Xenophobic attacks: FG, Reps insist on compensation for victims

September 7, 2019
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THE Federal Government and the House of Representatives are pushing ahead with demands for compensation to Nigerian victims of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, regardless of hints by Pretoria that it has no intention of paying.

While Foreign Affairs Minister Godfrey Onyeama declared on Friday that Nigeria will challenge South Africa’s claims that its laws do not provide for such compensation, House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said, “We will obtain, by whatever means available, due restoration and recompense for all that has been lost in this latest conflagration and all the ones that have come before.”

Senior lawyers are also asking Nigeria to sue South Africa domestically and internationally to obtain justice for the victims of the xenophobic attacks.

Gbajabiamila, speaking to reporters in Abuja on Friday after an emergency session by the House of Reps on the attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, said the Green Chamber had heard the “the cries of our citizens.”

His words: “Let no one be left in any doubt, we will seek and we will obtain by whatever means available, due restoration and recompense for all that has been lost in this latest conflagration and all the ones that have come before.

“We are committed to a sustained and special effort to see that the ends of justice are met for all our people who have suffered.

“We have heard the cries of our citizens and we have witnessed their devastation. We will mourn for the dead and cry for the lost, but we will not stop there.”

He said that there ought to be urgency for demanding nothing less than total commitment to revoking the old arrangements that had made such abominations against Nigerians possible.

Nigeria, he said, had demonstrated its commitment to the brotherhood of nations, sacrificing life, labour and wealth to achieve peace and restore freedom from Sierra Leone to Liberia, Sao Tome to South Africa.

Gbajabiamila said that Nigeria’s commitment had always been to the advancement of Africa, freedom in all lands and prosperity for all African peoples.

He added: “Yet today and too many a time, we are called to stand as pallbearers, bringing home to burial the bodies of our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, our children, savaged and decimated.

“What is their offence? That they dared to dream of glory and profit beyond our borders, and having dreamt, they endeavoured to make real the visions of their heart.

“We did not provoke, nor do we deserve the violence that has been visited on our people in South Africa.

“We reject entirely the obvious attempt to change the true narrative of events by casting the recently organised acts of violence as merely internecine conflict between gangs fighting for turf.

“Unless it is the position of South African government that all Nigerians living in South Africa are gangsters and criminals, we demand that they reject these claims without equivocation.”

The speaker said that those who are tempted to respond to the latest incidents with violence and destruction in communities should resist such temptation.

“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 sacrifice 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 harms is peace, progress and prosperity in the homeland,” he said.

The speaker hailed the actions thus far taken by President Muhammadu Buhari through the Minister of Foreign Affairs in communicating the government’s extreme displeasure at what has occurred.

Gbajabiamila urged Buhari to 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 the unfortunate event.

“We ought no longer to wait until our people are caught in the foulest manifestations of these events before we take necessary action to protect them.

“There have been reports that state actors may have participated in the worst acts of violence; sometimes actively, at other times by standing and doing nothing whilst murder and mayhem was unleashed.

“We expect that the government of the Republic of South Africa will conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations and make public their findings whatever they may be.

“Where any of these claims are determined to be true, we expect also that the individuals responsible will be held accountable to the highest degree allowed by law,” he said.

Onyeama: why Nigeria will insist on compensation

Foreign Affairs Minister Godfrey Onyeama, who spoke in the same vein as Gbajabiamila, said Nigeria would be demanding that the victims be compensated.

“This is important despite the position of the South African government that there is no provision for that by their own laws.”They will definitely be made to resort to other insurance companies or other private arrangements for that,” he told reporters after a meeting with the chairman of the Senate Committee on Diaspora, Senator Ajibola Bashiru.

Onyeama, however, said that despite the decision of the South African government not to pay compensation to the Nigerian victims of the attacks, the Federal Government would pursue the option by all means.

But he said Nigeria would not severe relations with South Africa on the matter.

“The options that are being considered are weighty enough to ensure that the government of South Africa is alive to its responsibility on the rule of law, but not in any way relating to severance of ties,” he said.

He said that a wide range of diplomatic moves were being made by Abuja to get South Africa and its citizens to realize the need to prevent such attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in the future.

“We are not thinking to the stage of diplomatic ties call off now. There are various options. We are not by any means at a stage where we are breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa,” the minister emphasised.

He appealed to Nigerians to eschew retaliation in the interest of both countries, particularly considering that fact that about 800,000 Nigerians are currently resident in South Africa.

The minister said: “Fundamental in resolving this matter is for us to appeal to Nigerians not to take laws in to their hands.

“We need to exercise restraint as Nigeria is a leader in Africa, and as a country, we must also show that we are responsible, as two wrongs can never make a right. So we appeal to Nigerians to remain calm.”

