Onyema: ‘Tiny Minority’ of Nigerians Affected by Xenophobic Attacks in S’Africa

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Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Geoffery Onyema
  • Says joint body of both countries imminent to address ‘trust deficit’   
  • Saraki: Attacks reveal lack of integration

Damilola Oyedele  and Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyema saturday said only a few Nigerians were affected by the racist attacks on foreigners, especially Africans, in South Africa, which is becoming a frequent occurrence in the former apartheid country. Onyema, who spoke in Abuja when he appeared on Arise TV, a sister company to THISDAY, said the vast majority of Nigerians in South Africa were living in peace and doing well in the country. His comments were a surprise to all who expected a more proactive response to the incessant xenophobic attacks by South Africans that have often targeted Nigerians.

Onyema identified communication gap between Nigerians living in South Africa and that country’s authorities as a major damper on cordial relations, saying a joint body by the two countries is being formed to address the problem.

But Senate President Bukola Saraki described the attacks as indicating a lack of appreciation of the benefits of integration by Africans. Saraki said cooperation was the answer to the continent’s numerous development challenges. He made the remarks yesterday in his keynote address at the Crans Montana Forum of Africa and South-South Cooperation for Africa’s Development in Dakhla, Morocco.

A statement by Saraki’s special assistant on public affairs, Mr. Mohammed Isa, quoted the senate president as saying that the “contagious nature of poverty shows that the challenges on the continent must be viewed from a regional perspective.

“The challenge of cross-border crimes, the smuggling of small arms and light weapons across our borders; or even the wave of terrorist activities, provide another compelling reason why effective cooperation and partnership is almost a matter of life and death.”

Onyema said on the television programme, “The South African government condemned everything that’s gone on and they felt very bad about it because they themselves acknowledged the role that Nigeria played in the dark days of apartheid and so feel very ashamed about what happened.”

He said the reports about Nigerian casualties or victims of xenophobia in South Africa were often exaggerated.

“Well, figures are always not correct but, you know, the reality is a tiny minority of Nigerians have been actually affected. The vast, large numbers of Nigerians in South Africa are living in peace, doing extremely well, contributing well to the country. When you quote a figure of 20 and then you also say about 800, 000 living there, it’s not true in anyway,” Onyema stated. He said, however, “It’s not any consolation even if it’s one person that is killed, it’s relatively not small.”

The minister said the federal government had decided to send a delegation to South Africa because of the frequency of the attacks. According to him, “We really wanted to have a concrete mechanism in place. Obviously, there have been a lot of talk and nothing has changed. We had met with the Nigerian community over there, there is a Nigerian Union of South Africa and we met with their leadership. We went through all the issues and all the challenges faced by Nigerians in South Africa.

“Something that struck me was that there was a communication gap, the Nigerian community does not have access to the higher echelons, indeed, to the South African government or authorities to be able to communicate their grievances, to provide warning and to engage with them. So, I thought that this was the missing link that could have solution to the problems. And we proposed to the South Africa government and they accepted thankfully.”

Onyema stated that the government of South Africa favoured the formation of a body comprising the South African police and representatives of Nigerians in that country. He said the general feeling among Nigerians in South Africa was that the country’s police were more likely to be complacent about the attacks or even encouraged them.

“So, there is a trust deficit there,” the foreign affairs minister stated, stressing, “This unit we are building, we have the South African police represented there, the South African home affairs ministry, which has political oversight over the police, the Ministry of Foreign affairs. Then, on the Nigerian side, sitting on the same table, the Nigerian High Commission, the Nigerian Consulate and the Nigerian Union and some South Africans.

“This will be a mechanism or forum in which they could speak to each other directly and so if there were signs of imminent attacks or whatsoever, it could be addressed.

“Another thing that they sort of expressed concern about was that they themselves as Nigerians heard information about the criminal elements among the Nigerian community. But if they communicate this to the police, very often the information got to the criminals. So, this is also a forum we felt they could communicate concerns, information and intelligence gathered from Nigerians.”

Though, Onyema “acknowledged, as reported, that a small minority of Nigerians in South Africa are engaged in inexcusable criminal behaviour, drug trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking, and fraud,” he said, “But the point we wanted to make was that these should be dealt under the criminal laws of South Africa and should not lead to such widespread xenophobic attacks; and also to remind the authorities that the vast majority of Nigerians are law-abiding citizens contributing to the South Africa society and the South African economy.”

On Brexit, Onyema said it was for the British, “As far as Nigeria is concerned, in all honesty, I’m not sure that it’s going to make any difference for the country.”

  • iyare

    our ministers never miss the chance of exhibiting ignorance and disregard for their high office…imagine the idiocy of Onyema, Minister of Foreign affairs saying a ´Tiny minority of Nigerians`were victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa…he should have allowed his family members to killed before he goes to defend the minutest a Nigerian citizen

  • iyare

    Israel, US and even Iranians would be ready to go to war for the unjust killing of one citizen who may be a tourist

  • Mystic mallam

    Poor Minister Onyeama, he never really learned the language of diplomats; ”minority of Nigerians” indeed, as if one death or two out of 1 million was not significant to complain about. But what can we expect from the Foreign Minister of a country that trivialises human lives – from Boko Haram nihilists to marauding armed Fulani herdsmen who run amok and go from place to place murdering, raping and laying waste to peaceful communities, from trigger-happy soldiers deriving joy from turkey shooting citizens, to extra-judicial police executioners who enjoy a high level of impunity from a government that craves no dissent. Why blame Onyeama – if you can’t protect your citizens at home because their lives are expendable, how do you expect other governments to protect them abroad?

