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FG: It’s Now Tit for Tat with South Africa

07 Mar 2012

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru



By  Kunle Akogun, Onwuka Nzeshi   and Chinedu Eze 

Following the deportation of 125 Nigerians by the South African immigration authorities, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, Tuesday  vowed that the Federal Government would henceforth take tough action against any country that takes delight “in ill-treating Nigerians”.

Immediately, 56 South Africans were deported from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, a day after 28 were returned to that country obviously in retaliation.

Ashiru told the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs at an interactive session that the Federal Government is considering further reciprocal action against South Africa.

Ashiru, who was reacting to various misgivings expressed by members of the Senate committee over the deportation saga, said: “This is the first time in all my career in the foreign service where a supposedly friendly country would send 125 Nigerians back home on the flimsy excuse that they are carrying fake yellow cards (vaccination against yellow fever).”

He added: “Even if those deportees were actually carrying fake yellow cards, the worst the South African authorities could have done was to have quarantined them and given them the necessary inoculation.”

Ashiru however vowed that “Nigeria would react in a matured and calculated way to this assault on our people”, adding: “We will deliberately show that we mean business.”

The minister, who informed the senators that the Federal Government had on Monday taken a reciprocal action by deporting 28 South Africans “for irregular travelling documents”, said the administration would also look into the activities of South African companies operating in Nigeria.

He accused the South African firms, whose names he refused to mention, of bringing half-baked graduates into the country to occupy positions that could be filled by Nigerians, adding that the companies were flouting the nation’s expatriate quota regime.

Ashiru said: “Nigeria will take reciprocal action. The Federal Government has summoned the South African envoy to demand an apology and to ensure that the officers involved in the deportation are punished.”

He said Nigeria would demand that the South African immigration officials were re-orientated to see Nigerians and other Africans as brothers, including asking for compensation for the deported travellers and the airline.

Also, the minister said the government would protest the indiscriminate arrest of Nigerians on the streets by the South African police.

Earlier, Senator Matthew Nwagwu had directed the minister to use the opportunity of the present diplomatic row between the two countries to settle scores with South Africa.

At the House of Representatives, Ashiru vowed to bring to an end the humiliation of Nigerian emigrants abroad and those who travel to other countries for business and leisure.

The tough posture came the same day the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs demanded that the Nigerian government should no longer handle the harassment of her citizens by other countries with kid gloves.

Ashiru, who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to explain the circumstances that led to the deportation, said that henceforth, it would be measure for measure until countries like South Africa recognised the need to accord due respect to Nigerians.
He said that the South African immigration personnel breached the diplomatic procedures and protocols when they decided to deport the 125 passengers on board two airlines without informing the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa.

“We were shocked because for a brotherly country, South Africa should have followed normal diplomatic procedure. You don’t just deport our nationals and send them back.  It’s not done. In fact before they do it, they were supposed to invite our own officials in Johannesburg to come over so that they will parley and resolve whatever problem they may have with our citizens,” Ashiru said.

He disclosed that Nigeria had already conveyed her grievances on the matter to the government of South Africa and both countries were going to address it through the Nigeria/South African Binational Commission.

“We are going to make sure that we convene the next session of the Binational commission to address this issue. I want to make one thing clear: African countries including South Africa should not take Nigeria’s maturity and the friendliness of our people to foreigners for granted.

“Also, they should not take the friendly business environment we have in Nigeria whereby South African companies are making more profits from Nigeria than in South Africa for granted. I believe as we go on, these are the issues we’ll bring to the table and sort out.

“I believe that the present administration is determined to ensure the dignity of Nigerians anywhere. When you deport two Nigerians from a country, there will be appropriate reaction. It may not be retaliation but we know that we are responding one way or the other,” Ashiru said.

He said the deportation goes beyond their alleged non-possession of the yellow fever vaccination card.

According to Ashiru, the underlying problem has to do with the attitude of the ordinary South African to Nigerians.
He observed that though a cordial relationship existed between the leadership of both countries, the average South African appears to have a xenophobic attitude towards Nigerians.

“This is why they are very hostile to Nigerians in all their immigration procedures and deportation of our citizens from their country.
“South Africa immigration authorities and officials do not have the monopoly of deporting travellers.  I’m sure you also saw the newspapers today. So we will get to the root of the problem. South Africa will know that we are very serious on this matter and henceforth any deportation of any Nigeria will be met with equal reciprocal measure; we will not let it go unreciprocated,” the minister said.

Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, had in her presentation urged the Federal Government to be prepared at all times to defend her citizens wherever they may be in the world.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Immigration Service yesterday deported 56 South Africa citizens who arrived the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, for not having the appropriate documents as demanded by Nigerian law.

The passengers who had arrived with South African Airways flight SA 061 were returned on the same flight which took off at about 10.30pm.

Also yesterday, the South African authorities deported 300 level Nigerian students in that country who just returned from holidays.
THISDAY learnt that during Immigration procedures, all the other passengers including Nigerians and citizens from other countries who arrived with the flight were made to pass through security checks while the South Africans were held back and returned to the aircraft after some delay.

This is the outcome of a soured diplomatic relations between the two African countries that are the economic pillars of the continent.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated Nigeria as yellow fever free, a fact that was given credence to by the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, who said yesterday that there were no cases of yellow fever disease in Nigeria since the past 13 years.

But on Friday South Africa authorities deported 125 Nigerians who arrived OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg and after some delays and embarrassment, sent them back to Nigeria through Arik Air and South Africa Airways flights respectively.

The insistence of South African government on demanding yellow fever vaccination document from Nigerian passengers has been a recurrent controversial issue, which many Nigeria believe is a way to discourage citizens from Africa’s most populous nation from visiting the country that gained independence from its apartheid past in 1994.

So, Nigeria’s action yesterday may seem to be a retaliatory measure, a quid pro quo in accordance to the principle of reciprocity by also treating South African citizens who come to Nigeria in the same manner Nigerian passengers are being treated over there.

On Monday, top officials of organisations involved in air transport met in Lagos at the instance of the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, and agreed to resolve the thorny diplomatic problem between the two countries.

The meeting also agreed that head of Port Health and other officials should be sent to South Africa to find out exactly the grouse of the health officials of that country that they turn Nigerians back even after they showed that they were inoculated for yellow fever with relevant documents to back their claim.

One of the officials who attended the meeting told THISDAY that the Nigerian government wanted to know why South Africa had become hostile to Nigerians.

“Government wants to know what South Africa wants. There is a directive that before you get South Africa visa that you must have been proven to have been vaccination of yellow fever disease, which means that anyone that has that visa must have been vaccinated but now they are repatriating Nigerians who have their visa,” he said.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, News, South Africa

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