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Angst over unending xenophobic attacks on Nigerians

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Xenophobia

Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Lacks Focus – Akinterinwa

In the last couple of years, many Nigerians have been extra-judicially killed in South Africa, either by the South African police, or locals in circumstances that further lend credence to recurring dislike-of-foreigners in the country by South Africans.

Available data reveal that at least, 127 Nigerians have been killed between 2016 and this year by belligerent South Africans, with 13 of them reportedly meeting their untimely death in the hands of cops in the country. While all these happened, promises by South African authorities to bring those found culpable to book became routine, with no commensurate response to the mindless killings, even when they are back-to-back.

For instance, after three of the 127 Nigerians were killed between April 6 and 9, 2019, at different locations in the country, the following month, another Nigerian was allegedly killed by the South African police, but still no dice.

During President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Nigeria last year, he blamed the persistent killing of Nigerians in his country on “criminals,” and vowed to bring them to justice.

“There has been quite a number of incidents in our country where foreign nationals, some of whom are Nigerians have lost their lives and are being attacked. I will like to say here and now that, that has been as a result of criminal activities among our own people, which we are focusing on from a criminal element point of view,” he said.

“I want to state here and now that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians and in the main. Nigerians in South Africa and a number of places of our country live side-by-side. So, I want to dispel this notion that when a Nigerian loses his or her life in South Africa, it is as a result of an intentional action by South Africans against Nigerians. That is simply not true. You will know that South Africa has a number of challenges, one of which is criminality, which is all-pervasive.”

A demonstrator holds a banner in Johannesburg during a march gathering. Johannesburg. PHOTO ; AFP/ A wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa .


However, one of the deaths that still defy logic till this day is that of Elizabeth Ndubisi-Chukwu, who until her death was the deputy director-general of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN).

Ndubisi-Chukwu bade her colleague’s goodnight, and went to bed after the closing dinner of the conference of the African Insurance Organisation (AIO) in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday, June 12, only to be found dead in her room at Emperor Palace Hotel.

Her death was discovered after the deceased insurance guru, who was scheduled to return to Nigeria on Thursday, June 13, neither showed up for breakfast nor was she seen at the Oliver R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg prior to departure.

Her colleagues, who dashed back to the hotel after her mobile phone rang out severally without response, were shattered to the morrow after they found her dead in her room after the door was forced open.

While Ndubuisi-Chukwu was initially believed to have died in her sleep overnight, an autopsy report from South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs countered, as the death certificate issued said the 53-year-old mother died of “unnatural causes consistent with strangulation.”

As the South African police service took up the case, the hotel was alleged to have prevented the police from having access to its CCTV cameras and other evidence that may help investigations, thereby making suspicion of foul play rife.

With matters yet to be concluded on the suspicious death of the CIIN chief, the renewed wave of xenophobic attacks occasioned by the destruction of businesses owned by Nigerians and indeed Africans in South Africa, has elicited immense outrage from within and without the continent.

And for the first time since the xenophobic attacks started, African countries, and prominent Africans across all walks of life have risen in unison to condemn the black-on-black violence.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Residents of Johannesburg’s Alexandra township stand behind a police cordon as they gather at the scene where a body of a burned person was found inside a looted shop on September 04, 2019 after South Africa’s financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. – South African police said they found two charred bodies in a shop in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra, bringing the death toll from xenophobic attacks to seven. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)


While some highly placed Nigerians ranging from business moguls to religious leaders, as well as celebrities also berated South Africans for the attacks, others lashed the Federal Government for allegedly being pussy-footed and failing to act swiftly in the face of the unprovoked attacks on its citizens.

That notwithstanding, the Federal Government in reaction to the attacks said it would recall the country’s High Commissioner to South Africa, and also pulled out of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Summit, which ended on Friday, at the Sandton Convention Centre, Cape Town.

Peeved by the sordid happenings, billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola tweeted: “My heart cries for my Nigerian brothers and sisters who have been senselessly killed in South Africa. I strongly condemn this hateful discrimination and xenophobia. I pray for us to come together as a continent to fight this injustice.”