  • chyke

    Nigerian life never matters to our politicians. Even if only one Nigerian was killed, the government owes it as a duty to protect the others.

  • Sarah

    If he truly said so then it is utterly irresponsible of the Foreign Minister. Every SINGLE Nigerian life matters and their welfare outside our country is a core part of your job.

  • Niyi Oni

    We can now see why our citizens are being murdered in South Africa and why rights of Nigerians are trampled upon in other nations. With nincompoops like this at the helm of affairs, we’ll always be the butt of jokes around the world.
    When the person supposed to be defending you make statements like its just a minority of Nigerian citizens that are affected!
    Does it matter if it’s just a minority or if its just one person? Does it make it acceptable if its even only one person that’s maltreated?
    Yet we have to live with this sort of rubbish for 2 more years cos there’s nothing his oga will do. He’s busy battling his poor health and as anyone who’s falling ill before knows, other things pale into insignificance when one has poor health.

  • Benbella

    Nigerian’s would never Learn FROM their Mistakes , if your Minister is talking shit what else do think the SA would be thinking of Nigeria in their Country , meaning Stay home in your Country , you are not welcome period, Create your own Jobs within Nigeria,,,,

  • edward ekanim

    I would want to believe that Mr Onyema is wrongly quoted here, otherwise we have him as the worse pick in the history of this nation for this role. Agreed that he made a reasonable point that it is not permissible for the citizens of South Africans to carry out xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African citizens on the perception of an offence not yet established against the deceased by any court of law in South Africa. The “tiny minority” represent human life. Common Mr Minister.

    • monsieuruz

      ” He said, however, “It’s not any consolation even if it’s one person that is killed, it’s relatively not small.” “

  • remm ieet

    This government managed the South African crisis badly. It is emblematic of the pattern of Nigeria’s diplomatic attitude in the world, in recent times. Until everything collapses nothing is ever considered urgent. Suddenly there is xenophobic attacks in South Africa, as if this has nothing to do with the complacency of government strategies in domestic and foreign policy implementation. It is so unfortunate that South Africa is perceived as hating Nigerians and there is nothing concrete that this government can do, going by the persistence of the crisis. Setting up panels here and there to deal with fundamental problems will not nip the crisis in the bud.
    The minister has only succeeded in adopting the Nigerian fire brigade method. As far as Nigeria’s foreign policy is concerned, there is nothing concrete on the ground.

  • E.Udah

    Just imagine such a slip of tongue from an America Secretary on any of their citizens abroad, he will be made to resign the next day.

    • Making Sense

      the same day!

  • Jon West

    A Government is like a family and the ministers like children. When the father (President) has a penchant for talking nonsense, the children (Ministers) also follow suit. Hence Ogbonnaya Onu, First Class degree holder and Berkeley Chemical Engineering PhD, promising a target of pencil manufacture in 2018 and a Nigerian on the moon by 2030. The incongruity obviously escaped his APC brain.

    We now have an educated fool like Onyema talking about a tiny minority of his citizens being abused by foreigners. What do you expect from Ministers in the Government of a certificateless Dullard who still thinks about Western Germany, Deutshe Marks and Ze Oda Room etc.
    You cannot really evolve much faster than your Father and these idiotic ministers should be pitied as victims, rather than villians. The child of a fool, is very likely to be a fool.

    • Romla

      Insulting,disrespectful but unfortunately apt.

    • bashkano

      By their comments one can always understand not only their intellectual impairment but their deficient background.

  • Frontiers

    The comment credited to the Minster was not a surprise to his real attitude towards Nigerians men in Diaspora. Check on his pasts records as a United Nations, Senior staff in Switzerland. He never helped Nigerians males, rather few female from Nigeria & majority of other female from other African countries.

  • RumuPHC

    Poor Onyema…..many will not bother to read the entire article but will proceed to lambaste and ridicule the minister based on the utterly misleading but sensational caption by Thisdaylive.

    • monsieuruz

      If you read, you would have stumbled on this sentence:

      He said, however, “It’s not any consolation even if it’s one person that is killed, it’s relatively not small.”

      • Making Sense

        Please stop defending what makes no sense. If you have access to me, tell him to apologise and make amends. One life is not – relative. He is supposed to be, by his position, our number 1 diplomat. Only problem, with this regime is that diplomacy is used less, when addressing or addressed to Nigerians. He needs to show his colleagues in the cabinet the best examples and he must!

      • RumuPHC

        You may wish to read my comment above again please.

        I suppose we are on the same page.

  • Making Sense

    Dear Mr. President,

    Sir, you have children primarily living outside the country, we have had of the UK. Imagine that you closest relatives opt to stay in SA instead and these attacks take one or more of their lives. would this government have responded in the same manner? Most of us do not think so.

    On a less personal note, we have a lot of Nigerians living legitimately abroad including in SA. These people:
    1. Send billions of dollars home to their relatives and dependents for sustenance, reducing need for govt so called social interventions (believe me, it would have been worse without them)
    2. They supplier USD and other foreign currency to the market, reducing the level of govt intervention in black market
    3. They fill up the rooms just so that you have a Nigerian audience to talk to each time you travel abroad
    4. They are creating pools and generations of Nigerians and Nigerian-descendants born or living abroad but come back to wear our colors during sports, international competitions and wars. And so on…

    They are Nigerians and perhaps doing more to assist your government than most of the people who surround you. Defend Nigerian lives with your life, that is what kings do. If Presidents do not, then shall we go back to having kings rule us?

    God help your team do what is right and just for every Nigerian!