The latest atrocities against Nigerians in South Africa demand a strong response from our laid-back government. According to reports, the extrajudicial killing of Tochukwu Nnadi by South African policemen on December 29 brought to 20 the number of Nigerians resident in that country summarily dispatched to early graves without the benefit of a trial. Our government should wake up from its treacherous slumber and demand justice for Nigerians wherever they may be.
Tochukwu’s case is typical of the gory fate that confronts Nigerians among fellow Africans in the former Apartheid enclave. He was confronted by the police on allegations of drug peddling. By its own account, the Nigeria Union in Pretoria, quoting eyewitnesses, said the victim neither resisted arrest nor struggled with his captors. Yet, much like the way white American policemen brutalise African Americans, he was pummelled to the ground and choked to death. The Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the South African cops gripped Tochukwu’s neck despite his hands being already handcuffed at the back and squeezed it tightly until he died. She also confirmed that this was the 20th Nigerian killed in 2016 alone.
Let us be clear: we deplore criminal activity, but we insist that due process should be followed at all times in the dispensation of justice. This is the irreducible minimum demanded under international law. We condemn the resort to lynching of Nigerians by South Africans and their government’s inaction after unverified accusations or simply from sheer hatred.
Xenophobia towards other Africans, and especially Nigerians, by South Africans, had earlier in the year claimed the lives of Ikejiaku Chinedu, Monday Okorie, Gideon Ogalaonye, Michael Nnamdi, Adeniyi Olumoko and Christian Onwukaike. Attacks on their businesses in that country in recent xenophobic mayhem cost Nigerians the equivalent of N90 million, according to Adetola Olubajo, secretary of the Nigeria Union.
Nigeria has been having a raw deal from our South African brothers. Though its xenophobia also targets other African migrants attracted to its $323 billion economy, Nigerians bear the brunt. In a wave of xenophobic attacks last year, Nigerians, their businesses and homes were attacked. That particular wave, described as ethnic cleansing, was provoked by anti-immigrant rhetoric by the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, and President Jacob Zuma who separately suggested that immigrants were taking up and denying indigenes jobs.
Confronted with unemployment rate of almost 27 per cent, an economy that contracted by 1.8 per cent in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, high crime rate, corruption and popular anger by restive youths, South Africa’s political elite have been content with diverting anger at immigrants who number over 2.2 million officially and as high as 3.2 million unofficially due to a high influx of illegals put at over one million. Attacks have been frequent since 2008 against foreigners.
A recent report in Quartz, an American publication, suggests that these attacks have been more “Afrophobic” than xenophobic since Africans and dark-skinned Asians have been the targets. This is attributed to South African social attitudes that view Caucasians as tourists or expatriates who come with foreign currency, while Africans and Afro-Asians are viewed as foreigners who come to take over small business sectors and low paid jobs.
In the face of these attacks, the Nigerian government has been weak, vacillating and uncaring about the fate of its own citizens. It needs to take a tough stance with South Africa whose leaders and people have not only failed to fully acknowledge Nigeria’s role in the anti-Apartheid struggle, but have also treated us with disdain both at home and in Nigeria where South African businesses have been accused of maltreating their local employees. We do not need to wait to simply retaliate like we did in 2012 when South Africa turned back an aeroplane with 125 passengers from Johannesburg airport on the flimsy allegation that their yellow fever inoculation cards were fake. A reprisal against a South African jetliner and reminder of the country’s business interests in Nigeria calmed the haughty South Africans, prompting Zuma to come calling in Abuja.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry should take up the case of every Nigerian wrongfully killed or harassed in South Africa in the local courts. Our High Commission should have a robust policy of keeping track of every Nigerian legally resident or visiting South Africa. There is the need to demand justice for the slain Nigerians by not only arresting and prosecuting their killers, but by paying adequate compensation to families of the victims. This is an irreducible minimum to ensure that justice is served.
We should let South Africans know that we need each other and Nigeria cannot be a junior partner in our bilateral relations. There are over 100 South African companies doing thriving business in Nigeria, some, like MTN, Shoprite,MultiChoice, Stanbic and South African Breweries, are sectoral leaders. Nigerians run many small business and service outlets in South Africa. In 2012, 73,282 Nigerian tourists visited South Africa, contributing 720 million rand to its economy while Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote is investing $3.7 billion in cement production in the country.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, has been unimpressive. He needs not wait for the President to instruct him before forcefully taking up the case of any Nigerian ill-treated or murdered in any country. Institutions should be made to work. He should act decisively today. Our foreign missions should exist to promote the country and its nationals’ interest, not to fatten officials. This is the standard practice in international relations. Our South African mission needs a shake-up as so many Nigerians have suffered on its watch.
We strongly remind our compatriots abroad to respect the laws of their hosts, avoid crime and deviant behaviour and stop staying illegally in other countries. But even when they run afoul of the law, extrajudicial killing or jungle justice is not the way to go.
Meanwhile, our government must fulfil its responsibility to Nigerians by engaging in furious diplomatic activity to get justice for Tochukwu and every other Nigerian victim of South Africa’s xenophobia and random murder.