do you think that other people will regard you? How many people have the Nigerian government killed? Just recently, two Reverend Fathers and many other persons were killed in Benue State. A week or two weeks before, Nigerians heard the same story. A month before, there were similar stories and it has been all over the country. There have been senseless killings of Nigerians all over the country and the government is watching. Is it the killings in South Africa or other countries of the world that is worrisome? So, if the right to life in Nigeria is meaningless, if there is no respect for the sanctity of life in Nigeria by the government of Nigeria, how do you expect that other countries or other governments elsewhere will respect the lives of Nigerians? So, the people of the world have seen that the Nigerian government has no respect for the sanctity of the life of the people. That is why we are being killed like animals elsewhere. If Nigerians are ill treated elsewhere in the world, there is no intervention by the Nigerian government to stop such reckless acts.”
Ezike stated that to tackle the issue, the Federal Government must first of all address the security challenges facing the country.
“The government should first of all address the issues we have raised in Nigeria. Our people are being killed and the government is watching. The National Assembly is watching; the church is watching. It must start from home. The National Assembly cannot intervene. Why is the impeachment process part of the provisions of the constitution? If the President is misbehaving and abusing the constitution, can’t he be impeached? Every day they invite the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Army Staff to come and explain the insecurity in the land but as they are leaving the National Assembly complex people are being killed. Can’t the President be called to order?
“The point is that the rights of Nigerian citizens are no longer being respected at home so why do you expect that the rights of Nigerians would be respected elsewhere? Is it not the government that would say, ‘if you treat my people in this way, I will also treat your people in the other way’? Are South Africans not in Nigeria? At a time it was the citizens that were agitating, not even the government. In 2008, a Nigeria was burnt by the police like an animal in Gabon. CLO got to know about the case and took it up. We wrote to the government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Assembly but there was no response to our letter up till today. So, those who are treating Nigerians like animals abroad do so because they know that we have no government to intervene on our behalf,” he said.
Asked the way out of the problem, Ezike maintained that the solution must come from home. He noted: “It is not about what they should do there but about what those of us who are here should do. They are helpless. From investigations, some of them did not abuse the laws of the land of those places, but their attackers know that we don’t have a government that is responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. There are two basic roles of government in every society — protection of lives and property and providing for the welfare of those people. When government fails to do these, what do you advise? People will continue to move out of the country.
“When the war was raging in Libya, I called a close relative who was residing there and advised him to come home. But do you know what he told me? He said the war situation in Libya was better than the peace situation in Nigeria. And as the war was raging, Nigerians were crossing the desert, drinking their urine to make it to a war-torn country. So, if you ask those people who are being mistreated to come home, what are they coming home to do? Those of us who are here, have we not become hopeless?
“The only thing is that if those who are abusing the laws of those countries, who are doing things that are not acceptable as their values and norms, they should respect themselves by behaving in a manner that the citizens and government of the country would be happy and accept them. That is the only advice one can give. We can’t ask them to come home because we don’t have a home.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Lead Director at the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said the government has failed to initiate diplomatic steps to checkmate further attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
“It’s no longer news that Nigeria and South Africa are not in the best of relationship particularly the relationship between the people and our people. It is up to our government to make the right moves and that is in trying to use diplomatic channels to call the South African government to order. Yes you cannot bring back to life those that have been killed but get compensation for the life that has been wasted and also demand for a guarantee of non-repetition from the South African authority and then take it up at the highest level. But unfortunately, we don’t have a government in place. We have a government but we don’t have a government in place.
“You are asking me to respond to a Nigerian being killed in South Africa. How many Nigerians have been killed in Benue State since last Monday? What was the response of your government? Why would you have close to 50 Nigerians killed in Benue in the last few days and we would be talking about a Nigerian who was murdered in South Africa? What has been the response of the government of Nigeria? What did the president say? What did he do? Did he not go to Bauchi State on state visit, campaigning and enjoying himself?
“Benue is burning, people are dying but he is not there. The vice president is not there; the Inspector General of Police (IGP) is not there likewise the Chief of Army Staff, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff. Who is there to console the people? I find it difficult to respond to this kind of question because we have a government but we don’t have a government in place,” Onyekpere said.
With renewed xenophobic attacks in South Africa, about 800,000 Nigerians, which is the unofficial estimate of the number of Nigerian citizens residing there, the majority of whom are young people, are at risk.