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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Nigeria Confronts South Africa over Xenophobic Attacks

Counterterrorism & Security

7Dnews London - Mohammed Tanko Momoh

Sun, 08 Sep 2019 01:51 GMT

With more than 118 Nigerians killed in xenophobic attacks in South African since 2016, the rage and violent reaction to recent attacks on foreigners in the rainbow country may have been justified.

The deaths between 2016 and 2019 have peaked among the 27,000 Nigerians residents in the Southern African country, with 13 reportedly killed by South African police.

From January to June 2019, 10 Nigerians were killed either by citizens of South Africans or the police.

Although no Nigerians had been killed in the xenophobic attacks, which started again on September 1st, 2019, many businesses were attacked and looted by hoodlums, referred to as a "community vigilance group."

The ongoing attacks on foreigners and their businesses have, however, for the first time attracted a reprisal from restive Nigerian youths, who have decided to send a warning to South Africa.

With more than 120 South Africa firms in Nigeria, including telecom giant MTN, the reprisal will affect the economies of both countries.

The MTN and Shoprite malls have been shut in Nigeria since September 2nd, 2019, when irate youths took to the streets attacking and looting the outfits owned by South Africans.

Although the federal government is cautiously exploring available diplomatic avenues to call South Africa and its citizens to order, Nigerians want concrete actions, especially the nationalisation of Southern Africa's firms.

Some other major firms owned by South Africa being targeted are Stanbic IBTC Bank, Rand Merchant Bank, Eskom Nigeria, South African Airways, South African Breweries (SAB Miller), Multichoice, PEP Retail Stores, and LTA Construction.

Others are Protea Hotels, Critical Rescue International, South African-Nigeria Communications, Global Outdoor Semces, Oracle, and Airtime and Power Giant.

Since the recurrence of xenophobic attacks on September 1st in South Africa, both countries have been struggling to douse diplomatic tensions and prevent economic crisis even though angry Nigerian youths have forced some South African firms to shut down temporarily.

Some of the diplomatic actions taken so far by Nigeria include the recall of its high commissioner in South Africa, and deployment of a special envoy to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.

The envoy, Mr Ahmad Abubakar, the director-general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), will meet with President of South Africa on September 7th, 2019.

7Dnews reports that Nigeria also demands compensation to victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and it has deployed a special police force to its missions in Johannesburg and Pretoria. It has also summoned the south african high commissioner in Nigeria while the South Africa High Commission also on September 5th, 2019 closed its Lagos and Abuja offices for fears of attacks.

Foreign affairs minister Geoffery Onyeama warned South Africa against further despicable action, declaring that "enough is enough".

Nigeria's ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has joined in pushing for the nationalisation of some of the local arm of the South African firms as well as calling on Nigerians to boycott all South African businesses in Nigeria, including banks.

Adams Oshiomhole, Chairman of the party, said on September 5th, 2019 in Abuja that the government would no longer fold its arms to watch the mistreatment of its citizens by any nation.

The Chief Executive Officer of Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, also handed down a warning in Abuja on September 5th that xenophobic attacks had reached a tipping point.

"Nigerians are all angry that any more killings of any Nigerians in South Africa will not be tolerated," she told 7Dnews.

Nigeria, which sacrificed human and material resources to liberate South Africa from the apartheid, has turned out to be most hated by South Africa and its people.

The accusation by authorities in South Africa that many Nigerians are into crimes and were being attacked by local vigilance group she said cannot stand as it is the duty of the police to implement laws.

A Nigerian resident in Johannesburg, Mrs Adebisi Rotimi, in a dispatch to 7Dnews on the current crisis, confirmed: "What you see as pure xenophobia is actually community vigilantism gone wrong or hijacked by criminals."

"I have lived in South Africa for almost 20 years. Some of the shops looted and destroyed are actually covers for a serious crime.

"Some of our brothers take over entire areas and turn them into drug markets. But because the law in South Africa does not allow police to arrest criminals unless with evidence or unless shot at, so what happens is the drug guys hide these drugs in shops, restaurants etc. and use as a face.

"There are up to 30 public 'drug' markets in Johannesburg alone. These are areas where 50 to 200 Nigerians converge on street corners to sell drugs. That's just in Johannesburg, and excludes other places.

"The community knows and they try to inform the police. Sometimes these guys get arrested and bribe their way out when it fails the community takes laws into their hands. Nigerians are not being targeted per se. The target is street drug dealers and internet fraudsters, who are mostly Nigerian."

"Now, why I am sharing this with you is that the drug dealers are distracting attention. They are trying to make the Nigerian government arise in anger and defend 'Nigerians', that is, defend drug dealers. If they succeed, they'd have staged a powerful coup. They'd have entered an official mafioso level, protected by government," she explained.

