Xenophobia: We’ve drawn Redline against South Africa -FG

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The Federal Government Wednesday warned the South African government against any further xenophobic attacks on Nigerian citizens in the south coast country.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who disclosed government’s position to State House Correspondents after a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu  Buhari and his vice, Yemi Osinbajo, said Nigeria has boycotted the World Economic Forum scheduled in South Africa taking place on September 4-6.

According to him, President Buhari agreed with Vice President Osinbajo not to go to South Africa under the climate of xenophobic attacks.

The minister stressed that a red line has been drawn against South Africa, warning”enough is enough. We can’t allow any of our city to be killed in South Africa and we demand full compensation for their properties destroyed in South Africa.”

He said that recalling of Nigerian ambassador to South Africa, was one of the options the government would use in resolving the issue, adding that the final decision will be taken after the report of the special envoy sent to South Africa.

The Minister, while giving an update on the xenophobic attacks said: “We have made it clear that what has happened in South Africa is totally unacceptable. We will not accept it and as I said earlier, enough is enough and we are not going to come back to this, we are going to address it once and for all.

”This is the position of government that we are going to draw a redline here. Whatever measures that needs to be taken to ensure the safety of Nigerians in South Africa, we will take.

“We have been in touch with the South African government at the very highest level with the President of South Africa as to what we want to achieve. The special envoy has very clear directives about the commitment and the guarantees that we expect from the South African government.

”Of course, a lot of things have been circulating in the social media which have not helped matters. Some of them have really distorted the situation and because of that have impacted our response.

”So, number one is that the information we have from the High Commission, from the Consul General in South Africa is that no Nigerian life has been lost during this crisis. And I think that is very important because on social media, there is a lot of stories going around of Nigerians being killed, jumping off buildings and being burnt. This is not the case.

”What we know is that premises, shops of Nigerians have been looted and property destroyed.

Confirming the withdrawal of Nigeria’s participation in the World Economic Forum in South Africa, he said that the Vice President was scheduled to go to South Africa Thursday to attend the World Economic Forum,”clearly with this climate, he and Mr. President have agreed that he should not go to the World Economic Forum in Cape Town and we are looking at other measures to take.”

He said Mr. President was particularly disturbed at the act of vandalism that has taken place here in Nigeria, in retaliation of what is happening in South Africa.

Onyeama stressed that the government believes that they have to take the moral high ground on this matter.

”We are victims here and have made that position clear to the international community and to the South African government. We here in Nigeria must not fall into the temptation of also resorting to the acts that we are condemning in others.  Mr. President has pleaded and he is likely to make a statement on this, addressing the Nigerian people to please desist from acts of vandalism and aggression, destroying properties”, he said.

The Federal Government appealed to Nigerians back home to remain calm, warning against taking attacking South African businesses in Nigeria.

He said that ”these businesses- Shoprite, MTN and others, yes there are South African but these are subsidiaries in Nigeria owned by Nigerians. So, as attacks are made against Shoprite and other such institutions, it is actually the property owned by Nigerians within Nigeria and the people working there are Nigerians.”

”So, the people that will suffer from those acts of vandalism and aggression are not South Africans or anyone else but Nigerians. But morally, it is wrong not even because of who will suffer and not suffer.

“Mr. President is appealing to Nigerians, the government is acting, we cannot state everything, our everything in public domain with regards to what we are doing obviously, but we want to assure all Nigerians that this government is determined that the redline has been drawn and we will not give in on this occasion and that the South African government has to assumed its responsibilities and do the right thing. Protect Nigerians and other Africans I might say in South Africa and we have to hold them to count.

“Full compensation has to be paid because as we have discovered from previous experience, a lot of these Nigerians lost their property and it is a long drawn out process and every often are not compensated for it.  But on this occasion, the Nigerian government is going to fight for full compensation and hold the government of South Africa to count. And we are going to consider other options to ensure that the message gets across to the government of South Africa.

“It is not a question of weakness or anything of the sort but we have to move decisively and that is precisely what the government is going to do.

“We have all the options on the table and on the return of the special envoy, we will all sit down and look at all the options and assess the report.

“And there is no measure that we consider to be appropriate that we will shrink from taking. We will take whatever and all measures necessary to ensure that never again are we going back to this whole issue of Nigerians being attacked and properties destroyed and in some cases killed in South Africa.

“It is an ongoing story, we will keep you informed but the important message is that Mr. President is fully engaged in this process, he is being briefed on an hourly basis and we are not going to shrink from taking all the necessary steps to make it the last time this kind of thing will happen.”

Asked to disclose the identity of the envoy and measures being taken to protect Nigerians, Onyeama said: “The identity of the special envoy will be revealed in due course. There are certain reasons why we don’t want to do so immediately.

“On measures being taken, of course, the security agencies are fully aware of the threats that are now existing to various businesses in Nigeria at the moment and they are fully mobilized to address that.”

On if the bone of contention has been established, he said: “Our basic premise is this, there is no justification whatsoever for individuals or coming as a group to take the laws into their own hands and to target Nigerians. This is totally unacceptable”.

He added: ”It is important to note that there is now an African consensus building around this, it is totally abhorrent and unacceptable that there should be xenophobia against Africans on African soil, not to talk about what a Nigeria has done for South Africa, even everybody knows that during the years of apartheid but nevertheless we understand that the president of Rwanda will not attend the world economic forum, the president of Democratic Republic of Congo, the president of Malawi, the Zambian football team that were supposed to play in South Africa also stepped down that match and is not going ahead with it. And so is the African Union, the president of the African Union has also come out with a statement condemning what is happening in South Africa. A large number of victims are Nigerians and we will not tolerate it.”

On why the Nigerian High commissioner has been recalled when the envoy was on his way to South Africa, he said: “No. it is one of the options we are considering. He will need to come back but we feel he should come back after the envoy has gone there, so that Mr. President will also have the benefits of the full and comprehensive brief from all the individuals who are the position to have seen things at a close range.”

Biola Lawal

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