With Nigerians rising against xenophobic attacks targeted at their compatriots and other Africans in South Africa, there were indications yesterday that Nigeria might boycott the World Economic Forum on Africa 2019, starting in Cape Town today.
Withinnigeria learnt last night that the measure is to protest incessant attacks on Nigerians in the southern Africa country, and to send a strong signal that Nigeria will no longer tolerate any form of violence against its citizens.
Presidency sources disclosed that the dominant opinion among its senior officials was that neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor Vice President Yemi Osinbajo should attend the summit of world leaders holding in a country whose citizens has persistently attacked Nigerians and their property with its government doing virtually nothing to end the violence.
The newspaper learnt that the boycott would be a warning shot that if the South African government fails to take concrete steps to stop the hatred of Nigerians in its domain, its economic interests in Nigeria would be severely restrained by the federal government.
“The general opinion here is that we need to show the South Africans that the crawling of a lion is not an act of cowardice and that Nigeria could not only bark but could also bite if it becomes necessary to do so,” a high-level presidential source said.
The boycott would be a logical follow up to government’s demand yesterday for compensation from South Africa for its citizens’ losses in the recent attacks. .
There were pockets of reprisals targeted at notably South African businesses in Nigeria such as local outlets of Africa’s largest food retailer, Shoprite, and telecoms giant, MTN, forcing the organisations to scale down operations for now.
But the quick intervention of the police, which beefed up security around many popular South African businesses in Nigeria, prevented an escalation of the reprisals even as one person was feared dead in Lagos during the dispersal of a protest march.
The National Assembly; former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; former Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki; Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa; the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were also united in condemning the xenophobic attacks but sued for calm.
Besides the demand that South Africa should indemnify victims of the attacks, Nigeria also launched a flurry of diplomatic engagements yesterday to protect its citizens.
The federal government, which had earlier yesterday summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Bobby Monroe, over the attacks, unveiled a proposal to deploy security operatives in the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa. The security operative will work with the commission to provide security for Nigerians in the country.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, told reporters in Abuja that the federal government had strongly protested the attacks on its citizens to South Africa.
According to him, the federal government expected that such security operatives would eventually be incorporated in the South African police with a view to assisting it in pre-empting future attack against Nigerians.
He said: “We have registered our strong protest to the government of South Africa but most importantly, we have put forward to the South African government what we think will make a big difference.
“One, with regards to compensation for those who have suffered losses and most importantly, a security proposal that we believe will safeguard the security of Nigerians in the future.
“We are hoping to see the possibility of sending some security agents, deploying them initially in the Nigerian High Commission, to work closely with the South African Police Force.”
Onyeama dismissed any contemplation by Nigeria to embark on any revenge mission against South Africans or their businesses, saying two wrongs do not make a right.
The minister said South Africa was provoked by the attacks by its nationals and was striving hard to put the situation under control.
“We don’t believe that two wrongs make a right. I think in terms of revenge on those kinds of attacks is not what we are looking forward to,” he said, adding: “The South African government has assured us that they are doing everything possible to address the situation; that they are equally exasperated by the whole event.”
Onyeama said the special envoy the president was sending to South Africa would table before the government the two issues bordering on compensations to Nigerians, who have lost belongings in the attacks, as well as the plan to deploy security operatives in the country.
The High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria also expressed concern over the ongoing loss of lives, arson and looting of property in some parts of Gauteng Province of South Africa, saying that President Muhammadu Buhari was expected to visit South Africa to address all existing diplomatic concerns between the two nations.
In the meantime, the president has lamented the protracted attacks on Nigerians and their property in South Africa since August 29, 2019, and sent a special envoy to his counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa, to express his concern over the situation.
The president also asked Onyeama, to immediately summon the South African high commissioner to Nigeria and receive a briefing from him over the situation.
A statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari also instructed Onyeama to express the country’s displeasure to the high commissioner over the inhuman treatment being meted to Nigerians in his country and simultaneously secure from him the assurance of safety of the lives and property of Nigerians in South Africa henceforth.
