In the past few days, xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa reached a tipping point. Innocent Nigerians, whose leaders were instrumental to ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, were killed with some citizens of South Africa saying that there is nothing the Nigerian government would do. This comment was made due to the failure of government to assert itself in the face of these wanton killings over the last four years.
The Buhari administration has also proven this comment to be true with its response to the recent killings of Nigerians in South Africa. The xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa which have become a recurring decimal will hardly stop due to the poor response of the Nigerian government. Government is not taking tough and decisive action against these attacks targeted at Nigerians and their businesses in South Africa.
The reason is that there is no foreign policy direction under the Buhari administration. Nigeria is presently regarded as the giant of Africa, but other countries on the African continent do not have regard for Nigeria’s status. Nigeria has failed to provide the needed leadership for other African countries. Also, Nigerian leaders do not care about the plights of their citizens whether home or abroad.
Why would citizens of other countries treat Nigerians with such contempt? The Nigerian government over the years has not shown that it cares and value the lives of Nigerians. Nigerian citizens have taken the law into their hands, attacking South African businesses in Nigeria to register their displeasure over the killings of fellow Nigerians. This is due to the failure of the Buhari administration to take tough and decisive actions in the last four years in the face of constant attack and killings of Nigerian citizens. Despite the people’s anger with government’s response so far, the Buhari administration through the Minister of Foreign Affairs says ”it would continue to pursue the option of engaging the South African authorities to promote peace”.
This is not the first time Nigerians would be attacked and killed in South Africa. Under Mr. Onyeama’s watch as Minister of Foreign Affairs, at least 200 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa. Over the last four years, Mr. Onyeama has been slow in responding to these killings but rather has been promoting economic diplomacy. During the ministerial confirmation at the senate, Mr Onyeama defended the South African government saying they are not complicit in the killings of Nigerians in South Africa. As governments continues to be weak in its response, there will be no end to the violent attacks and killings of Nigerians in South Africa. In June 2019, Deputy Director-General of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, Mrs. Elizabeth Ndubuisi-Chukwu who was attending the conference of the African Insurance Organisation in South Africa was murdered in her hotel room, but the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are yet to fish out her killers and hold the South African government to account despite assurances in the aftermath of the incident. One month after in July 2019, a Nigerian teenager, Chinonso Obiaju, was reportedly shot dead in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nigerians do not trust that the Buhari administration is capable of putting a stop to these acts of wanton violence and killings.
The manner in which the Buhari administration has treated the issue of xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks on Nigerian citizens in South Africa says a lot. First, the Buhari administration said it has fixed a meeting with the president of South Africa for October 2019 but then, President Buhari had a brief meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Japan. President Ramaphosa during this meeting said he is working to end killings of Nigerians in South Africa. But in less than one week, some citizens of South Africa resumed xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks on Nigerians. In response to the recent attacks, the Minister of Foreign Affairs summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria who denied the attacks were xenophobic. Next, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Mr Femi Adesina said his boss has sent a special envoy to President Ramaphosa who is expected to land in Pretoria by Thursday 5th September, 2019. These are calculated attempts to save the face of the Buhari administration.
The anger of Nigerians over the constant killings of fellow citizens abroad is not misplaced. However, two wrongs don’t make a right. The recent wave of looting and violent attacks targeting South African businesses by Nigerian youths should be condemned. Nigerians can’t travel to other countries for greener pastures and be victimized or killed because they are industrious and intelligent. This is the reason why the Buhari administration must take tough and decisive actions against South Africa. Approaching the issue of xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa from a weak position shows that the lives of Nigerians do not matter which is why Nigerians back home are outraged. Nigerians have decided to stand up for their fellow citizens involved in xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa since government has failed to fight for them.
Many Nigerians are also killed on a daily basis on the Nigerian soil. Governments have been unable to put an end to these wanton killings using the same approach and strategies that have proven to be ineffective. Hence, Nigerians have decided to fight their own battles without relying on government.
Nigeria is no doubt critical to the rest of the continent in the words of former US President, Barack Obama. But it has lost its glory. Many African countries are making significant progress in terms of education, agriculture, infrastructure, health and security. Nigeria must wake up and regain its lost glory by providing visionary and purposeful leadership. Nigeria must get it right and be responsive to the plight of its citizens whether home or abroad if it wants to regain its respect among comity of nations. Sadly, the Buhari administration is not providing such leadership.
The Buhari administration has not done enough in securing the lives and properties of the citizens. The slow response and indecisive action against xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa shows that Nigeria is not living up to its role on the African continent. It also shows that Nigeria’s security is no longer at the center of our foreign policy.
*** Bolaji Samson Aregbeshola is an Op-Ed contributor and the author of ”Nigerian Political Parties and Politicians: Winding Road from Country to Nation”.