Africa’s richest man, Alike Dangote tweeted: “Our aspirations for a shared and sustainable prosperity can only be achieved when we live in peace and unity, shunning hate and any form of a violent attack on African brotherhood.” He added: “It is time for Africans to put Africa at the center of its own development, by harnessing our entrepreneurial and intellectual skills. Let us collectively shun hate and reprisal attacks.”

The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Enoch Adeboye, also in a tweet advised that violence should be discouraged for the sake of posterity.

“Please shun violence, its dividends last a lifetime. Let us all embrace peace and remember that regardless of our race, colour or language, we are all of God. #saynotoxenophobia,” Adeboye said.

On Friday, renown environmental activist and director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, announced the cancellation of a speaking engagement in South Africa.

Bassey, who was due to speak at a conference tagged, “Financing the Future,” which is scheduled to hold on September 10 and 11, 2019, in Cape Town, explained that it was due to the ongoing xenophobic attacks in the country.

“The hate and the resultant violence against ‘others’ remind us of the dark apartheid days and appears to underscore the deep disruptions that swirl under the surface of a deeply unequal society,” the activist wrote in a statement.

Key players in the entertainment world also expressed disgust at the happenings with some of them cancelling already confirmed performances. Leading the pack was ace singer, Tiwa Savage, who on Wednesday said that she would no longer be performing at a festival scheduled to hold in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this month.

On her verified Twitter handle, Savage wrote: “I refuse to watch the barbaric butchering of my people in SA. This is sick. For this reason, I will not be performing at the upcoming DSTV Delicious Festival in Johannesburg on the 21st of September. My prayers are with all the victims and families affected by this.”

Compatriot, Damini Ogulu better known as Burna Boy vowed never to step into South Africa again until authorities do the needful following attacks against foreign Africans this week.

The Afrofusion star, who also cited his own xenophobic experiences within the country as the reason he has yet to return there since 2017, took to his verified Twitter to condemn the mindless killings.

“I have not set foot in SA since 2017. And I will not go to South Africa again for any reason until the South African government wakes … up and really perform a miracle because I don’t know how they can even possibly fix this,” he wrote.

He added: “This goes against everything I stand for, but at what point do we take action? I understand that years of oppression has confused South Africans to the point where they see the people who came to their defence during their oppression as their enemies and then worship their oppressors.”

A lecturer in the Department of Political Science University of Lagos (UNILAG) with expertise in international relations and comparative politics, Dr Tola Odubajo, described the attacks on Nigerians as an unfortunate incident, which must no longer be condoned.

“It is barbaric and cruel, and therefore unacceptable. The planned, pre-meditated and coordinated attacks on a group is an unlawful act under international law, as such, all those concerned in the act are liable for prosecution. The South African authority has the responsibility to maintain law and order within its jurisdiction,” Odubajo said.
 
Maintaining that the South African government’s “body language has always been suspect since the first despicable act of xenophobia in South Africa, the university teacher added that, “the solution to the quagmire lies mainly with the South African authorities. Even if not culpable, the authorities are yet to wield the big stick in confining the incident to the dustbin of history. The perpetrators are treated with kid’s gloves and one merely finds any prosecution after days of gory bloodbath arising from the attacks.

“This complicity provides the enabler for subsequent attacks. Therefore, the South African government must be compelled to give the issue the seriousness and fairness it deserves. The government must be compelled to revisit past cases and ensure the prevention of any likelihood of future occurrences.”
 
On the way forward, Odubajo said: “Concerned African governments, and most particularly, the Nigerian government must take a radical approach to demonstrate leadership at this time. There must be practical means, beyond the usual rhetoric to compel the South African government to act decisively against future occurrence. The issue must be tabled at the level of the African Union (AU) in order to seek condemnation of the act and the commitment of the South African government to act decisively in ensuring the protection of the lives and properties of immigrants.”
 
Also commenting on the issue, political sociologist and former National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Lai Olurode, said Xenophobia-derived attacks often increase, first, under conditions of downturn in global and national economies, and second, when there is poor understanding of how globabalisation works in the context of poor illiteracy.

“Third, political leaders often openly or clandestinely promote xenophobic response so that they aren’t seen as responsible for inept decisions that are inflicting harsh socio-economic conditions.”

