At what stage will the federal government take concrete diplomatic steps to stop the killings of Nigerians in South Africa? Davidson Iriekpen asks
As Nigerians were still mourning the Deputy Director-General of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN), Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu, who was murdered in South Africa, the country was penultimate week left to grapple with the assassination of a teenager in that country. Chinonso Obiaju, 17, still in high school, was shot dead in Johannesburg.
The President of the Nigerian Union in South Africa, Adetola Olubajo, who confirmed the killing, said the deceased student lived in Roodepoort, Johannesburg with his guardian, Mike Nsofor.
“He went to buy from a shop with his friend and someone chased and opened fire on them, killing him,’’ he quoted the guardian as saying.
Olubajo cried out, imploring the federal government to urgently protect Nigerians in the Diaspora before more lives are terminated.
According to unofficial records, South Africa is home to about 800,000 Nigerians, mostly young people. The killing of Obiaju brings to about 120, the number Nigerians killed in South Africa in xenophobic attacks between 2016 and this year. Between April 6 and April 9, 2019 alone, three Nigerians were killed at different locations in the country. In May, another was allegedly killed by the South African police.
Ndubisi-Chukwu who was in South Africa for a conference of the African Insurance Organisation (AIO) in Johannesburg, bid her colleagues goodnight and went to bed after the closing dinner on Wednesday, June 12. On Thursday morning when she was scheduled to travel back to Nigeria, She neither showed up for breakfast nor was she seen at the airport prior to departure. Her colleagues were said to have rushed down to the Emperor Palace Hotel where they lodged- a 10-minute drive from the O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg. Her phone rang but she didn’t answer the call. Hence, the door was forced open and she was found dead.
While Ndubuisi-Chukwu was initially believed to have died in her sleep overnight, an autopsy report from South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs revealed the unexpected. The death certificate issued said the 53-year-old mother died of “unnatural causes consistent with strangulation.”
The South African police were said to have taken up the case, while the hotel was alleged to have prevented the police from having access to its CCTV cameras and other evidence that could help investigations.
Perhaps what got most Nigerians mad was the reaction of the Executive Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who without an independent investigation, said CCTV footage showed no one entered the deceased’s room despite the autopsy report that her death was unnatural.
“Update on Ndubisi. Our CG in SA along with the deceased’s brother are on the sad incident. CCTV showed no one entered the room. Autopsy showed she died of unnatural cause. An officer from the HC detailed on the case, working with SA police. Will keep you updated,” Dabiri-Erewa tweeted.
However, a few hours after Dabiri-Erewa’s post, Emperor Palace Hotel posted a tweet, saying the South African police had not requested the required footage.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to family and friends. Emperors Palace management is deeply saddened by this incident. The matter is currently being handled by the SA Police Service,” the hotel said.
“Emperors Palace is fully cooperating with the SAPS and has given permission to view any required footage – however, as of yet, SAPS has not requested it”.
Human rights lawyer, Chidi Odinkalu, expressed displeasure over the case, wondering why no action had been taken 25 days after the incident. In series of posts on Twitter, he said Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s killers denied her teenage son of a loving mother.
“So, @abikedabiri, there you go: 25 days after our sister, Uju Ndubuisi was killed by strangulation in her hotel room inside @EmperorsPalace, SAPS hasn’t asked for footage. Is that normal? & from where did you get your info as to what CCTV showed, ma’am?” he asked.
Responding, Dabiri-Erewa said: “I’m sure all will be unraveled. Her family is fully involved with an officer assigned to the case I cannot make any deductions but we will ensure the truth is revealed.”
While it is not clear when South Africans will stop the killing Nigerians in their country, many here are angry that the federal government has not taken any bold step to curb the menace. What is even most annoying is the fact that there hasn’t been any information that any South African has ever been put on trial or convicted for killing a Nigerian.
Support During Apartheid
During the apartheid era in South Africa, Nigeria was one of the foremost supporters of anti-apartheid movements, including the African National Congress (ANC). Not only did the Nigerian government issue more than 300 passports to South Africans seeking to travel abroad, Nigerian musicians, such as Sonny Okosun, wrote the hit song “Fire in Soweto” in 1977 to commemorate the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid in South Africa.
Before the end of apartheid in 1994, thousands of South Afriicans were admitted in Nigerian universities and polytechnics in preparation for the new South Africa. Since the end of apartheid, South African businesses have been flourishing in Nigeria with the foreign country not extending same opportunities to Nigerians in their country.
Many observers are wondering if their argument for killing Nigerians has often been because of their financial strength which makes South African women after them, how would they describe the killings of Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu who is in her 50s and a teenager, Obiaju?
Ramaphosa’s Unfulfilled Promise
When he visited Nigeria last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa blamed the persistent killing of Nigerians in his country on “criminals”, vowing to bring perpetrators to book.
