The killing of 42-year-old Chibuzo Nwankwo, a Nigerian immigrant from Enugu State, in South Africa, brings the toll of xenophobic killings in that country to 121 in 18 months.
This number is frightening and calls for serious concern from all Nigerians.
Nigerian immigrants in the land of the Zulus and Xhosas now live daily in fear of attacks from their African brother hosts who feel marginalised economically and socially in their own land by their hard working and rugged visitors.
Foremost human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), had raised an alarm, accusing the Federal Government of not taking steps to end the extra-judicial killings of Nigerians in South Africa.
The lawyer, in a statement, said despite the killings, governments of Nigeria and South Africa have deliberately refused to accept the jurisdictional competence of the African court on human and people’s rights by making a declaration in line with Article 34(6) of the protocol for the establishment of the court.
“Thus, by refusing to make the declaration,” Falana said, “both countries have made it impossible for their nationals, whose human rights have been violated by state actors, to seek legal redress in court.”
Inasmuch as this declaration is much desired for the protection of the rights of nationals of the two countries, it is noteworthy that Nigeria and South Africa have always had a history of close relationship and brotherly bonding.
The two countries, apart from being former British colonies and members of the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as African Union, have a relationship that dates back over 60 years.
During the apartheid era, Nigeria was one of the countries on the frontline against the apartheid regime. The country committed billions of naira to the struggle to oust the evil regime where minority whites ruled the majority blacks, the owners of the land. Nigeria also supported anti-apartheid movements, which included the African National Congress (ANC) – the current ruling party in South Africa.
Nigeria also served as safe haven for wanted freedom fighters from Namibia and South Africa. They were housed and provided with travelling passports by Nigeria. History records that Nigeria issued over 300 travelling passports to this category of people for contact to the outside world and protection.
Also, many South African children were brought to Nigeria and enrolled in government’s Unity Schools in the 70s and 80s free of charge. Many of their youths were trained by the Federal Government in Nigerian universities because of the liberation struggle going on in South Africa, which did not make schooling conducive in that country. They were referred to in those schools as the Soweto Boys. It was part of Nigeria’s contribution to the development of the new South Africa. Most of those students trained here then are now professors, doctors, lawyers – professionals in their field of study, contributing to the development of their country.
One now wonders how the two African brother-states are fast turning arch enemies, especially why South Africans will turn against their brothers from West Africa.
After the apartheid era, South Africa requested for professionals to help develop the country’s economy. Unskilled South Africans feel marginalised economically and socially by their guests.
As professionals flooded South Africa from all over, so also was the influx of organised crime, especially illegal drug traffickers. This must have eroded the goodwill South Africans have for Nigerians.
Competition at multilateral organisations between the two countries also worsened the situation, especially when Nigeria and South Africa clashed over the replacement of Jean Ping, who Nigeria backed against South Africa’s then Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Diaminizuma, as the Africa Union Commission’s chairperson. South Africa’s candidate won.
The crisis in Cote d’Ivoire also pitched the two countries against each other. South Africa backed the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, who Nigeria wanted out. South Africa got a bloodied nose from that incident and her citizens never forgave Nigeria, transferring the animosity to Nigerians living in South Africa, or so it seems.
Perhaps that is why the country’s government and security agencies looks the other way while Nigerians are being killed unabated, leading to over 121 compatriots killed in just 18 months.
The South African government should be held liable to bear full responsibility for these mindless killings. The Federal Government of Nigeria should, as a matter of urgency, pressurise the South African government to bring culprits of xenophobic killings, who are well known to police authorities in South Africa, to book.
A firm commitment should be extracted by the Buhari administration from South Africa for the protection of lives and property of Nigerians living in that country.
Like Falana advised, this administration should go beyond the regular condemnation of the killings and take a bold step of assisting and compensating victims or families of xenophobic attacks.
Nigeria has been an accommodating country for South Africans and that is why over 120 companies from that country, which include MTN, Eskom, SAB, Multichoice and Stanbic Bank, among others, have been able to flourish here.
South Africans should be sensitised on living peacefully with visitors. The immediate past history of the country should be taught in schools so that they would know that the two countries are brother nations. Brothers are not supposed to kill each other