Saturday, January 2

Sad Tales Of Nigerians In Mandela's Country

Sad tales of Nigerians in Mandela's country

In this piece, ENIOLA AKINKUOTU examines the sufferings of Nigerians in South Africa and the failure of the Nigerian government to address their situation

Thirty-five-year old Lucky Ndudi is one of many Nigerians that migrated to South Africa for greener pasture. The Delta State indigene, who became a mechanic in Jeppes, a town near Johannesburg, the nation's capital, got married and has three children.

As is the normal practice, Ndudi uses the proceeds he receives from repairing and selling cars not to sustain his immediate family alone but to support the members of his extended family in Nigeria. However, on April 11, 2015, some irate South African youths stormed his workshop and destroyed all the vehicles in it.

Ndudi not only lost his personal property, 47 vehicles in his garage were also damaged. The vehicles belonged to his customers. He said, "Forty-seven cars in my mechanic garage were damaged. Some car parts and tools were stolen and the garage was burnt. I lost everything during the attack. The value of the loss is R1.1m or N19.7m and things have not been easy for me and my family."

Noting that life may never be the same again, he added, "It is eight months after the attacks, we have not received any assistance from the government. My present situation has forced me to move out of my rented apartment to a cheaper place. Friends have been calling on phone but nobody has given me any assistance."

The Chief Executive Officer of Xtyres & Motors Ltd, Ifeanyi Ifediora, shared a similar fate as his workshop was also vandalised and set ablaze by irate youths during the xenophobic attacks in April.

For a Nigerian restaurateur, Oliver Joe, the story was not different. According to Nigerian officials, Joe's restaurant was vandalised in the presence of policemen.

"They vandalised his restaurant, ate his food, beat him and his workers up in the presence of policemen and nothing happened," said Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a former chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs.

According to the President of the Nigerian Union in South Africa, Mr. Ikechukwu Anyene, many other Nigerians were physically assaulted and hospitalised but later discharged. He added that none of the victims – some of whom had been rendered homeless – was compensated.

The Nigerian Consul General in South Africa, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, said Nigerians lost more than R1.2m (N21 million) in the 2015 xenophobic attacks. She added that the losses included looted and burnt shops.

She said that in Durban, two of the three Nigerians who were wounded during the attacks had been treated and discharged from the hospital, adding that at least 50 Nigerians were stranded in the Jeppe community, which is notorious for attacks on foreigners.

This has been the plight of many Nigerians who go to South Africa, which is ironically referred to as the "Rainbow Nation", due to its diverse cultures.

The poverty argument

According to reports, the orchestrated attacks on Nigerians and many other Africans in 2015 started after Zulu King, Goodswill Zwelithini, made a provocative statement in which he blamed foreigners for taking the jobs meant for South Africans and causing poverty among its citizens, an allegation the king has since denied.

Edward Zuma, the son of South African President, Jacob Zuma, also accused foreigners of snatching jobs from South African citizens, saying, "We need to be aware that as a country, we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of foreigners taking over the country.

"The reason why I am saying this is because some of the foreigners are working for private security companies where they have been employed for cheap labour. These companies are not complying with South African labour laws."

Reports also indicate that Nigerians living in poor South African communities were usually the most affected whenever there was an attack.

However, Dabiri-Erewa maintained that xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other Africans started a long time ago and had nothing to do with unemployment. She said that South Africa indirectly encouraged xenophobia. She maintained that even Nigerians in prison were treated worse than South African prisoners.

She said, "We (Reps) were in a South African prison sometime ago and you need to see how even in prison, Nigerians were very much discriminated against. Little things that other nationals would get away with, Nigerians didn't get away with them. Some South Africans say 'foreigners have taken our jobs' but you see, those jobs that they are talking about are jobs that they have rejected. So, low-income earning South Africans need to have a better understanding of their problem."

Dabiri-Erewa also alleged that Nigerian professionals were also frustrated by the South African government.

Corrupt Nigerian consulate officials

According to the Consul General, Ajulu-Okeke, many distressed Nigerians find it difficult to come to the Nigerian consulate in South Africa because Nigerian officials, including immigration personnel, extort them.

The situation worsens the plight of victimised Nigerians who might take to crime in frustration. Ajulu-Okeke revealed that a large percentage of the one million Nigerian population living in South Africa is illiterate. She said, "I am amazed by the number of illiterate Nigerians in South Africa and only God knows how they came here."

Explaining that she had been able to curb corruption in the system, she added, "Now, Nigerians don't need any intermediary to process Nigerian passports or do any official engagement at the Nigerian consulate in South Africa. This is quite unlike what obtained in the past when Nigerians were feeding on their brothers and sisters like vultures. Nigerians were working against themselves. It was a pathetic situation I met here.