However, while addressing a press conference after a closed-door meeting with Monroe, Onyeama gave details of what was being done to address the vexed issues.
“As you are all aware, there has been another spree of looting and burning of property belonging to Nigerians in South Africa. Of course, this is something we have seen in the past and as a result of some of these incidence, I had a trip at the time with the Minister of Interior to South Africa, when we met senior members of South African government,” he said
He said at the meeting, they had proposed to the South African government the need to have an early warning system or mechanism, stressing that this would also ensure regular meetings by all stakeholders, informing one other, anticipating event, and essentially being prepared to pre-empt such attacks as being witnessed now, while also taking other measures including compensation.
He said unfortunately, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) prepared to capture this had not been signed, adding that the disadvantage with that is that there is no framework now for the relevant parties to meet now and address this ongoing situation.
The minister added that while the South African government had issued a statement, the federal government was determined to curtail any recurrence of the attack.
Against this background, he stressed that the federal government would put in place mechanism to ensure that the attack do not reoccur.
He added that the federal government has made concrete proposals to the South African government, believing that if those measures were implemented, it would prevent subsequent attacks.
Asked what action the federal government would take if the attacks persist, Onyeama said the government will take definite measures.
He said: “We will also be providing adequate oversight over the security of vulnerable groups such as Nigerians in South Africa. This is why we feel that as a first step, we said, if the South African government agrees with us, some Nigeria policemen would be embedded and attached to the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria.
“And if again the South African government is agreeable, we might even have some Nigerian police embedded within the South African Police Force to deal with matters concerning Nigerians.
“The advantage of this is that the police will have the benefit of Nigerian input in their engagement with the Nigerian community and threat against Nigerian community, we believe this will be a game changer.”
Monroe said the South African government had condemned the attacks on foreign nationals, adding that the South African police had arrested 70 individuals who had been found on the wrong side of the law.
When asked why his government had refused to sign the MoU that could end the xenophobic attacks, he said it was due to processes of consultations by his government.
Also yesterday, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Ambassador Kabiru Bala, expressed concern about the ongoing loss of lives, arson and looting of property in some parts of Gauteng Province of South Africa.
“The High Commission and the Consulate in Pretoria and Johannesburg are compiling the list of all the Nigerian victims of the current anarchy for engagement with the South African government and other stakeholders for succour. In this regard, all Nigerian victims of the current attacks are requested to come forward to report their situation to the High Commission and the consulate,” the ambassador said in a statement.
MTN, Shoprite, DSTV Scale Down Operations
However, following the reprisals by Nigerians targeted at their operations, telecommunication giant, MTN Nigeria, Multichoice Nigeria, operators of the pay-viewing broadcasting company, DSTV, and Shoprite, have shut their outlets in some parts of the country.
The MTN Nigeria outlet in Ikeja, Lagos was shut while Shoprite, whose one of the outlets in Lekki, Lagos, was attacked, was said to have closed some of them.
Also, DSTV, in a tweet, announced that its call center was unavailable, an indication of a shutdown to prevent any surprise attack.
Earlier, the telecomunications company issued a statement condemning xenophobic attacks.
“MTN Nigeria strongly condemns hate, prejudice and xenophobia and reiterate our unequivocal condemnation of all violence.
“We seek to connect people, bring people together and provide a platform for everyone’s voice to be heard. We are against all forms of bigotry and discrimination; they should have no place in society,” the statement read.
Multichoice Nigeria, in a similar statement, by its Chief Executive, Mr. John Ugbe, said: “We advocate equality and condemn all forms of discrimination. The ongoing violence in South Africa against foreign nationals is against the spirit of Africa and counter-productive to the decades of work done by African leaders and well-meaning organisations to unite the continent.
“This is a somber period for every African on the continent and beyond, and we urge all our customers, followers and stakeholders to shun violence.”
The grocery chain outlet, Shoprite, was, however, forced to shut down some of its outlets in Lagos following attacks by protesters on its branches in Ikeja, Lekki and Surulere.
