PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Monday admonished South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to take “visible steps” to halt the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners resident in that country.
The President said the persistent attacks and violence were capable of denting the image of South Africa as a leading African country.
President Buhari ordered the immediate voluntary evacuation of Nigerians willing to return from South Africa due to increasing xenophobic attacks.
The President spoke after receiving the report of his Special Envoy to South Africa and Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Amb. Ahmed Rufai Abubakar. The envoy was in the country for on-the-spot assessment of the attacks and consultations with the South African president and other government officials.
Presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said the special envoy, who was in Pretoria from September 5 to 7, “conveyed the deep concern of President Buhari and Nigerians about intermittent violence against Nigerians, their property and business interests in South Africa.”
The president, according to the statement, also stressed the need for the South African Government to take visible measures to stop violence against citizens of brotherly African nations.
“President Buhari is worried that the recurring issue of xenophobia could negatively affect the image and standing of South Africa as one of the leading countries on the continent, if nothing is done to stop it.
“The Special Envoy conveyed the assurance of President Buhari that the Nigerian Government is ready and willing to collaborate with the South African Government to find a lasting solution to the involvement of few Nigerians in criminal activities, and to protect the lives and property of the larger groups of other law abiding Nigerians and indeed Africans in general, against all forms of attacks, including xenophobia.
“President Buhari further assured that the Nigerian Government will guarantee the safety of lives, property and business interests of South Africans in Nigeria.
“On his part, President Ramaphosa agreed that the violence was most disconcerting and embarrassing, adding that his government completely rejects such acts, which undermine not only the country’s image but also its relations with brotherly African countries.
“President Ramaphosa reaffirmed his stand against criminality and committed to do everything possible to protect the rights of every Nigerian and other foreign nationals in the country.
“The Special Envoy also interfaced with his South African counterpart, where they reviewed the situation of foreign immigrants in general and Nigerians in particular. They agreed to work together to find a permanent solution to the root causes of the recurring attacks on Nigerians and their property.”
The statement said President Buhari had taken note of the report and instructed Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama to continue to engage with appropriate authorities on the concrete measure the South African Government is expected to take.
Already, about 640 Nigerians have registered for evacuation from South Africa. Giving details of the plans to airlift them, the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyeama, said the first batch of Nigerians to be evacuated will arrive at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos tomorrow.
Onyema explained that the 320 Nigerians that will be airlifted tomorrow were part of the over 700 Nigerians captured 640 the documentation.
Onyeama, who spoke on phone with The Nation, said the carrier had secured necessary approvals from the aviation and government authorities in Nigeria and South Africa for the evacuation.
He said the aircraft deployed for the operations will depart Nigeria today, adding that it will return tomorrow.
Onyeama said the aircraft will return to South Africa on Wednesday to airlift other Nigerians who could not be accommodated in the first batch.
Sources said officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) are already on the alert for the operations.
Also, former presidential candidate, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, and leaders of the Nigerian community in Cape Town have requested President Ramphosa to apologise to Nigerians and other countries whose citizens were victims of the attacks.
Ezekwesili, who was in Cape Town, South Africa for the World Economic Forum (WEF), joined the entrepreneurs, professionals and other members of the Nigerian community, led by Mr Cosmos Echie, to decry xenophobic attacks.
In a communique after its meeting in Cape Town, described the attacks as Afrophobia, urging the Nigerian and South African governments to refrain from provocative statements.
Echie said: “It was unanimously agreed that the crisis is detrimental to the spirit of African renaissance, affirmation of black heritage, progress and development. Afrophobia compromises everything that the recently brokered intra-African trade, Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, represents and aspires to deliver.”
He urged President Ramaphosa to apologise to Nigerians and other countries whose citizens were attacked, come up with measures that will end the conflict and ensure that bilateral trade agreements between the countries are not affected.
Echie said: “Officials of the government of South Africa must immediately desist from making any further pejorative and incendiary comments targeting Nigerians and their country and instead publicly commit to taking preventive and surveillance measures that will foreclose a repeat of Afrophobic attacks of Nigerians and other African nationals.
“The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, should rise to the demands of leadership and reach out to the President of Nigeria to trigger the series of dialogue and actions necessary for swift de-escalation of the brewing conflict between their two countries.
“The President of South Africa should offer a sincere public apology to Nigeria, other countries affected by the attacks and the entire continent for the tragic hostility and harm perpetrated against their citizens.
“The President of South Africa should send a sharp signal to South Africans and the continent by visiting the victims of the Afrophobia attacks to empathize with and reassure them of their safety in South Africa and the government should consider paying compensations for losses sustained in the attacks.
“South Africa and Nigeria should agree on a mutual legal assistance cooperation scheme for tackling cases of crimes occurring among their citizens.”
“The Nigerian High Commission and Nigerians in South Africa should design a fact-based campaign to widely convey the accurate and positive narrative of the value they contribute to their host country. For example, South Africans must be made aware that more than 18 per cent of lecturers in their higher institutions are Nigerians. A significant percentage of the medical personnel in rural hospitals are Nigerians. Most Nigerians and Nigerian-owned businesses operate responsibly in legitimate and professional practices in South Africa compared to the less than one per cent of cases of shadowy activities.”
Following a protest by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to the African Commission over the orgy of violence against foreign nationals, the commission has indicated its readiness to take South Africa to the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights to seek reparation for Nigerian victims.
Chairperson of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Ms. Soyata Maiga, said the commission will approach the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for redress and compensation for victims of the attacks.
The decision to sue South Africa followed protests by SERAP, which urged the commission to put pressure on the South African authorities and political leaders to uphold the highest standards in the protection of human rights of Nigerians and halt the trend of hate, violence and discrimination.
SERAP said: “If the victims see that a process for ensuring adequate compensation for the crimes committed against them in South Africa is underway, it will also discourage revenge violence and killings and help break the cycle of violence that is now spiraling beyond control in the country.”
The Director-General of the Diaspora Commission, Mrs Abike Dabiri Erewa, disclosed in Abuja yesterday that the Nigeria government was keenly interested in the progress and outcome of the court cases against policemen who aided and abetted the attacks in South Africa.
Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa said eight policemen were charged to court for their involvement in previous extra-judicial killing of Nigerians, adding that the other four were charged for complicity in the recent attacks.
She stressed: “Eight policemen are in court over previous killings in South Africa. The case has been on for a while and we are saying win these cases.
“Four policemen were arrested and charged to court over the killing of a Nigerian in his house a while ago. And in the case of Mrs. Uju Ndubuisi Chukwu the case has been made a high profile case and is being handled by a Brigadier General. We are saying let these cases end so we would know the result.”
“Mrs Chukwu, Deputy Director-General of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria was in South Africa to attend the conference of the African Insurance Organisation (AIO) but was murdered in her hotel room in Johannesburg on June 13.”