Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

Xenophobic attacks by South African criminal gangs

In the last few months, some Nigerians in various South African Cities are increasingly coming under violent attacks by South African Criminal street gangs. With these attacks, Nigerians in South Africa are now afraid for their lives and property.

The attacks and killings are happening most of the time without provocation from Nigerians, have not escaped the attention of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government, which has condemned them in strongest term possible.

It will be recalled that in year 2012 for instance, relations between the two countries deteriorated when 125 Nigerian travelers to South Africa were prevented from entering the country on the excuse that they did not have valid yellow fever certificates.

Nigeria retaliated by having 56 South African business men expelled from the country. What is increasingly becoming worrisome about the deteriorating relations between Nigeria and South Africa is that these are two countries that are supposed to be best of friends given the historical ties existing between them. 

It is on record that during the apartheid era in South Africa, Nigeria was one of the foremost supporters of Black South African liberation movements, including the African National Congress (ANC), the Nigerian Government issued more than 300 passports to South Africans seeking to travel abroad. At the cultural level, late Sonny Okosun, a Nigerian musician, sang the hit song “Fire in Soweto” in 1977 to commemorate the 1976 Soweto (South west Town) uprising against white – rule in South Africa.

What makes the attacks on Nigerians very worrisome now is that it does appear that they (Nigerians) have become selected targets because of what is perceived to be Nigerians criminal activities in the country. There is no doubt that a few Nigerians in the country and in any other country for that matter are criminals. The criminal activities of few Nigerians cannot and should never be a justification for violent mass attacks and killings on law abiding Nigerians living and working in the country.

To be sure, Nigerians are not more criminally – minded than South Africans. Infect, South Africa have been rated as one of the most criminally – minded and violent people in the world. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Therefore, it will be a clear case of the kettle calling the pot black when South Africans says that Nigerians are criminally – minded and attack them at will on the basis of this.

Attacks on Nigerians living and working South Africa must stop. South African Government must ensure the safety and protection of Nigerians living in South Africa. The culprits (criminal gangs) who have launched these unpremeditated attacks on Nigerians must be apprehended and punished.  South Africa does not expect Nigerian youth to retaliate by having its citizens attacked or murdered at ransom on Nigerian streets. 

These unsavory developments are capable of degenerating into more serious diplomatic row that can affect the cordial bilateral relations between the two countries negatively if not checked. There are several international laws that protect citizens living in other countries. They are deemed to be inviolable because it is upon them that international relations is partly built and sustained. South Africans need to be guided by these laws in all their actions especially with respect to Nigerians living and working in their country.

Nigeria does not deserve to be treated treacherously by South Africa. Nigeria has the most friendly foreign policy relations towards their African Countries.

Indeed, Africa has remained the centerpiece of the Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust since independence. Nigeria has never ill–treated any foreigners living and working in Nigeria for such petty reasons that South African trump up to launch attacks on Nigerians. All African countries have enjoyed Nigeria’s large heart in varying degrees over the arch of time and space. Therefore, Nigeria deserves respect from all African countries and their citizens.

Ejikeme, a security expert and public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.              

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