One person was, however, feared dead when the police dislodged protesters in the march on the Shoprite in Lekki.
The protesters marched on Ikeja City Mall, which houses Shoprite, MTN and DStv offices. While the protest in Ikeja was peaceful, those of Lekki and Surulere were not.
In Lekki, some of the aggrieved youths lit bonfires and attempted to break into the store but they were prevented by policemen on ground.
In Ikeja, Shoprite suspended its operations around 4pm, five hours ahead of its normal closing time.
But some women inside the mall scattered wares on the floor.
While some of the workers attempted to stop them, others stood by amid fear that the attack could escalate.
However, the intervention of the police prevented the protests in Lagos from escalating as operatives of the Lagos State Police Command dispelled them.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Bala Elkana, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), told newsmen that the command had beefed up security around all South African-owned businesses in the state.
He also debunked allegations that Nigerians had carried out violent attacks at Shoprite stores across the state.
Lawan, Gbajabiamila, Saraki Berate the Violence
Meanwhile, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has said Nigeria has had enough, and will no longer tolerate hate crimes from South Africans.
In a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday to condemn the attack, he said the South African parliament must act fast to end the attacks, noting that every step necessary must be taken to protect law abiding foreigners in the country, including Nigerians, and their businesses.
He said more disturbing, however, was that these attacks indicated the neglect of educating the younger generations on the sacrifices that Africans proudly made towards expunging the scourges of colonialism and apartheid from their continent.
He called on the federal government to accept nothing but immediate cessation of hostilities to Nigerians living in South Africa.
Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, also said the legislature might reconvene to address the burning issue of attacks.
The speaker joined other Nigerians to condemn the renewed xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
Gbajabiamila, wrote on his twitter handle yesterday that he would be cutting his journey to Tanzania for the 50th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPA) short to reconvene the House to address the issue which is endangering the lives of Nigerians in South Africa.
Many prominent Nigerians yesterday also condemned the attacks, advising the federal government to take immediate measures to protect Nigerians in South Africa.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, in a statement, said it was a most disturbing development.
While urging both countries to explore all diplomatic avenues at addressing the matter, he urged nationals of both countries to see themselves as brothers and never as adversaries.
Saraki, via his Twitter handle, @bukolasaraki, said he was saddened by the unfortunate events in South Africa, saying, ‘’Nigerians should be allowed to carry out legitimate businesses without fear for their lives.
‘’I encourage @NigeriaGov and @CyrilRamaphosa to take decisive actions that will send a strong message. Every Nigerian lives matter.’’
Also, Okowa through his twitter handle, (@IAOkowa) also condemned the repeated violent attacks against Nigerians in South Africa.
‘’The federal government must immediately liaise with the South African authorities to protect the lives and livelihoods of all our citizens’’, the governor stated.
In a statement, former Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Shehu Sani, also condemned the continuous attacks against Nigerians in South Africa.
Advising the government of the Republic of South African to protect Nigerian nationals and frontally combat xenophobia, he said the historic relationship between Nigeria and South Africa must not be allowed to be destroyed by the unwholesome activities of criminals in South Africa.
In its reaction, APC in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said that the party was deeply saddened by the unwarranted attacks, saying Nigeria deserves better from South Africa.
“It is too early for South Africans to forget their country’s history. Many of the key players in the struggle against apartheid are still alive and active in the country’s national affairs. We therefore cannot understand why there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on their part.
“The barbaric attack on citizens of other countries points to a failure of leadership. South African leaders cannot exonerate themselves from this cowardly act,” he stated.
On its part, the PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was heartbroken by the insensitivity of Buhari presidency in failing to protect Nigerians in the face of unwarranted violent attacks by xenophobic South Africans.
“Our party is extremely shocked by allegations that officials of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration at the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa, locked the gates against our compatriots in the face of bloody attacks, leaving them to the cruelty of their assailants.
“The PDP holds such scenario as condemnable, inexcusable, completely unpardonable, adding that it can only come from a government that does not derive from the people and as such cannot protect their interests,” the party said.