Olurode, who describe xenophobia as blatant and open hatred for strange people or even strange ideas or symbols, noted that “human beings are generally comfortable and at home with the familiar than with the unfamiliar, and change is often abhorred. This is a human phenomenon. New values or ideas tend to be resisted than old and familiar ones, and most people are ethnocentric and avoid conversations across cultures.”   

While advising “Nigerians abroad to engage in decent businesses, respect the laws of their host countries and not to be too visible, or too loud in foreign countries, he cautioned against “reprisal attacks as the poorest of the poor will keep on worsening their living conditions.”

He expressed confidence that the Federal Government was handling the face-off with maturity, and a situation of tit-for-tat has been avoided, which is capable of aggravating the situation. 

President, Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Prof. Bola A. Akinterinwa is of the view that the attacks may be designed to embarrass Nigeria’s foreign policy architecture, and undermine the country’s stature in international relations.

According to him, “The truth is simply that Nigeria’s foreign policy has no focus, not to talk about having any policy of protection of the Nigerian abroad. Nigeria’s foreign policy is more reactive than programmatic. Consequently, even though the government has been raising its concerns about xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, the best the government of Nigeria has been able to do is to even begin to justify the position of South Africa to the detriment of Nigeria’s own interest.

“A vivid indication is the statement of Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, who said that Nigerians were not killed in the latest attack, probably on the basis of what he was told by the government of South Africa and what he is also told by Nigeria’s High Commission in that country.

“In this regard, what really can be a good basis for the foreign minister’s belief in whatever the government of South Africa says? Who says that Nigerians did not die during the attacks? Foreign Minister Onyeama said it, but the truth is that Nigeria’s High Commission in South Africa does not have the necessary wherewithal to monitor any crisis or crises in South Africa. It can only rely on what it is told, either by Nigerians or by the South African authorities,” he said.

Akinterinwa, who is also Lagos State Coordinator, National Anti-Corruption Volunteers Corps, xenophobic sentiments abound in various nooks and crannies of the world, added that the wickedness intrinsic in the manifestations of xenophobic attacks in South Africa largely surpasses the inhumanity shown by the apartheid regimes even as the “attacks appear to be designed to embarrass Nigeria’s foreign policy architecture, and particularly to undermine the country’s stature in international relations. And perhaps more disturbingly, xenophobia in South Africa is emerging gradually as a new face of the old apartheid policy, for which the whole world, in general, and the rest of Africa, are little prepared.

“Consequently, either all foreigners in South Africa are compelled to return to their countries and South Africans in other countries of Africa are similarly deported back home to allow for xenophobia to be laid to rest permanently, and continental integration to thrive, or the African Union should simply forget its integration agenda and let, in this case, South Africa become an island unto itself. Xenophobia is highly criminal and should not be condoned by anyone,” he added.

Commenting on reprisals, which were witnessed in a few parts of the country, the expert said by talking about reprisals in the dispute, “we are also indirectly asking the extent of the usefulness of forceful retaliation in the matter. In other words, has it been more positive or more negative? Does it have the potential to resolve the crisis? Will xenophobia be thrown into the garbage of history as a result? What can be rightly said, at this juncture, is that reprisals have sent a message to the xenophobic attackers in South Africa that they do not have any monopoly of brutality and recklessness of attitude. The attackers of South African business interests acted in line of legitimate self-defence and that has, at least, compelled both governments to begin to see more clearly in the mania of Johnny Nash, that great musicologist.

“It is useful to note here that many people believed that two wrongs do not make a right. The logic here is that, either by mathematical addition or multiplication, the element of wrongness is constant. Agreed, it is not tenable in terms of diplomatic negotiations. The mere fact that two parties are wrong necessarily paves the way for the rightness of purpose in diplomacy. When two parties are in a conflicting situation, they are both right or both wrong. The conflict exists on the basis of order and counter-order amounting to disorder. Both parties believe they are right. The truth of the matter is that when both parties are unable to resolve the matter, the processes of mediation or reconciliation, adjudication, etc are resorted to.

“And more often than not, a compromise is reached in such a way that there is no loser and there is no winner, especially in the Gowonian mania, following the end of Nigeria’s war of national unity in the period from 1967 to 1970. Nigeria and Biafra were both wrong to have gone to war in the sense of their inability to find peaceful means to their dispute,” Akinterinwa submitted.


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