September 5, 2019

Xenophobia: Finally, Buhari raises diplomatic hell

President Muhammadu Buhari

Buhari: WHEN Mrs Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu, deputy director-general of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, CIIN, was strangled on June 13, in her hotel room in South Africa, I raised a poser here: “Who will save Nigerians from South African murderers?” The 53-year-old mother of two was attending the African Insurance Organisation, AIO, conference in Johannesburg. It was one killing too many.

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President Muhammadu Buhari

I was particularly miffed that despite an autopsy report signed by the Director-General of the Department of Health, Republic of South Africa, on June 27, which stated categorically that the woman died of “unnatural causes consistent with strangulation”, there was hardly any investigation by the authorities.

In fact, the management of Emperors Palace Hotel where the murder took place refused to hand over the CCTV footage to the South African police notorious for their lethargy in investigating crimes, including murder, against Nigerians. I also worried over the seeming indifference of the Nigerian government to the fate of its nationals in foreign countries. “Any self-respecting country whose citizens are routinely killed as Nigerians are killed in South Africa will raise diplomatic hell. Yet, the so-called giant of Africa has become so clay-footed that other countries treat her nationals with the utmost disdain,” I lamented in that article.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempt to heap the blame for the persistent killings on the doorsteps of faceless “criminals” incensed me. His claim, in the face of contradicting evidence, that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians in his country was even more preposterous. For too long and no just cause, Nigerians have become South Africans’ bête noire.

And my conclusion was that the killings will not abate if we do nothing to hold the country to account. “It does not matter who carried out this crime. Whether Uju’s brutal murder is as a result of a xenophobic attack or an act of criminality by mentally deranged hoodlums as President Ramaphosa would want us to believe, Nigerians deserve a coherent explanation of what happened.

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“The least that South Africa should do is to ensure that this crime is transparently, clinically and expeditiously investigated and those found guilty brought to book. And the least that Nigeria must do is to ensure that South Africa does just that. If we don’t hold them to account on this case, it will happen again, and again, and again. The joke will be on Nigeria, not the former apartheid enclave, whose citizens are rewarding our benevolence with contemptible nastiness.”  Buhari

Of course, nothing happened. The remains of the hapless woman were brought back to Nigeria and interred on July 25. We moved on. South Africans with a smirk also moved on to plot their next crime. As predicted, on Sunday, they upped their xenophobic ante, levying deadly attacks on foreign-owned stores, most of them owned by Nigerians, in Johannesburg and the political capital Pretoria.

Again, President Ramaphosa is mouthing his platitude. “We face a huge challenge. A number of people (are) taking the law into their own hands,” he said in Cape Town on Wednesday. “Taking action against people of other countries is not right. South Africa is home for all. We are not the only country that has become home for people fleeing.”

While it is true that South Africa is not the only sanctuary for people fleeing their home countries, it has shamefully acquired a xenophobic reputation. In 2008, xenophobic violence left 62 dead, while in 2015, seven people were killed in attacks in Johannesburg and Durban. South Africans are complaining that jobs are being taken away from them by immigrants. Their men are complaining that their women are being snatched away by foreigners, especially Nigerians?

Isn’t that ridiculous? Are there no South African businesses in Nigeria? Two of the biggest and most profitable multinationals in Nigeria – MTN, the mobile telecommunications giant, and Multichoice, which operates the Digital Satellite television, DStv, a major satellite TV service provider in Sub-Saharan Africa – are South African firms.

The two multinationals, perhaps, make more money in Nigeria than all the Nigerian businesses in South Africa put together. And they repatriate almost all their profits to the home country even as they pay insignificant taxes here. As at March 2017, Multichoice disclosed that it had 11 million subscribers across Africa, with Nigeria leading with 4.4 million DStv and GoTV subscribers or 40 per cent. The total subscriber base has since risen to 13.5 million as at February 2019 when Multichoice revealed plans to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, JSE, thus making it one of the fastest growing pay-TV operators globally. Nigeria still leads the pack.

As of 2018, MTN, active in 21 countries, had surpassed 232.6 million subscriber base, making it the eighth largest mobile network operator in the world, and the largest in Africa. With over 58.197 million subscribers in Nigeria, one-third of the company’s revenue comes from here, where it holds about 35 per cent market share. The multinational has only 31.191 million subscribers in South Africa.

These companies, including Shoprite, operate freely in Nigeria without any inhibitions. So, what are we talking about? South Africans have acted with impunity, treating Nigerians disdainfully all these years with the active connivance of their government because they had come to the conclusion that there will be no repercussions either from Nigerians themselves or the government. But how wrong they are this time.

With reactions to the ongoing xenophobic attacks, it will become apparent to them that Nigeria has what it takes to fight back and Nigerians themselves can bite. South African businesses in Nigeria are as vulnerable as they have made Nigerian businesses in their country. South Africans can also be as vulnerable on Nigerian streets as they have made Nigerians be on their own streets.

It is good that the Nigerian government ( Buhari) has woken up from its diplomatic slumber. Unless and until South Africans come to the realisation that there are consequences for their actions, this madness will not stop. While Nigerians are protesting on the streets, it is heartwarming that Buhari, for once, is squeezing South Africa diplomatically and demanding explanations to the egregious acts of their citizens.

On Tuesday, the country summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Bobby Moroe, even as President Muhammadu Buhari sent an envoy to convey his displeasure to Ramaphosa. On Wednesday, Nigeria boycotted the 2019 World Economic Forum, WEF, on Africa taking place in Cape Town. It is good that other African countries – Rwanda, Malawi and DR Congo – also pulled out.

That Ambassador Kabiru Bala, our High Commissioner to South Africa, has been recalled for consultations is also positive. Nigeria must demand full compensation for the victims of the attacks as the foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, hinted on Tuesday at a joint press conference with Mr Moroe when he insisted that “we must address the issue of compensation”.

There has to be accountability. South Africans must be diplomatically squeezed to take full responsibility for compensating Nigerians that have suffered losses in this senseless xenophobic attacks. That is what sovereign states do when their nationals are abused in foreign countries as South Africans have abused us. For once, President Buhari is getting it right on foreign policy. South Africa must know that there are consequences for bad behaviour.