Nigeria draws red line with South Africa over killings

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The unabated xenophobic attacks have sparked a diplomatic row between Africa’s giant economies – Nigeria and South Africa.

The Federal Government is considering a full range of measures in retaliation for the killing of Nigerians including a withdrawal of its high commissioner.

Nigerians have been worse-hit by the killings and attacks on foreigners’ businesses in South Africa.

About two hundred Nigerians have been killed in recent years and millions of dollars lost to attacks on businesses.

Nigeria and some African countries boycotted the World Economic Forum (WEF) which began in Cape Town on Wednesday.

A report by the envoy despatched to Pretoria to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa will guide the Federal Government’s further action.

President Muhammadu Buhari met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Minister of Foreign Affairs Geofrey Onyema on Wednesday on the continuous attacks on Nigerians in South Africa and the reaction of Nigerians who angrily attacked businesses linked to South Africa across the country.

The minister, who spoke to the media after meeting with the President and vice president, said a red line had been drawn with South Africa, where almost 200 Nigerians.

According to him, recalling the Nigerian High Commisioner “is one of the options we are considering.”

He explained that the envoy sent to Pretoria “will need to come back. But, we feel he (the high commissioner) should come back after the envoy has gone there, so that Mr. President will also have the benefits of the full and comprehensive brief from all the individuals who have the position to have seen things at a close range.” He however did not name the envoy.

Onyema said Prof. Osinbajo boycotted the WEF because of the tension unleashed by the xenophobic attacks.

The minister said the Nigerian government would insist on full compensation for Nigerian victims of the xenophobic attacks.

He said: “We have made it clear that what has happened in South Africa is totally unacceptable. We will not accept it and as I said earlier, enough is enough and we are not going to come back to this. We are going to address it once and for all.

“We are going to draw a red line here. Whatever measures that needs to be taken to ensure the safety of Nigerians in South Africa, we will take.

“We have been in touch with the South African government at the very highest level with the President of South Africa as to what we want to achieve. The special envoy has very clear directives about the commitment and the guarantees that we expect from the South African government.

“Of course, a lot of things have been circulating in social media which have not helped matters. Some of them have really distorted the situation that has impacted in our response.

“So, number one is that the information we have from the High Commission, from the Consul-General in South Africa is that no Nigerian life has been lost during this (current) crisis.

“I think that is very important because on social media, there is a lot of stories going around of Nigerians being killed, jumping off buildings and being burnt. This is not the case. What we know is that premises, shops of Nigerians have been looted and property destroyed.”

He also pointed out that the President was taken aback by the retaliatory act of vandalism that has taken place in Nigeria.

The government, he said, believed that Nigerians have to take the moral high ground on the matter.

Onyeama said: “We are victims here and have made that position clear to the international community and to the South African government. We here in Nigeria must not fall into the temptation of also resorting to the acts that we are condemning in others.”

Noting that the President had pleaded with Nigerians, he said that President Buhari is likely to make a statement on this.

He urged Nigerians to desist from vandalism, aggression and destruction of property.

“Now, these businesses- Shoprite, MTN and others, yes, they are South African. But, these are subsidiaries in Nigeria owned by Nigerians. So, as attacks are made against shoprite and other such institutions, it is actually the property owned by Nigerians within Nigeria and the people working there are Nigerians.

“So, the people that will suffer from those acts of vandalism and aggression are not South Africans or anyone else but Nigerians. But morally, it is wrong not even because of who will suffer and not suffer.

“Mr. President is appealing to Nigerians, the government is acting, we cannot state everything in public domain with regards to what we are doing obviously.

“But, we want to assure all Nigerians that this government is determined that the red line has been drawn and we will not give in on this occasion and that the South African government has to assumed its responsibilities and do the right thing, protect Nigerians and other Africans. I might say in South Africa and we have to hold them to count.”

On compensation, the minister said: “Full compensation has to be paid because as we have discovered from previous experience, a lot of these Nigerians lose their property and it is a long drawn out process and every often are not compensated for it.

“But, on this occasion, the Nigerian government is going to fight for full compensation and hold the government of South Africa to count. And we are going to consider other options to ensure that the message gets across to the government of South Africa.

“It is not a question of weakness or anything of the sort but we have to move decisively and that is precisely what the government is going to do.

He said the President will address the nation, following the return of the special envoy.

He added: “Hopefully, the envoy will be back by the end of this week. Ideally, Mr. President will decide how he will communicate to the nation whether through live address or a written statement.”

“But, we feel that it will be better for him to do once he has all the elements. We feel it will be better, let the special envoy come back and then we will have everything that we need then he will address the nation on that.

“The identity of the special envoy will be revealed in due course. There are certain reasons we don’t want to do so immediately.”

Onyeama said the Federal Government will not compromise the protection and wellbeing of Nigerians in any part of the globe.

He added: “Of course, the security agencies are fully aware of the threats that are now existing to various businesses in Nigeria at the moment and they are fully mobilized to address that.”

The minister, who could not ascertain the bone of contention between South Africans and Nigerians said: “Our basic premise is this, there is no justification whatsoever for individuals or coming as a group to take the laws into their own hands and to target Nigerians.

He added: “As we act with the South Africans going forward, for us it’s not a balancing art, putting things on the scale. For us, it is simply that the government of South Africa over many years now has allowed hoards of individuals to come together and persistently target Nigerian citizens there, or in some cases, killing them, looting and destroying their properties and this is totally unacceptable.

“At times it is not only Nigerians but we are responsible for Nigerians.

It is important to note that there is now an African consensus building around this, it is totally abhorrent and unacceptable that there should be xenophobia against Africans on African soil, not to talk about what a Nigeria has done for South Africa, even everybody knows that during the years of apartheid.

“But, we understand that the president of Rwanda will not attend the World Economic Forum, the president of Democratic Republic of Congo, the president of Malawi, the Zambian football team that were supposed to play in South Africa also stepped down that match and it is not going ahead with it.

“And so is the African Union, the President of the African Union has also come out with a statement condemning what is happening in South Africa. The large number of victims are Nigerians and we will not tolerate it.

The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that Air Peace Airline will begin the evacuation of stranded Nigerians in South Africa as from tomorrow.

The decision followed the recent attacks on them in the former apartheid enclave.

According to the ministry’s spokesperson, Ferdinand Nwonye, the airline proprietor, Allen Onyema, had volunteered an aircraft as from tomorrow to evacuate Nigerians who wish to return home free of charge.

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