Police Warn Against Reprisals as MTN’s Office is Vandalised

•FG not ready to speak on incident, says communications ministry

•Telco’s CEO leads team to meet Osinbajo

•Nigerian students want ties with South Africa severed, burn country’s flag

Dele Ogbodo, Alex Enumah in Abuja and Emma Okonji in Lagos with agency report

The Nigeria Police Force yesterday warned individuals and groups against engaging in acts that will result in the destruction of property and cause a breakdown of law and order, especially against South African companies in Abuja, or in any other part of the country.

The police in the federal capital city issued the statement after the Abuja head office of South Africa’s mobile phone giant, MTN, was vandalised by Nigerian protesters in a reprisal, following the recent wave of xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other Africans in Pretoria, South Africa.

This is just as the Ministry of Communications said yesterday that the federal government would not make a premature statement on the attack on MTN’s office.

Protesters in Abuja vandalised the head office of the South African mobile phone giant yesterday in retaliation for anti-Nigerian violence in South Africa, a witness and an MTN spokesman said.

The attack came after a Nigerian youth body threatened to shut down South African businesses after shops believed to be owned by mainly Nigerians and other African immigrants in the capital Pretoria were attacked and looted.

Nigeria and South Africa, African’s two largest economies and pre-eminent diplomatic and military powers, have a volatile relationship.

Protesters stormed the regional head office of MTN – the biggest South African company active in Nigeria – and stole customers’ phones, vandalised equipment and attacked customers, a spokesman for MTN said.

A Reuters reporter arriving at the scene after the storming saw no obvious damage at the building in the centre of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Security officers had cordoned off the entrance.

“They forcefully entered the MTN office. Security men were around but unable to curtail the protesters, who forced the gates open and entered the office,” a witness said.

“Some protesters were touts. Some were students. In the midst were some criminals that took away some customers’ phones and other things,” he added, asking not to be named.

A South African government source described the attack as serious. “This wasn’t just some people on the street throwing stones. They broke into the building and stole things and broke things,” the source said.

The incident coincided with a visit by MTN group chairman Phuthuma Nhleko to acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who has been in charge for the last month for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is absent on sick leave.

This week, at least 20 shops believed to belong to immigrants were looted in South Africa’s capital. The South African Police refused to say if the attackers were specifically targeting foreigners.

Responding to those attacks, Nigeria’s foreign ministry said it would summon the South African envoy to raise its concerns over “xenophobic attacks” on Nigerians, other Africans and Pakistanis.

South Africa’s home affairs minister yesterday spoke out against renewed anti-foreigner violence.

Anti-immigrant violence has flared sporadically in South Africa against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from locals and getting involved in crime.

“Currently, in 2017, there are renewed incidents of violence against foreign nationals in Rosettenville and Pretoria West,” Gigaba told a media briefing.

“Unfortunately, xenophobic violence is not new in South Africa,” he said, recounting similar incidents in the past.

The minister said some residents in Pretoria have planned a march on Friday against immigrants, citing competition for jobs and allegations of criminal activities, such as prostitution and drug dealing in the poor township west of Pretoria.

However, the Nigerian Ministry of Communications yesterday said the federal government would not make premature statements on the reprisal attack on MTN’s Abuja office.

Mr. Victor Oluwadamilare, Special Adviser to the Minister of Communications, while speaking on the phone said the ministry will address the issue next week.

He however admitted that the attack was a reprisal against MTN, following the xenophobic attacks in South Africa early this week.

Oluwadamilare said it was the police or its inspector general that should have commented on the Abuja incident, adding that the minister was in Akure, the Ondo State capital for the inauguration of the governor-elect, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), as the state’s new governor today.

Attempts to speak with the Public Affairs Director of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Mr. Tony Ojobo, proved abortive, as he could not be reached

The Commissioner of Police (CP) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Musa Kimo, however, warned individuals and groups against indulging in acts that will result in the destruction of property, or cause a breakdown of law and order in the territory and especially against South African companies.

A statement signed by the FCT Command’s public relations officer, Manzah Anjuguri, said the warning was necessitated by the attack on MTN’s office.

The CP, while condemning the action of the protesters, warned that the police, as the custodian of law and order, would not hesitate to prosecute those arrested for causing the breakdown of law and order.

But as MTN’s office was being attack in Abuja, its group chairman led a team to meet with the acting president yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Nhleko led a delegation comprising Gbenga Oyebode, a lawyer; Victor Odili, a businessman; Sani Bello, a businessman, and Ferdinand Moolman, the CEO of MTN Nigeria – all members of the board of MTN Nigeria.

Details of the meetings were not revealed.

In 2016, the telco recorded a loss for the first time in its history and blamed it on the fine slammed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in October 2015.

MTN’s Nigeria subsidiary also deferred its expected listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) this year.

