Abuja/Lagos — The federal government has pushed aside the suggestion that Nigeria should severe diplomatic ties with South Africa over the spate of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, including Nigerians, saying it would not be in the interest of Nigerians in South Africa.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, made known Nigeria's position on the issue yesterday in Abuja when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Diaspora.
On the same day, members of House of Representatives cut short their recess, scheduled to end on September 12, to urgently address issues relating to the renewed hostilities against Nigerians resident in South-Africa, with a demand that "organised mass violence against Nigerians" must end.
Onyeama said available statistics from the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria indicated that over 800,000 Nigerians are legally living in the South African country.
He noted that any attempt by Nigeria to cut diplomatic relationship with the former apartheid nation, would adversely affect Nigerians and their huge investments there.
He said the special envoys dispatched to Pretoria by President Muhammadu Buhari would return to Nigeria today, noting that their report would guide the President to take a decisive action in the overall interest of Nigeria.
Onyeama, who briefed journalists after a meeting with the Senate panel, led by Senator Bashir Ajibola, said Nigeria would consider other options apart from diplomatic ties severance, to resolve the unfortunate development.
He said: "We are not thinking of severing diplomatic ties. There are various options. We are not by any means at a stage where we are breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa.
"We just met with the Senate committee 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.
"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 had 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 purely voluntary, but we are determined to particularly make sure that this crisis does not re-occur.
"It has been happening for far too long, it's becoming almost endemic, so with the distinguished senators helping with some of the options, we may have to ensure that this will be the last time we will ever be meeting to talk about Nigerians attacked in South Africa and to take definitive measures. To start doing that, we want to have all the facts available and then we will take the necessary measures."
House of Reps Reconvenes, Condemns 'Organised Mass Violence'
Members of House of Representatives yesterday cut short their recess, scheduled to end on September 12, to urgently address issues relating to the renewed hostility against Nigerians resident in South-Africa in xenophobic attacks.
Addressing the emergency plenary held at the House of Representatives wing of the National Assembly, Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said though Nigerians have enough reasons to be agitated by the development, "there is need to allow government take necessary steps to address the matter."
According to Gbajabiamila, "To those who are sorely tempted to respond to these latest incidents with violence on our streets and destruction in our communities, I call on you to resist all such temptation. Your anger is justified, your pain is rightly felt but we cannot honour the memory of our fallen citizens by setting our streets aflame and our houses asunder.
"We will achieve nothing by destroying businesses that employ our people and provide a living for our families. We will honour the lives of our fallen brothers by making sure that never again will our citizens' inalienable right to life and liberty be so wantonly denied here at home or anywhere else in the world.
"We will honour the sacrifices of the fallen by devoting ourselves once more to a covenant of service to one another, certain in the knowledge that our greatest protection against such harm is peace, progress and prosperity in the homeland."
The Speaker noted that the leadership of the House had commended the actions so far taken by President Muhammadu Buhari through the Minister of Foreign Affairs in communicating the government's extreme displeasure at what has occurred and taking action to see to the return of those of our citizens who are willing to come home at this time.
"We will further ask that the president direct the Ministry of Health to assist the families of the bereaved in expediting the return of loved ones who have lost their lives in these unfortunate events.
"The leadership of the House of Representatives will also shortly invite the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, the Chairman of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission and other stakeholders to jointly consider the causes of these latest incidents of organised mass violence and murder of our people. We intend not only to determine the causes of these latest events but also to assess and account for the losses in life and property that have occurred.
"This will allow the government to, more accurately, demand reparations to compensate our citizens who suffered in this recent orgy of violence. The House of Representatives is ready to authorise legal funding for those citizens who wish to take legal action against identified perpetrators of the violence, as well as those who sponsored them or permitted their actions to occur and to continue.
"We recognise that there are many places in the world right now where internal crises and conflicts have made the terrain unsafe for our citizens there. The House of Representatives will work with all the stakeholders within and outside government to evolve and implement a plan to evacuate our people from these places and as much as possible keep them out of harm's way," Gbajabiamila stated.
FG Extends Date for Evacuation of Nigerians
Meanwhile, the federal government has deferred the date for the evacuation of Nigerians living in South Africa, following the need to get travel certificate for many of them that do not have legal papers and others that have expired passports.
The flights may start from next Monday after those Nigerians who indicated interest to leave South Africa have registered at the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria and its annex in Johannesburg.
The federal government, with the support of Air Peace, had scheduled to begin the evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa on September 6, following the ongoing xenophobic attacks on foreigners in the country.
Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who confirmed the development in a statement yesterday, said the airline had already placed its Boeing 777 aircraft on standby since Thursday and was only awaiting the go ahead from the government.
He said: "The Air Peace flight to South Africa will take off from Lagos Airport and also return to Lagos. As earlier stated, the take off could be Monday on Tuesday.
"This is because the Nigerians in South Africa have to obtain travel certificates because many of them don't have travel documents and their passports have since expired.
Onyema described the attacks against Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa as unfortunate, especially with the alleged tacit support given to the perpetrators by the authorities.
He therefore advised Nigerians without legal documents to take advantage of the evacuation flight to return home.
The federal government had earlier recalled its Ambassador to South Africa, Ambassador Kabiru Bala and also pulled out of the World Economic Summit holding in Cape Town as a response to the dastardly act.
Dabiri-Erewa: FG'll Insist on Justice for Victims
In a related development, the federal government has once again reiterated that it would continue to demand and insist on fairness and justice for all Nigerians over the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
The Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, stated this yesterday, while describing the vandalisation of property belonging to South African brands in the country as a step taken in the wrong direction.
She appealed to Nigerians to address the situation with caution.
Dabiri-Erewa tweeted, "President Buhari's administration will continue to demand and insist on fairness and justice for all Nigerians. Peaceful and non-violent protests are better options than violence as two wrongs do not make anything right.
"That's not who we are as Nigerians. We are humane and we respect humanity. We welcome our visitors, we don't go humiliating them. And more so, by destroying properties and looting, they are actually doing more harm to Nigerians in Nigeria than South Africans.
"Nothing is wrong with a peaceful, non-violent protest and the government has taken the right actions by making it clear that it would not tolerate maltreatment of its citizens."