Xenophobia: Time to draw the red line

Following renewed xenophobic attacks in South Africa at the beginning of this month, targeting mainly Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday directed that Nigerians willing to return home, numbering about 640, should be evacuated from that country immediately. This action, coupled with Nigeria’s boycott of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa that is currently taking place in Cape Town in protest of the violence, is not only the right foot forward in guarantee the safety of Nigerians but is also in sync with the constitutional obligation on government to protect the lives of its citizens.

President Buhari gave the directive when he received  the report of the special envoy he sent last week to his South African counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa, to register Nigeria’s concerns over the attacks. He also directed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, to monitor the measures the South African government would take to end the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians by further engaging the “appropriate authorities.”

The presidency, in a statement on Monday in Abuja, said the special envoy, who is the Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Rufai-Abubakar, returned to Nigeria after the assignment and had submitted his report to Mr President.

It said Rufai-Ababukar was in Pretoria from Thursday to Saturday. While in Pretoria, the envoy conveyed the following to Ramaphosa, “The deep concern of President Buhari and Nigerians about intermittent violence against Nigerians and their property/business interests in South Africa.

“President Buhari stressed the need for 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 was 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.”

The statement, which was signed by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, also gave details of Ramaphosa’s responses. It added, “On his part, President Ramaphosa agrees that the violence is 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 that he was committed to doing everything possible to protect the rights of every Nigerian and other foreign nationals in the country”.

Upon receiving the report, Buhari said he had taken note of it and directed Onyeama “to continue to engage with appropriate authorities on the concrete measure the South African government is expected to take.”

He also gave “instructions for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians who are willing to return home.” The presidency added that the envoy also met with his South African counterpart “where they reviewed the situation of foreign emigrants in general and Nigerians in particular.” It said the two “agreed to work together to find a permanent solution to the root causes of the recurring attacks on Nigerians and their property.”

While commending the efforts of the federal government at finding a lasting solution to the incessant attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, we urge the Buhari administration, now in its second and final tenure of next level, to strive to make Nigeria conducive and homely for the mass of the people. This will not only be an incentive for Nigerians to remain at home and contribute their quota to nation-building but also dissuade the swathe of youth that throng foreign countries in search of livelihood by hook or crook and thereby denting the image of the country and subjecting her to ridicule among the comity of nations.

It is also pertinent to draw the attention of the South African authorities and their citizens to the sacrifices, both in pecuniary terms and the ultimate price of death of many Nigerians, to liberate that country from the pangs of apartheid. It is, therefore, wrong and satanic to visit unwarranted violence on Nigerians as a payback.

The reckless statements from South Africa’s political leadership, albeit with some exceptions, are a betrayal of the solidarity and support that was given to the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) during the worst years of apartheid. For instance, Naledi Pandor, the minister of foreign affairs, claimed many Nigerians in South Africa are involved in drug and human trafficking and requested the Nigerian government’s help in keeping Nigerian “criminals” in Nigeria. Thabo Mbeki, who himself spent part of his time in exile in other African countries, echoed the sentiment. This is as  insensitive as it is callous and regrettable.

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