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Killing of Nigerians in South Africa

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Rodger BOSCH

The killing of innocent Nigerians and other blacks in South Africa is becoming a regular affair. Joseph Onyekwere, Assistant Editor, Law and Foreign Affairs and Ngozi Egenuka report that the issue has become a perennial conundrum for South African authorities.

That Nigerians are being killed continuously in South Africa is no longer news, but what the government of the former apartheid enclave is doing to end the tragic development is unknown.

The incessant extra-judicial killing of innocent Nigerians in South Africa is alarming. The most worrisome aspect of the development is that the government seems to be aloof or unable to tackle the violent crimes. It does appear that South African foreign policy has nothing to do with the protection of fellow Africans in that nation, going by the recurring incidence of xenophobic attacks and extra-judicial killings within her borders.

The killings have become seemingly intractable that Nigerians in that country are now living in fear because they don’t know when death will come knocking at their door or the form it would take.

It could take the form of gunshots, kidnapping or burning as experienced within the past two months. The most recent killing occurred penultimate week, when a gunman reportedly killed Ozumba Tochukwu-Lawrence on July 6. The incident was said to have occurred at 10 Koppe Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

An eyewitness account has it that an unknown man made his way into the compound of Tochukwu-Lawrence and requested to see him.

On being told about his guest, he came out to meet him, and the man opened fire on him and shot him six times, resulting in his death before he could reach the hospital.

Two weeks ago, unknown assailants at Mabopane Station near Pretoria killed James Ekeh, 36, an indigene of Imo.

Ekeh, a tomato trader at Mabopane market in Pretoria, was shot several times by unknown gunmen at the same spot where another Nigerian, Victor Onazi, was shot dead less than three weeks ago.

The latest killing of Ekeh brings the number of Nigerians killed since February 2016 to 119. Disturbing is the fact that South African police, whose duty it is to protect and secure lives and property have been responsible for at least two killings this year. This leaves the question on the safety of Nigerians unanswered.

Ebuka Okori and ThankGod Okoro were killed by a member of the South African Police Flying Squad at Florida in Johannesburg and two members of the South African Police Service (SAPs) respectively.

Clement Nwogu was burnt alive because his accent and habit were considered offensive. This gruesome act was done in the presence of South African security agents who did nothing.

Nigerians who have been major contributors to the country’s economy and development have been asked to vacate Rustenburg or get killed. Since then, there had been numerous cases of Nigerians being kidnapped with ransom paid to their abductors.

A Nigerian identified simply as Desmond, from Niger Delta, whose loved ones couldn’t afford to pay the ransom requested by his abductors, was inhumanely killed.

The incessant looting and killings in the area prompted 14 Nigerians to protest the injustice and the lack of police protection from the South African Police.

Instead of a promise of protection, they were allegedly arrested and detained since in Rustenburg. Many believe these attacks are because South Africans feel their jobs and women are stolen from them. These actions make the country unsafe for migrants seeking greener pastures.

Regretting the sad incidences, a professor of international relations, Alaba Ogunsanwo said Nigeria did a lot to free South Africans from the grip of apartheid regime.

He said the practice of apartheid against “our brothers and sisters in South Africa was not only regarded as abhorrent and a crime against humanity but also a sin against God.”

Opposing the indignity imposed on the black man in Southern Africa as a whole, he said was considered the correct or right position to take.

His words: “What to do against it or what could be done would depend on several factors including the capacity to actually act in a meaningful way against the recognized evil. No Nigerian leader would ask the question why we should oppose apartheid if there was no demonstrable financial benefit from doing so.

“It was and still is unconscionable for that to happen. The restoration of the dignity of the black man in Southern Africa was the restoration of the pride of the black man all over the world and nothing more than that was expected. Solidarity with our oppressed brothers and sisters in Southern Africa was a key platform in Nigeria’s foreign policy and this was demonstrated in several ways.

“Firstly welcoming them to Nigeria to live, school and work in the country with offer of scholarships for many, secondly taking steps in conjunction with others, in isolating the apartheid regime and curtailing its interaction with civilized humanity.

“I have no doubt that our responsible officials in the Presidency and Foreign Affairs as well as our diplomats in South Africa are doing their best through diplomatic channels to put an end to these most unfortunate extra judicial killings involving our nationals in South Africa.”

Ogunsanwo, who condemned the killings, maintained that such dastardly killings and other inhuman acts must be stopped forthwith.

Dr Tunji Oseni, head of department, International Relations and Politics of Lead City Univeristy, Ibadan who expressed sadness over the issue, attributed it to economic factors.

He said: ‘I think it has become a very pathetic and perpetual issue, the killing of Nigerian and not only Nigerians, but also some other Africans who are suspected to be stealing jobs from South Africans.

“My own perspective to this issue is that it is about the poor killing the poor. If you look at the killings so far, it has never involved the upper class. It is always between the poor killing their folks, the downtrodden. So if you look at it, you will notice that it has an economic aspect, beyond the issue of hatred thesis that people talk about that South Africans just hate Nigerians. I think it is partly an economic issue.”

Consequently, he advised Nigerians who intend to live in South Africa to be mindful of the kind of economic activities they want to engage in.

“So those Nigerians who are migrating to South Africa should know the kind of economic activities they get involved in,” he advised, urging South Africans to learn tolerance and desist from thinking that non South Africans are stealing their jobs.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, expressed worry over the recent killings. Dabiri-Erewa, in a short message described the recent killing as unfortunate. She said that further enquiry over the Nigeria issue with South Africa should be directed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Although, the foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, allegedly vowed to take decisive action with his South African counterpart, nothing to that effect is yet in the public domain.

Dabiri-Erewa expressed disappointment over an early warning signal put in place by both ministries, which she said had still not been implemented.

However, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, on Wednesday in Nigeria said those who were attacking and killing foreigners including Nigerians in South Africa were hoodlums pushed into criminality by the high unemployment rate in the country. He said Nigerians should not see the killing as intentional actions.

Ramaphosa said this during a joint press conference he addressed with President Muhammadu Buhari after a meeting they had at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He said his government was working hard to curtail such criminal activities. Ramaphosa said: “There has been quite a number of incidents in our country where foreign nationals, some of whom are Nigerians, have lost their lives and are being attacked.

“I will like to say here and now that this has been as a result of criminal activities among our own people which we are focusing on from a criminal element point of view.

“I want to state here and now that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians. In the main, Nigerians in South Africa and a number of places in our country live side-by-side, they cooperate very well and some are in the corporate structures of our various companies and some are traders and some are into a number of things.

“So, I want to dispel this notion that when a Nigerian loses his or her life in South Africa, it is as a result of an intentional action by South Africans against Nigerians. That is simply not true.

Ramaphosa, who said Nigerians who reside in South Africa could never be targeted intentionally as people who must either be attacked or killed, noted that the government was determined to bring down the levels of criminality.

He promised that those who perpetrated the acts of criminality ‘be pursued with the might of the law to make sure they are brought to justice.’

But the extent to which those words would turn to tangible result remains to be seen.

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