As the xenophobic attack protests spread across the 36 states of Nigeria, the federal government has reinforced deployment of police to South African businesses and warned those wishing to travel to South Africa to shelve their plans.

The spokesperson to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ferdinand Nwonye, said on September 4th, 2019 Nigeria has decided to evacuate citizens from South Africa with the aid of Air Peace, which has volunteered one of its aircrafts for the operation.

The Nigerian Guild of Investigative Journalists (NGIJ) has called on Nigeria to stop going easy on South Africa.

Mr Adeyemi Obadimu, the NGIJ spokesperson, told 7Dnews that "these incessant barbaric attacks are not new and, if nothing drastic is done will still be repeated in the foreseeable future".

A coalation of civil society groups in Kaduna has called on Nigeria to suspend diplomatic relations with South Africa. Mr Yusuf Amoke said on behalf of the Coalition on September 4th, 2019 that government should seek a special meeting of the African Union (AU) to resolve the matter.

"Also, the Nigerian Government should sanction the South African business environment in Nigeria by temporarily shutting them down until certain agreements are reached," he said.

As Nigerians continue to proffer solutions to the impasse, the losses suffered due to the closure of MTN offices and Shoprite malls have not been ascertained, but any other economic sanctions being suggested will affect the volume of trade between the countries, which is currently valued at over US$60 billion.

The consul-general of the South Africa High Commission, Mr Darkey Africa, had put the official trade volume between both countries at $60 billion.

Nigeria's National Bureau of Statistics' (NBS) First Quarter 2019 Foreign Trade Statistics also revealed that South Africa is one of Nigeria's top five export destinations, 7Dnews reports.

According to NBS, exports from Nigeria to South Africa were valued over US$1 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

Currently, MTN has over 58 million active subscribers in Nigeria compared to just 31 million subscribers in South Africa. Although it has shut its offices, telecom services are still on.

There may be no direct economic consequences for now other than for the numerous employees who have to stay at home pending the reopening of the offices.

Nigeria leads Africa with 40% of DSTV's 11 million subscribers. Multichoice's DSTV has not been shut down.

Shoprite, the supermarket with numerous outlets across Nigeria, has been shut down, but there are other shopping outlets, although tax revenue accruing to the Nigerian government may be affected and the numerous staff may have to stay off work for now.

Stanbic-IBTC, one of the leading banks and Pension Funds Administrator in Nigeria, has not been affected in the crisis.

The search for a solution is continuing as Nigeria has ruled out breaking diplomatic ties with South Africa.

The reprisal against businesses in Nigeria is not the way to go as it might lead to further job losses, Mr Andrew Fanimi, the Chief Executive Officer, of Cowrie Financial Investments, said.

Mr Dodo Aliu, director of Moha-Celi Venture, told 7Dnews on September 7th, 2019 that "A lot of South African companies have been linked to Nigerian owners who are the suppliers, who are subletting a lot of things and so on."

The Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) also opposed those calling for violence against firms in which South Africa has stakes. The former director general of ACCI, Dr Chijioke Ekechukwu, explained that such action could hurt the economy, particularly in the areas of jobs and taxes.

Similarly, Mr Lai Mohammed, the information and culture minister, on September 4th, 2019 advised Nigerians against further attacks on firms and businesses belonging to South Africa.

Mohammed described the attacks by angry Nigerians on South African businesses as "deeply disturbing", saying that targeting South African businesses is a "classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Meanwhile, 7Dnews reports that the speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, has declared that the old arrangement that made it possible for South Africans to kill Nigerians must be revoked.

Gbajabiamila, who spoke from a prepared speech on September 6th, 2019, in Abuja, said: "We do not intend to speak many words."

"The time for speaking has long passed, and the time for action has arrived upon us with a fierce urgency demanding nothing less than our total commitment to revoking the old arrangements that have made such abominations against our people possible.

"We did not provoke, nor do we deserve the violence that has been visited on our people in South Africa. We reject entirely the obvious attempt to change the true narrative of events by casting the recently organised acts of violence as a merely internecine conflict between gangs fighting for turf.

"Unless it is the position of South African government that all Nigerians living in South Africa are gangsters and criminals, we demand that they reject these claims without equivocation."

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari is set to meet his South African counterpart, Mr Cyril Ramophosa, in October to iron out the vexatious issue, a meeting Nigerian Citizens Association in South Africa (NICASA) is optimistic will bring a lasting solution.

The President of the Association, Mr Ben Okoli, told 7Dnews on September 7th, 2019 that they hope the meeting will emancipate Nigerians from their suffering in South Africa.

As both countries scamper to find solutions and mend fences, it is hoped that their efforts can bring lasting peace.