S/Africa’s Continual Maltreatment Of Nigerians —Gbenga Kayode


The recurring and unwarranted diplomatic fireworks were obviously sparked again, by South Africa, otherwise called the Rainbow Nation, when it repatriated 125 Nigerians upon landing in Johannesburg weeks ago. For all intents and purposes, the fresh affront on Nigeria was infuriating, unprovoked. It could well have been avoided, had the Southern Africa nation acted with finesse in its constantly disturbing diplomatic relations with Nigeria if it actually has a sense of history at all.

The Nigerian travellers were deported from South Africa for purportedly possessing fake Yellow Fever Vaccination Cards. Though hitherto an accommodating and receptive country to its African brothers and foreigners alike, the Nigerian Government instantaneously retaliated the degrading treatment meted out to its citizens by deporting at least 86 South Africans in two consecutive batches of 30 and 56 people respectively.

Going down memory lane in connection with the momentous, unforgettable roles played by Nigeria for the eventual liberation and advancement of the Black South Africans, it would be recalled that Nigeria’s determined efforts at fighting tooth and nail towards ending the malevolent Apartheid Policy in that country were remarkable. The anti-Black administrative policy, which was roundly condemned then, and described as “a crime against humanity” before South Africa achieved its political independence and started breathing clean air of freedom, are still fresh in the memories of most living lovers of justice the world over.

That is the very elemental reason why its seeming ingratitude and dishonourable, recurring acts of manhandling Nigerians are uncalled for. Truth be told: the latest treatment meted out to Nigerians was never the first time South African High Commission’s and immigration officials in particular would ill-treat fellow Africans, including Nigerians travelling to or already resident in their country.

As far back as the early 2000s, strident complaints about the undiplomatic attitude of most South African High Commission’s officials in Lagos to many legitimate Nigerian travellers seeking visas to fly into their country had mounted.

Expectedly, besides the pressing socio-economic challenges confronting South Africa now, the possibility of a tinge of international politics could not be divorced from the latest attack on Nigerian travellers to the South African nation. Whereas some have blamed the strained relationship between the two countries on their divergent political stance on the political logjam that engulfed Libya last year, which eventually led to the ouster of and eventual death of Libyan leader Muammer Ghadaffi, other international affairs analysts have opined that the newest diplomatic push in which South Africa attempted to stir the hornet’s nest with Nigeria was not unconnected with the ongoing current moves by the two foremost African nations to secure a coveted permanent seat in the high-powered Security Council of the United Nations (UN), in New York, United States.

As a first-hand experience, our media organisation’s editorial team billed to attend and cover the SAITEX 2003 for our international business magazine at the instance of the Nigeria-South African Chamber of Commerce (NSACC) in Johannesburg, definitely, had a dose of their mistreatment at the hands of the typically uncooperative High Commission’s officials in Ikoyi, Lagos then. They simply proved difficult to oblige us the needed travel visas on time; we nearly missed the event.

However, we keenly observed the discouraging experience of most Nigerian travellers at the South African High Commission in Nigeria up till the time our team travelled to cover the 6th Nigeria/South Africa Bi-national Commission (BNC) conference, which also had in attendance Nigeria’s former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and MTN Group’s Chief Executive Officer Phuthuma Freedom Nhleko, in the port city, Durban, in 2004.

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Again, we had the rare opportunity to probe the rationale behind the unrelenting disappointing attitude of these visa officials in Lagos. The office of then Vice-President Jacob Zuma (now President of South Africa), granted our team’s request for an exclusive interview with Zuma in his office in Pretoria, early 2005.

Interestingly, in his response to a question on most Nigerians’ nightmares regarding their travel documents and formalities at his country’s High Commission in Lagos, Zuma had told us: “We need increased interactions and business relationships between Nigeria and South Africa because these are two great countries Africa is looking up to…. But on a serious note, rules that govern this aspect must be carefully examined and retouched where necessary to ensure adequate balance. In the area of movement, it may be necessary for the number of flights to be increased; but since it is a private sector thing, those involved would make the final decisions –even after the rules have been smoothed. I believe everything would be sorted out.” That was an assurance to make required amends in the fractured relations back in 2005. But how about now?

Nevertheless, rather improving on the political, economic and social relationships between the two countries in order to promote peace and stability, substantial development and cooperation on the continent, one is constrained to submit that South Africa, year-on-year and deliberately, has continued to defeat the objectives of the BNC established in 1999 to accomplish these ideals, through its uncooperative attitude and poor relations with Nigeria.

Pronto, first African Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, originally billed to attend a programme in South Africa, was even treated poorly when he was technically “detained” at the Johannesburg Airport for hours not too long ago. Scores of other Nigerian businessmen and women were also robbed of their international passports, money, laptops and other personal effects moments after landing within the precincts of the same airport a few years back. Many described that onslaught on Nigerians and other nationals as South Africa suffering from “xenophobia” at the time.

With many thriving South African-owned businesses, including in sectors as telecommunications, pay television services, banking and aviation in Nigeria, apparently making huge returns on investments running into tens of billions of Naira monthly without any form of molestation, it will only be fair if the Southern African country sees reason and makes essential amends urgently and learn to be civil in dealing with foreign nationals, especially fellow Africans in their land.

While one is not saying that countries do not have a sovereign authority to formulate their own immigration laws and regulations as it were, yet such should be done with some sort of refinement as expected in today’s globalised world. South Africa should better watch it by not taking for granted Nigeria’s responsive and welcoming disposition to fellow Africans all in the spirit of African brotherhood. Unprovoked ill-treatment of other nationals by South Africa will not in any way help the realisation of the much needed development of the highly troubled African continent.

•Gbenga Kayode, a media and communication professional, writes from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]

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