Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Geoffrey Onyeama, met on Friday with leadership of the Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora at the National Assembly in Abuja. Shortly after the meeting, he spoke with newsmen on other measures being considered by the Federal Government to firmly show its indignation towards the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.TAIWO AMODU and PATRICK OSADEBAMWEN were at the session. Excerpts:
May we have an insight into what you discussed with the leadership of both Committees of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora?
Yes we just met with the senate committees to review the situation with regards to South Africa and we looked at all the possible options. We analysed the possible causes and agreed on a road map going forward. As part of that road map on the executive side, President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched a special envoy to South Africa who would be holding discussion with the South African government at the very highest level. He should be back tomorrow. That will now give the government the basis for further action. In the mean time, the government is very much on top of the situation.
We know for a fact that no Nigerian life has been lost. So, we are extremely concerned now to ensure that there will be adequate compensation for property that have been damaged. We know that a Nigerian Airline is putting a plane at the disposal of most Nigerians that wish to take the opportunity to leave South Africa. This is totally voluntary, but we are particularly determined that this crisis does not reccur.
It has been happening for far too long. It’s becoming almost endemic. So, with the distinguished senators, we are looking at some of the options that we may have to ensure that this will be the last time that we will ever be meeting to talking about Nigerians attacked in South Africa and to take definitive measures.
To start doing that, we want to have all the facts available and we can take the necessary measures.
You have said Nigerians resident in South Africa that the decision to return home is voluntary. So, what becomes of their fate when Nigeria is considering cessation of diplomatic ties?
No, we are not thinking to the stage of diplomatic ties call off. There are various options. We are not by any means at a stage where we are breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa. But as I said, we will wait for the envoy to come back. There are different actions to be taken at the diplomatic level, but surely not to severe diplomatic ties.
We want our decision and President Buhari’s decision to be an informed decision after assessing all the facts and of course, the way the South African government itself reacts and what they say will also be very important in helping us to decide what we want to do.
How do you arrive at the conclusion that no Nigerian life has been lost when we have an envoy going there to fact check?
No, the envoy is not going there to fact-check because we have people on the ground. We have our High Commission there. We have a Consul General there who are engaging with the Nigerian Union in South Africa. So, the facts are coming out from those on the ground.
But there is no report yet of documentation of the victims.
We have a Nigerian union in South Africa and they are pretty much in touch with Nigerians who are living in South Africa and that all the facts available indicate that no known Nigerian life was lost.
But have you opened discussion on compensation?
The Nigerian government will be demanding that the victims should be compensated. This is very important because the South African governments are saying that their laws make no provision really for compensation. That they will have to resort to either insurance companies or that kind of private arrangements.
But we as a government are going to challenge that because we believe that in the past, no compensation was paid. So, for us, it is something we feel that we have to insist upon.
Going forward what are the decisions you arrived at with the Senate Committees?
It will not be appropriate to put in the public domain appropriate actions that have to be taken. Those are options and those options will be contingent and dependent on other things happening. And so we cannot now say we will take these things on a hypothetical case. We do not want to deal with hypothetical cases. We want to deal with the facts as they develop.