OPINION – The latest report as the latest onslaught on Nigerians took place a few days ago with the killing of one Mr. Clement Ofoma in South Africa. The 35-year-old Ofoma was a native of Obosi, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. According to the embittered wife of the victim; about 10 South African policemen arrested him for allegedly dealing in drugs. “They searched our house, his store and other places, but did not find any substance. In the process, they tortured him to confess where he kept the drugs, but my husband insisted he had nothing. The police used cellophane bag to cover his face and at a point, he was struggling to breathe and became unconscious. By the time they took him to a hospital, he was pronounced dead”, she said.
Before Ofoma’s case, another Nigerian, Kingsley Ikeri, an indigene of Imo State, was allegedly killed by the police during interrogation for allegedly being in possession of drugs. Similarly, one Uchena Eloh was said to have been strangled to death by South African policemen. One Tochukwu Nnadi was equally confronted by the police on allegations of drug peddling. He was said to have neither resisted arrest nor struggled with his captors but was still choked to death. Other victims of reported and pathetic onslaught against Nigerians include those of Monday Okorie, Gideon Ogalaonye, Adeniyi Olumoko and Christian Onwukaike, among others.
Other examples would suffice: 125 Nigerians were once humiliated and deported by the South African government, for allegedly carrying fake yellow fever vaccination certificates, just as the renowned playwright and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, was denied entry into that country on flimsy excuse. Much of South African’s hostilities against Nigerians have been attributed to Xenophobia. The severity of these hostilities led the Nigerian and South African governments to jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2013 with a view to reinforcing diplomatic ties between both countries. Apart from South Africa, Nigerians have been found to have been executed in Saudi Arabia, Singapore and China over drug-related offences.
Similarly, a septuagenarian, Fausat Abosede was said to have come to Brazil, as a result of a promised medical help by a Nigerian but was later abandoned in the country. With help coming from no quarters, she decided to return home but was arrested at the Brazilian airport when hard drugs were found in a bag someone allegedly gave her to help deliver in Nigeria. A similar case was said of one Lara Salami, who was arrested at the Sao Paulo Airport when drugs stuffed in candles were discovered in her luggage. There was also one Amaka Isilabo, who allegedly went to Brazil after graduating from the university and joined the drug peddling business to raise money for her wedding.
Nigerians in Ukraine once protested against the arrest of a Nigerian student for allegedly defending himself against six teenagers, who attacked him at the entrance to his apartment. Olaolu Femi was allegedly remanded in custody by the Ukrainian police, who refused to take the case to court, claiming that they had not been able to get an interpreter for him after spending close to one year in jail without trial. Femi Oladipupo, an engineering graduate student in Philippines was said to have disappeared without a trace. His lifeless body was later found in another city a few kilometers from Manila. Godspower Okirie, who hailed from Rivers State, was brutally murdered in Sampaloc, a neighborhood of Manila City, Philippines. Another popular case was that of Stephen Lawrence, the Nigerian boy who was murdered by some white racist gang in the United Kingdom.
Each time I get to read about the plight of Nigerians in foreign lands, I feel greatly saddened, depressed and perturbed that my fellow country men and women suffer endlessly and are simply marked-down for offences they really knew nothing about. Regrettably, the government appeared not to have done much in protecting its citizens from such dangers in foreign lands. This posturing is both unacceptable and indefensible. The Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Diaspora Matters, Representative Rita Orji, has condemned the alleged lackadaisical attitude of the Federal Government towards the protection of Nigerians outside the country, describing it as a ‘conspiracy of silence’.
Although, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, as well as the Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdul-Rahaman Dambazau (rtd), recently visited South Africa to hold talks with officials of the country. The talks were aimed at seeking permanent solution to the crisis with the establishment of an Early Warning Unit (EWU), meant to curb all forms of violence. Similarly, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has enjoined the African Union and the South African government to take decisive steps to protect Nigerians while the Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sen. Monsurat Sunmonu, had earlier summoned Nigeria’s High Commissioner to South Africa over the matter. A lot still needs to be done.
It is sad that fellow citizens have left the country with great hopes, having been frustrated by lack of jobs at home. For many, it had been a lifelong desire and nothing else mattered to them until they eventually made their way abroad. Not a few of them took loans, sold houses, cars, left lucrative jobs and even threw a lavish send-forth party before embarking on the search for the Golden Fleece.
Maltreatment of Nigerians abroad stems from unnecessary persecutions, poor legal representation, false accusations, harassment and other forms of racial abuses. In many cases, these unfortunate citizens receive little assistance or protection from Nigerian embassies and High commissions. For instance, many Nigerians often wait in frustration for several months without succeeding in getting their passports renewed. During this period, they are forced to live like fugitives while some end up being arrested and deported. The main excuse by our embassies is that of shortage of machines that could produce the required passports. The way Nigerians are continually being treated abroad does not give the impression of any lasting solution in sight. This is at variance with what obtains in any serious nation worth dying for.
As a way forward, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should publish travel advisories with updated information. This becomes handy in the sense that some Nigerians do not really know what to expect in foreign countries. The detailed information contained in the publication would provide vital enlightenment and security tips. The ministry should take up the case of every Nigerian illegally killed or harassed in South Africa and other nations in local courts for prosecution.
The Nigerian Bar Association should urgently intervene in this regard by collaborating with government.
Furthermore, the Big Brother policy of Nigerian diplomacy should be critically reviewed because it seems not sustainable under the current dispensation, as the nation has not benefitted much from such, going by the South Africans experience despite the prominent role played by Nigeria in its liberation from apartheid. Currently, South Africa has many thriving investments in Nigeria that churn out hundreds of billions of Naira in annual profits. Is this what Nigeria should get in return? Despite the harshness, provocation and acts of wickedness, Nigerians abroad should desist from taking laws into their hands through reprisal attack, as extrajudicial killing or jungle justice is totally wrong.
On a final note, there is the patriotic need for all to deeply reflect on the state of our nation and tame the monster that drives people away. The rate of unemployment is daily skyrocketing, insecurity abounds and the cost of living is intolerably expensive while access to basic social infrastructure continues to be out of the reach of the common man. Addressing these should be the top priority of government. For now, Nigerians living in the Diaspora, who have nothing tangible doing should to return home rather than remaining there and being killed mercilessly. Afterall, there is really nothing like home!