The South African group, nonetheless, expressed its implicit confidence in its Nigerian operations, despite the grim challenges arising from the N330 billion fine imposed on it.

The confidence was relayed by Nhleko when he led a high level delegation to the NCC headquarters in Abuja recently.

Nhleko, who was received by the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta and top management of the commission, said the group has faith in Nigeria and will be willing to invest more in the sector in the years to come.

“We had challenges in the past, during the period of the fine, and we are grateful for the role the commission played towards an amicable resolution,” Nhleko said.

Nhleko whose visit to the NCC’s management was a valedictory one as he steps down as group chairman in March, 2017, said the MTN Group has injected over $16 billion into its Nigerian operations and “we have a very long way to go and so ask for a spectrum which is the oxygen and lifeblood to navigate this long and tedious investment journey, because without the spectrum, the sector will suffocate”.

Nhleko specifically solicited for more spectrum allocations and the release of the one that was held by Visafone Nigeria, which MTN acquired in 2015.

He also canvassed for a level playing field “despite being the dominant player”.

He said MTN has made its mark in voice and data services but more services like mobile financial services are underway.

In his response, Danbatta welcomed the delegation and assured them that the commission will always play by the rules and support every operator within the ambit of the law.

“I like to state that our word is our covenant. When we take decisions, we are concerned about the stability of the industry and there is no way we can guarantee it without considering the dominant status of MTN and its obligations and if the dominant status is becoming stringent, we are open to engagement.

“We will be guided by what is happening in the market to ensure the growth and development of the sector,” Danbatta said.

Meanwhile, the anger triggered by the xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa took a new twist yesterday, when the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) staged a protest at the South African High Commission in Abuja.

The protesting students, who expressed their grievance by burning the South African national flag, also issued a 48-hour ultimatum to South African nationals to leave Nigeria.

The students, led by their president, Aruna Kadiri, commenced their march from the popular Unity Fountain in the capital city and moved to MTN and Multichoice offices in Maitama and Central Area in Abuja in protest against the renewed xenophobic attacks on Nigerian and other African nationals in South Africa.

They demanded that the officials of the South African High Commission cancel the dinner organised in honour of Regina Tambo, co-founder of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League.

The students also visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they urged the federal government to take concrete action to protect Nigerians in South Africa.

“We are demanding that they should break the ties between both countries if there’s any, because the xenophobic attacks that happened a long time ago have recurred,” the leader of the protesters said.

“We have decided to clear the madness with madness,” he added.

According to him, the South African flag at the High Commission was burnt in order to pass a message that “we don’t have a relationship with them any longer”.

“Within 48 hours, all South Africans in Nigeria should leave or else we won’t be able to guarantee their security anymore,” Kadiri added.

Responding, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Clement Aduku urged the protesting students to be calm, adding that the federal government was engaging in talks with its South African counterpart on the xenophobic attacks.

He also assured them that all diplomatic means would be explored to stop the killings of Nigerian nationals in South Africa.

But as Nigerians protested against the attacks against its nationals, South Africa yesterday ruled out the possibility of paying compensation to the victims of the 2015 xenophobic attack.

The South Africa High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Mnguni disclosed this during a joint press briefing with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadijat Abba-Ibrahim at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja.

“On the question of compensation, I clearly indicated that it is not on the side of our government to quantify the size of compensation because those people were not acting on instructions. They were criminals and of course had to be arrested,” Mnguni said.

Even when reminded of the bi-national commission agreement on compensation for the victims, the ambassadors claimed he was not aware of the agreement.

“Well I was not part of that, but I will follow up on that,” he said.

The ambassador stressed that his government would never condone killings carried out either by the police or individuals.

He appealed to other countries to help find lasting solutions to the issue, noting that it was not one his country could handle alone.

He said: “On the question of a recurrence of attacks, I said that we need to come to a situation where we develop a common approach to this. Yes we are using the police; yes we are talking to the people, sensitising them on our history and the contributions of Nigeria and other countries in ending apartheid.

“We hope that when they meet Nigerians, no matter how envious they may be, they will become sensitive to this history.”

The Mister of State for Foreign Affairs also dispelled rumours of the death of any Nigerian in the latest xenophobic attacks and urged Nigerians both within and in South Africa to remain calm as both governments were already finding an amicable solution to the crisis.

“The ministry has not received reports of any deaths of Nigerians in the latest attacks against foreigners. The Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria is in constant touch with the Nigerian Union in South Africa, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, as well as the South African police.

“All these agencies have confirmed that no Nigerian life was lost in the recent incident,” she said.

While warning the media to desist from spreading information that may likely escalate the violence, Abba-Ibrahim reiterated the preparedness of the Nigerian government to protect its everywhere including in South Africa.

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