Xenophobic attacks: We have reached a crossroads —Rep member
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Honourable Buba Yakub, in this interview with newsmen in Abuja on the recurring xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa as well as ongoing efforts by Federal Government to proffer lasting solutions to the crisis. KEHINDE AKINTOLA brings excerpts:
What’s your response to the remarks attributed to the South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Police on the recent attack?
Yes, I watched the video where the police deputy minister in South Africa was indirectly supporting the terrible actions of South African citizens against Nigerians living in their country and other foreigners.
I think as a government, we condemn the utterances of the minister completely and we want to assure Nigerians that the government of Nigeria is really talking to the government of South Africa.
Even before these latest attacks, you will recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had arranged to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa in October. I want to call on Nigerians to remain calm and rest assured that the government in Nigeria today is a responsible government and the parliament is also working assiduously to get this unfortunate matter resolved as soon as possible.
Has Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and the delegation to the Commonwealth Parliament arrived Nigeria?
Speaker Gbajabiamila has already suspended his participation at the Commonwealth Parliament in Tanzania and is back to Nigeria. He has ordered a strong delegation and for investigations to commence in earnest; and if need be, Nigeria will have to review its foreign policy.
We also want to call on the South African government to raise its game because even today, there were attempts by some angry and aggrieved Nigerians to attack businesses owned by South Africans like the Shoprite located in Lugbe area on Airport road in Abuja, but the police presence prevented any reprisal. And that is what we want to see in South Africa too; let the government protect our people and other foreigners.
But you cannot as a government fold your arms and see your citizens attacking, maiming and killing citizens of other countries and vandalising shops, setting them on fire without any policeman coming to stop this dastardly act. We condemn it; but you know in diplomatic parlance, things are done diplomatically and the Nigerian government has been following this systematically.
But now we have come to a crossroads; we are going to do everything within our powers to ensure that these dastard acts are put to an end.
This issue has become perennial. Last year, it happened and the Nigerian government sent a delegation. Yet, it hasn’t only continued, but worsened. Does it mean that the South African government is not adhering to the recommendations or agreements reached with them? Is there no way this could be stopped?
You know these xenophobic attacks in South Africa did not start today and they did not start with Nigerians. It started far back. The ones that affected Nigerians started in 2008. And like I said, if there are foreigners in your country, it behooves the government to protect their lives and property, just like the Nigerian government will not sleep if citizens of other nations living here are being threatened. Since these things started, there had been talks between Nigerian government and that of South Africa and there have been promises and commitments that the attacks will not happen again. But since it has continued unabated, we have to take this step by step diplomatically. Like I said earlier, this madness has reached its peak and we want to assure Nigerians that the government would take decisive actions. That is why President Buhari has sent a very powerful delegation to South Africa and Speaker Gbajabiamila has also cut short his trip to Tanzania and is back to Abuja. He has also mandated the Committee on Foreign Affairs to swing into action and investigate and recommend solutions to end this issue.
As chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, what do you think should be the solution to these xenophobic attacks? There are also calls for review of the Nigerian foreign policy.
That is why I said this matter is being handled systematically. But when you said there had been delegations to South Africa, yet nothing has happened, I will say that is not true. So much talk has taken place, but not much of it has been brought to public knowledge because these are security issues. So, the Nigerian government has been talking to her South African counterpart and it is part of these talks that an appointment between President Buhari and Ramaphosa has been scheduled for October. So, the process of reconciliation has been ongoing, but these attacks just happened in the middle of the negotiations. I know Nigerians are disturbed especially families that have lost their loved ones; a lot of properties, but we are appealing for calm. Nigerian government will not rest until this is resolved.
We want to assure that the government will do everything to ensure that Nigerians live legitimately in any part of the world and do their businesses. I want Africans to know that the entire continent is just about 1.2 to 1.3 billion people less than the population of China, which is about 1.4 billion; and in 40 years, China has been able to conquer and become one of the biggest economy in the world. But if we don’t come together as one in Africa, no single country in Africa can break the jinx. We need ourselves as Africans. We should copy from the European Union.