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Anyaoku seeks commission as Nigeria recalls South Africa envoy

By Igho Akeregha (Abuja Bureau Chief), Terhemba Daka, Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja), Adeyemi Adepetun, Wole Oyebade, Sunday Odita (Lagos), Muyiwa Adeyemi, Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti), Murtala Adewale (Kano) and Osiberoha Osibe (Awka)
05 September 2019   |   4:30 am
A former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, yesterday urged the governments of Nigeria and South Africa to immediately establish a bilateral commission to ensure the protection of their joint national interests.

[File] Chief Emeka Anyaoku,

A former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, yesterday urged the governments of Nigeria and South Africa to immediately establish a bilateral commission to ensure the protection of their joint national interests.

The advice came as some South Africans unleashed xenophobic onslaught on foreigners, including Nigerians, in that country.

Anyaoku was a key player in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa. One of the major projects he tackled during his tenure was the establishment of democracy in South Africa. He tirelessly championed and spoke in favour of the struggle to rid South Africa of apartheid.

In 1998, in recognition of his contribution to the transition in South Africa, and the manner in which he had championed the cause of the progressive movements in Southern Africa, the president of South Africa (Nelson Mandela) accorded him the rare honour of addressing a joint sitting of the South African Parliament.

In a statement, Anyaoku said: “As the Commonwealth Secretary-General who played a seminal role in the negotiations that ended apartheid and ushered in democracy in South Africa, I am greatly saddened by the condemnable xenophobic incidents in the country. I urge the South African Government to back up its condemnation of these ugly incidents with strong action by its security agencies.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria in pursuance of its consular obligations to Nigerian citizens abroad should seek the firmest assurance from the South African Government to take all necessary steps to protect Nigerians and other Africans residing and doing business legally in South Africa.”

He added: “The two governments should immediately establish a bilateral commission that will be meeting regularly to ensure the protection of the two countries’ national interests.”

The crisis took its toll on diplomatic relations, yesterday as President Muhammadu Buhari recalled the Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa, Kabiru Bala.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama confirmed this to reporters following a closed-door meeting with the president.

“He (Bala) will need to come back. We feel he 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 are in the position to have seen things at a close range,” Onyeama said.

Onyeama said he could authoritatively confirm that no Nigerian life was lost in the recent round of xenophobic attacks. He also said the Nigerian government has decided “enough is enough” and it would “draw a red line”.

The Federal Government has “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,” he disclosed.

The Nigerian government will take all measures necessary to ensure this is the last time its citizens would be attacked in South Africa, he assured.

According to Onyeama, Buhari pleaded with Nigerians to eschew retaliatory attacks on South Africa branded businesses in Nigeria like Shoprite and MTN and instead “take the moral high ground.”

He noted further that Nigeria, on account of the xenophobic attacks, has pulled out of the World Economic Forum on Africa slated for Cape Town, South Africa, September from 4 to 6. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Malawi have also reportedly pulled out for a similar reason.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had been earlier scheduled to represent Nigeria at the forum. At a summit on free education in Kano State, Osinbajo described the attack on Nigerians as “condemnable” and “very unfortunate.”

He said: “The level of bigotry is terrible and unacceptable. Mr. President has already spoken about it. Certainly, we are ready to take the case up with the authorities in South Africa to ensure this sort of thing does not repeat itself again.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs further advised Nigerians in South Africa to avoid volatile areas until the situation is brought under control.

This was as the ministry’s spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, commended the arrest by South African authorities of 70 suspects who allegedly looted the shops of Nigerians in that country.

In separate reactions, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, and its Igbo counterpart, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, urged the Federal Government to be more decisive in protecting the interests of its nationals.

The chairman of the Anambra State chapter of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, said the Federal Government must take actions that would make South African authorities tame their citizens.

On his part, Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman for Afenifere, urged “the government to take appropriate domestic measures to make South Africa know that Nigeria is pained.”

Following the attacks on businesses with ties to South Africa, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Muhammed Adamu, yesterday ordered tight security around embassies, foreigners and their firms.

“All Zonal Assistant Inspectors General of Police and Commissioners of Police across the federation have been placed on red alert to ensure no similar violence is replicated within the country,” police spokesman, Frank Mba, disclosed.

He noted: “Three police officers were seriously injured and a police operational vehicle was set ablaze,” also “a total number of 125 suspects were arrested in connection with the incident while a good number of looted valuables have been recovered.”

Also, telecoms subscribers might experience poor services following the damage to MTN facilities in some parts of the country. Besides, the telecommunications firm has announced the closure of all its outlets and offices in the country until further notice.

Analysts said the closure could also slow down customer care response and make subscribers unable to purchase some kits at designated stores.

MTN Nigeria is an arm of South Africa’s telecommunications giant, MTN Group. In Nigeria, it is the largest operator, controlling 65.3 per cent market share and servicing 65 million customers.

In a statement to its shareholders, signed by Company Secretary Uto Ukpanah, yesterday, the firm said: “MTN Nigeria Communications PLC confirms that over the last day, our facilities, customers and some of our stakeholders have been the subject of attacks in retaliation for the ongoing xenophobic situation in South Africa.

“We have confirmed reports of attacks in Lagos, Ibadan, and Uyo. While we remain committed to providing uninterrupted services, the safety and security of our customers, staff, and partners is our primary concern. All MTN stores and service centres will, therefore, be closed as a precaution until further notice.”

Meanwhile, Air Peace airline has expressed readiness to airlift Nigerians in South Africa back home. The flag carrier, in a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “Air Peace is willing to support the Nigerian government’s effort in this matter by deploying our Boeing777 aircraft immediately to South Africa to evacuate Nigerians back home.”

Onyeama disclosed later yesterday that the Federal Government has keyed into the initiative and the evacuation will begin tomorrow. “Interested Nigerians are therefore advised to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate General of Nigeria in Johannesburg for further necessary arrangement.”