The Evacuation Of Nigerians From Hate-Filled South Africa
By Emeka Omeihe
Even with copious assurances from South African authorities to halt xenophobic uprisings, it is good a thing steps have been taken to evacuate our citizens who feel seriously threatened by their continued stay in that country.
In an uncommon display of corporate citizenship, a Nigerian airline, Air Peace has made two trips to that country repatriating 178 and 319 Nigerians craving to leave by all means. The number of evacuees would have been higher but for immigration hiccups introduced at the last minutes of the first airlifting operations. The airline had to fly back half empty after several hours of delay. Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema said the exercise would cost the company about N300 million.
But as a mark of recognition of the rare corporate responsibility displayed by the airline, the House of Representatives has commended it with a recommendation to President Buhari to confer national honor on its chairman. That gesture spoke much of the level of uncommon patriotism displayed by the airline in time of serious national emergency. That is the type of proactive responses governments owe their citizens. Yet, here we find a corporate organization that is largely driven by profit taking the initiative. No amount of commendation given the airline can be considered too much given the enormity of the sacrifice it committed to the airlifting operations at its own cost.
This column shares in the sentiments expressed by the House of Representatives and urges President Buhari not to waste time in appreciating the patriotism displayed by the airline. These days of increasing recline to primordial and parochial tendencies; celebrating that airline will spur people in other fields to emulate the good example.
But there are others registered and ready to leave the country but not accommodated in the two flights. Their fate remains largely unclear. It is uncertain whether the airline is still prepared given the huge capital outlay to make another trip or some form of intervention will come from some other quarters. Even with the relative peace that has returned to that country, it is important that the federal government seizes the initiative from Air Peace and ensure that all those registered and ready for evacuation are assisted to leave the country without much delay.
The narrative we get is that while many of those wishing to return had their means of livelihood either destroyed or burnt together with their travel documents, others had been stranded in that country for many years as the authorities refused to renew their work permit. Many do not even have the fare to ferry them back home. Such people constitute national embarrassment and should be brought back else their nuisance value re-enacts the same circumstances that breed irredentism.
Yes, there are assurances from the South African authorities to stem xenophobic attacks and all such infractions. We have also been treated with some re-assuring diplomatic exchanges from the delegation to Nigerian that those incidents are at variance with what South Africa stands for as ‘a constitutional democracy’. Nigeria’s huge contributions to liberate that country from the strangulating chains of apartheid have also been cited as reasons our citizens should be entitled to fair treatment. All these can be admitted.
Yet, they are not the real issues to the conflict. Neither is there anything to indicate that the South African government deliberately engineered all the attacks and frequent killing of foreigners. At issue are allegations of criminal undertakings by foreigners; dealings in illicit drugs, grabbing jobs meant for citizens, ostentatious lifestyle, arrogance and having the best of their women.
These are the issues to contend with. Attacking South African interests in Nigeria or evacuating citizens as desirable as it is; does not hold solutions to the issues that fuel rancor and animosities. The starting point will be to address and find resolution to all the complaints and grievances that breed distrust and precipitate violent attacks from South African citizens. Even then, it is estimated there are about 100, 000 Nigerians living in that country. Many of them have good businesses to their credit and will not be in a haste to leave. That the number of those evacuated so for is less than 0.6 per cent of our citizens living in that country says it all.
When we compare that population with South Africans living in Nigeria, you will discover to your chagrin that their representation in this country is very negligible. You can also decipher that from the number of their companies in this country and their citizens both in the formal and informal sectors of our economy. The import of this is not hard to fathom. And it is that our citizens need that country more than theirs need ours. We should rather be more circumspect in giving in to mass hysteria and mob violence in our reactions to developments in that country.
Reprisals as some had wanted to good us into will definitely prove rather counterproductive. What the situation requires is constructive engagement such that guarantees the rights of all law abiding people to their legitimate undertakings without fear of attack or molestation. That seems to be the message we can glean from the apologies from the South African delegation to Nigeria. Even with these assurances, there is still everything to suspect that the government of that country will tighten the noose around the activities of foreigners.
There are speculations of ten years travel ban on Nigerians who made themselves available for evacuation in the on-going crises. The delays erected by that country’s immigration at the last minute were cited as part of the evidence of their discomfort with the development. We also hear of plans to refuse renewal of visas and work permits. All these are within the purview of the authorities of that country. There is practically little we can do here to change the situation should that country make good these speculations.
But do we have their citizens in that number struggling desperately to live in this country? Are we in a position to extend equal measures to South African citizens without our citizens suffering immeasurable inconveniences in their country? Perhaps, answers to these posers will come handy when examined against recent statements credited to Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s minister of higher education, science and technology while addressing workers’ unions.
Hear him: “we cannot absorb the results of all the problems that are made by leaders who want to loot their counties, who do not care about their own people. African leaders themselves must get their acts together, such that they do not destroy their country and people have to leave. It is time we ask those leaders in our continent, what are you doing to make your countries better places to live in”
These are weighty statements. Issues raised by Nzimande, as blunt as they seem, are undoubtedly at the core of the constant skirmishes between South African citizens and other Africans who migrate to that country and other parts of the world in search of greener pastures. The high number of our citizens found in that country is on account of the better living opportunities there. And with high influx of foreigners (some of them without any genuine business) citizens of that country have had to contend with all that comes with the presence of such people.
Given the recent experiences of the black South African population with the obnoxious apartheid regime, there is little doubt they are at some disadvantage when faced with competition from outsiders. Such discomfort manifests in the serial attacks and killings we have so for seen. The point Nzimande made is clear. And it is that the crises in South Africa have their roots in the influx of citizens of other African countries in search of better living conditions due to the mismanagement of their resources by rapacious and rogue leadership.
The corollary is that its permanent resolution will hinge on the determination and capacity of African leaders to make their countries a better place for their citizens. He has said it all. African leaders aggrieved by Nzimande’s posturing should hide their faces in shame.
For us in Nigeria, the message is unambiguous given the huge exodus of our citizens in the face huge natural endowments that are easily squandered by the privileged class.