He said the special envoys dispatched to Johannesburg by President Muhammadu Buhari would return to Nigeria today.

He explained that their report would guide the Nigerian leader to take a decisive action in the overall interest of the country.

“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.

“Part of that road map on the executive side, Mr. President has dispatched a special envoy to South Africa who would be holding discussion with the South African government at the very highest level.

“He (leader of the envoy) should be back tomorrow (today). That will now give the government the basis for further action. In the meantime, 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 purely voluntary, but we are particularly determined to particularly make sure that this crisis does not reoccur.

It has been happening for far too long. It is becoming almost endemic. So the distinguished senators are helping with some of the options that we may have to take 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.”

The minister also advised his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor, to desist from stigmatising Nigerians.

He described Pandor’s statement as “outrageous stigmatization of a people from senior government officials that fuel xenophobia and embolden criminals.”

Pandor had in an interview with ‘eNCA’, a South African news website, accused Nigerians of doing illegitimate jobs in South Africa.

She was quoted as saying: “I would appreciate them in helping us as well to address the belief our people have and the reality that there are many persons from Nigeria dealing in drugs in our country.

“I believe that Nigerian nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abusive practices. “This kind of assistance of ensuring that such persons do not come to our country will be of great assistance to our nation.

Nigeria needs to help address the belief that its countrymen are involved in criminal activities.”

Also speaking on the Diaspora committee of the Senate, Ajibola Bashiru, said diplomatic options were the best approach to the problem and not retaliation or diplomatic face off.

“As we are today, from reliable information, not less than 800,000 Nigerians are living in South Africa. So if you want to take a decision, you must be able to protect their interest because they have been tied to the South African society for many years.

“So when you are taking a decision, you have to take a decision that will promote the interest of all Nigerians that are in that country,” the senator said.

Sue South Africa domestically, internationally, senior lawyers tell FG

Senior lawyers yesterday backed the Federal Government in its decision to seek compensation by legal means for Nigerian victims of xenophobic attacks.

They advised Nigeria to sue the South African Government within South Africa and also explore international laws within the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) framework.

Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) Chief Felix Fagbohungbe, Dr Paul Ananaba, Chief Emeka Okpoko and other lawyers told The Nation in different interviews that the Federal Government could also step up diplomatic pressure to resolve the crisis.

In a recent statement, activist-lawyer Mr Femi Falana advised Nigeria to begin legal proceedings against the Southern African nation at the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, Arusha, Tanzania.

Ananaba, who commended the Federal Government’s diplomatic efforts, said legal options may be available to seek redress for Nigerian victims of xenophobic attacks.

He suggested that aside instituting legal action under the domestic laws of South Africa, Nigeria could also explore international legal options.

The senior lawyer also suggested that the country could also go by way of diplomacy, where countries give and take in the interest of their citizens.

Government should no longer take anything regarding our relationship with South Africa for granted. Nigeria should be on the alert to protect Nigerian interests, not only in South Africa, but anywhere in the world,” Ananaba said.

He emphasised that the South African government’s refusal to compensate victims of the attack was unacceptable.

“Xenophobic attacks are not acceptable anywhere in the world. The world has progressed beyond such unacceptable behaviours now.

“Even though the attacks may not be strictly aimed at Nigerians, Nigerians have suffered so much in the hands of South Africans.

“I think the government is handling it well because they also have to be diplomatic in handling it, knowing that they are also our brothers”, he added.

Fagbohungbe, who observed that the issue requires careful diplomacy, gave the Federal Government kudos for “handling it in a much matured and proper way.”

He urged scare mongers and those spreading fake news about the true situation in South Africa to exercise restraint and allow the Federal Government carry out proper investigation.

Fagbohungbe said: “I feel that we should investigate properly what is happening in South Africa. People should allow the government to investigate and give us their position. We should not jump into conclusion based on what we see on social media, though it is a very condemnable act.

“We should allow the Federal Government to handle it and then give us their position before we start talking.

“We have well experienced people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and government has sent envoys there to ascertain the true positions of things because we are getting different versions from social media.

“Even Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, said the situation is not like we are seeing it on social media, because we may not know as much as government knows. So, we have to be careful so that whatever views we are making are not on wrong premise.

“Let us know the findings of the government and then the next the line of action of the government.”

Okpoko commended the government for the steps it has taken so far, but urged it to go even further and deploy more diplomatic measures in resolving the crisis.

“We have to take an international diplomatic approach. The Federal Government’s withdrawal of the South African High Commissioner is okay but we need to take it further.

“For instance, we can approach the United Nations. So, legal steps are okay, but we must combine it with high diplomatic moves.

“We need to explore all diplomatic avenues,” Okpoko said.

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