“There has been quite a number of incident in our country where foreign nationals some of whom are Nigerians have lost their lives and are being attacked. I will like to say here and now that, that has been as a result of criminal activity among our own people which we are focusing on from a criminal element point of view,”he had said.
“I want to state here and now that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians and in the main Nigerians in South Africa and a number of places of our country live side by side. So, I want to dispel this notion that when a Nigerian looses his or her life in South Africa, it is as a result of an intentional action by South Africans against Nigerians. That is simply not true. You will know that South Africa has a number of challenges, one of which is criminality which is all pervasive”.
Since President Ramaphosa made the promise, over six Nigerians have been killed in his country and no arrest and prosecution of the those responsible have been made. Even Nigerian government has not taken any concrete diplomatic step to stop the menace.
Though it has promised to closely monitor investigations into the death of Mrs Ndubuisi-Chukwu, many posit that nothing reasonable will come out of the case.
The closest warning from Nigeria to South Africa came from the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, who while hosting the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Bobby Moroe, condemned the continuous killings of Nigerians in South Africa, warning that further attacks on Nigerians would no longer be condoned.
He said: “We in the parliament must speak and prevent any further killings. These killings must stop. This is the era of social media where the corpse of a victim may spark violence that may go beyond the control of government. The South African government must as a matter of urgency do whatever it takes to protect the lives and property of Nigerians living there, just as Nigerian government remain committed to the safety of South Africans residing here and their investments.
“I believe we have faced enough, we will no longer take it anymore. We want to write the names of Nigerians killed, and the South African parliament must act fast to put a stop to this menace.”
The Association of Foreign Relations Professionals of Nigeria (AFRPN) has urged the federal government to demand justice for the killing of its citizens living abroad in line with the country’s foreign policy.
Its president, Ambassador Gani Lawal, said one of the objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy is for the government to ensure the protection of Nigerians living in other countries and to demand for justice in the case of death or harm.
According to Lawal, the foreign policy of any nation should be in line with maintaining international peace and security.
“If you look at the foreign policy objectives of Nigeria, one of it is to protect the lives of Nigerians all over the world. Our foreign policy is woven around the protection of Nigerians, but where there are individual cases, we would have to look at individual cases and find out what is responsible for it and deal with it squarely.”
“Such instances as the killing of Nigerians in South Africa and other countries as a result of some area boys going around because of jealousy of Nigerians doing well. In terms of government response, it is to ensure that culprits are brought to book and dealt with decisively in order to serve as deterrence to would be attackers.
“That is what foreign policy can do – to demand from the governments of those countries where Nigerians are being killed and ask for restitution for the families of those killed. There have been occasions where we did that through our foreign policy, asking that those people, who are involved must be dealt with and there must be a way of pacifying the families concerned,” Lawal added.
Duty of FG
Also speaking, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Pakistan, Ambassador Ridhwan Mustapha, said it was the duty of the federal government to guarantee the protection of every Nigerian wherever they might be. Mustapha also said that wherever any incident happened involving any Nigerian, it behooved on the government and Nigerians in that country to handle the matter.
He added that the government had always cared for the safety of the lives of Nigerians wherever they might be.
“Nobody is happy about what is happening in the South Africa we’re talking about; nobody is happy. Nigerians are not happy; the government is not happy because it is unfair. Nigeria has done a lot for South Africa,” Mustapha said.
Because of the government’s silence on the issue, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) last week took to the streets in Kaduna, Markudi to protest. They shut down two key organisations owned by South Africans – MTN and DSTV. The leader of the protesting students in Kaduna, Mr Dominic Philip, explained that the step was necessary to curb further attacks, looting, destruction and mindless killings of Nigerians in South Africa.
Similarly, in Benue State, leader of the students, Abah Owoicho, who led the protest to shut down the offices of MTN and DSTV, also presented a strong worded letter of protest to the organisations. Owoicho said the letter was a condemnation of the years of barbaric killings of Nigerians in South Africa.
NCWS Decries Incessant Killings
The National Council of Women Society (NCWS) also decried incessant killings of Nigerians in South Africa without proper investigation of alleged suspects or satisfactory response from host countries. Its National President, Dr Gloria Shoda, in a statement, described the killings as worrisome, calling for proper investigation and prosecution of suspects implicated of the crimes.
“We recall that over the past few years, for example, several Nigerians who reside and work in South Africa, pay their taxes and go about their daily businesses, sadly have lost their lives in suspicious and controversial circumstances. There are several reports of Nigerians who were killed in local communities or allegedly at the hands of the police. We have not heard of anyone being held responsible and prosecuted for any of these dastardly acts visited upon Nigerian citizens,” she said.
For now, all Nigerians want to hear from the federal government to the South African government is not only the prosecution of those targeting Nigerians, but a warning in the strongest terms that enough is enough.