"Nigerians would stand at the gate, afraid to come into their own country's consulate. I learnt that some officers would tell ignorant applicants, 'Madam has brought diplomatic police. If you come here, they will deport you straight. Bring N4,000, let me go and beg the diplomatic police for you.'

"On a service that costs only N1,000, they would pay these 'vultures' $100. For something that costs N4,000, they would pay $400. So, you would see many people at the gate who were afraid to come into their own country."

So, these Nigerians were continually frightened to the extent that they do not know their rights until I abolished the visa and passport agencies and established a new system."

Weak foreign policy

According to experts, Nigeria's weak foreign policy is one of the major reasons why its citizens living in South Africa suffer xenophobic attacks.

A former Minister of State for the Interior, Chief Demola Seriki, argues that Nigeria has failed in the area of retaliation. He explained that Nigeria as the "Giant of Africa" must be able to retaliate whenever South Africa implements anti-Nigerian policies.

Seriki said Nigeria could take advantage of the many South African companies in Nigerian to arm-twist the South African government.

He said, "I remember a conversation I had with the then South African Minister of Interior when we had an altercation because they were so biased towards Nigeria and Nigeria was not doing the same towards them. So, I think we need to develop a strong reciprocity paper which is already there but is not being implemented.

"For example, in South Africa, if you buy a property, your money is welcome but if you sell the house, the money must remain in South Africa. You must look for a South African to buy that house; you cannot take the money out. We need to do the same thing for them.

"They have large investments in Nigeria: MTN, MultiChoice, Protea Hotel and Nigeria is the number one consumer of South African wines. So, we need to really do more in the area of reciprocity. The reciprocity of Nigeria to South Africa is very weak but the reciprocity of South Africa to Nigeria is very strong. So, that is what the Minister of Interior must do.

"Even as a minister, I recall the then Ambassador to South Africa, Col. Buba Marwa, showed me pictures of Nigerians that were maimed by South Africans. Some were even subjected to jungle justice."

Also speaking, Dabiri-Erewa, said Nigerian business concerns were deliberately frustrated by the South African authorities.

She said Nigeria must awake from its slumber and stamp its dominance.

Dabiri-Erewa said, "Nigerian business concerns in South Africa like Oando and Dangote are listed on the stock exchange but they (South Africa) don't allow patronage. Zenith Bank and Union Bank have tried to set up branches there but they (South African authorities) have refused. But South African businesses like MTN, Shoprite and MultiChoice are thriving here in Nigeria unhindered."

A Senior Lecturer at the University of Lagos, Dr. David Aworawo, said the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria was regrettable. He recalled that Nigeria spent millions of dollars to emancipate South Africa from apartheid, adding that Nigeria also did everything within its power to ensure that Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Aworawo said Nigeria must present itself as a "no-nonsense" country to the international community, adding that once this is done, South Africa and other African nations will not toy with the lives of Nigerians.

He said, "I think Nigeria needs to be more vibrant in its application of tit for tat. It is not all the time that South Africa gets away with its actions against Nigeria. A few years ago, Nigerians were deported by South Africa from the airport because they were said not to have Yellow Fever vaccination cards

"In retaliation, Nigeria deported a lot more South Africans than South Africa had deported. South Africa initially said they would not apologise but when South Africa saw the impact it was having on their economy, they apologised and they said they would be helping Nigerians to procure Yellow fever vaccination cards. Nigeria needs more of that.

South Africa reacts

However, South Africa's High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Mnguni, said xenophobia was not a South African issue but an African one, adding that it stemmed from poverty and inequality.

He said South Africa had overcome xenophobia largely and that many reports on the attack were exaggerated.

Mnguni said even if the unemployment rate in South Africa increases next year, attacks on foreigners would not recur because the citizens are now determined to end xenophobia. He said other international bodies like the African Union were seriously involved in the fight against the evil act.

When asked if Nigerians that suffered xenophobic attacks were compensated by the South African government, he said those who lost their property should seek redress in court as it was purely a 'police matter'.

He said, "Let people take this matter to court to address whatever they think was done against them. We have said the matter should be handled by the police and our Home Affairs (department) because it was people from Nigeria and many other countries that were affected. South Africans rallied together to contain this thing and it was defeated eight months ago. Nigerians were not as affected as those in other countries."

Fixing Nigeria

In 1994, South Africa became a shining example to Africa and the world when it ended a racial cold war as it drew the curtain on the world's most notorious system of racial segregation and elected Nelson Mandela as its president. Accordingly, it became the number one destination for migrants in search of greener pastures.

According to the Economist, investors fret that South Africa's 'liabilities' might soon become unsustainable. The magazine said, "Its (South Africa's) credit rating is one notch above junk and it might require a bailout from the IMF. Many of the white investors have also fled the country which means that the unemployment rate may rise. This could also lead to more xenophobic attacks next year."

Ultimately, experts argue that the best way to curb illegal migration is to ensure that there are adequate jobs, security and infrastructure in Nigeria.

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