By Chuks Moses, Awka.
Nigerian students and National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) officials painted a sorry and pathetic sight Wednesday as they exchanged slaps and kicks right in front of the South African High Commission over which of the factional groups should negotiate for a cultural exchange programme for students and youth groups.
The “sudden exchange programme” is coming as Nigerians raged over xenophobic attacks against their fellow citizens, whose business outlets were destroyed in an orgy of violence on Africans in the Republic of South Africa (RSA).
Not less than 100 Nigerians have been killed in RSA, even in the hands of policemen there.
The alleged involvement of Nigerians in the illicit drug trade and prostitution rings has been fingered as the reason why they were targeted; amid anger by the South Africans that Nigerians and other Africans were taking jobs meant for them.
At the South African High Commission, a set of the officials of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and NYCN stepped out of the negotiations for the programme with the High Commissioner to meet a motley crowd of other students who unleashed violence on them for being impostors.
Embassy officials, passers-by, and embassy security officials watched the show of shame as those who came out were rough-handled and forced into waiting buses.
The National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS), opposed the proposed cultural exchange programme between Nigerian and South African youths to address xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and promote unity between the two countries.
Its President, Danielson Akpan, added shortly after a closed door meeting and a news briefing by Mr Bobby Moroe, Acting High Commissioner of South Africa to Nigeria, on the cultural exchange programme to foster unity between the two countries that it would not work in view of the prevailing situation in South Africa.
”We do not need the proposed exchange programme; how do you carry out exchange programme in a place where you are not safe?
“Our members, who are schooling in South Africa, have been calling us that they want to come back home.…
“We have Multichoice, MTN, Shoprite and other South African companies numbering over 180 of them and we have not attacked any.
“Nigerians are also angry and we are humans, we cannot continue to keep quiet and watch our people being killed, why are they not allowing Nigerians to take laws into their hands?
“This has to stop; the proposed exchange programme by the South African High Commission and the Federal Government of Nigeria for youths and students body has failed,” he said.
The meeting was organised by the high commission in collaboration with the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Global Peace Initiative (GPI) and Committee of Youth on Mobilisation and Sensitisation (CYMS) and National Association of Nigeria Students.
In another development, angry demonstrators were stopped by a detachment of policemen who fired tear-gas and shot into the air to prevent looting and attacks on the Shoprite Store along the Umar Musa Yar’Adua Expressway leading to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.
The angry protesters made a bonfire of used tyres and wood and chanted songs as the Police kept them at bay and locked up the complex which houses other businesses, including a cinema house, and eateries.
Shoprite Stores, MTN, DSTV outlets, Stanbic IBTC Bank are some of the businesses with strong South African roots being eyed by angry Nigerians, especially miscreants, for attacks, though most merely merely run as franchise and are actually owned by Nigerians.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced the availability of free flights to ferry willing Nigerians home from South Africa.
In a statement, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwonye, disclosed that following the recent unfortunate xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, including Nigerian, the Proprietor of Air Peace Airlines Chief Allen Onyema, has volunteered to send an aircraft from Friday 6th September 2019 to evacuate Nigerians who wish to return to Nigeria free of charge.
“The general public is hereby advised to inform their relatives in South Africa to take advantage of this laudable gesture. Interested Nigerians are therefore advised to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate General of Nigeria in Johannesburg for further necessary arrangement,” the statement added.
To forestall further backlash against businesses across the country, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu, has ordered water-tight security around embassies, foreign missions, foreigners and their businesses within the country.
Police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Frank Man, said the order is against the backdrop of the unfortunate attack on Shoprite outlets in Lekki Area of Lagos Sate on 3rd September, 2019 by some miscreants who attacked and looted the Malls ostensibly under the pretext of protesting against the incessant “xenophobic” attacks in South Africa.
Mba said further: “To this end, all Zonal Assistant Inspectors General of Police and Commissioners of Police across the Federation have been placed on red alert to ensure no similar violence is replicated within the country.
“The IGP condemns the violent attacks and notes that three police officers were seriously injured and a Police operational vehicle set ablaze. He also notes that a total number of One Hundred and Twenty-Five (125) suspects have been arrested in connection with the incident while a good number of looted valuables have been recovered by the Police.
“While recognizing the rights of citizens to air their views on salient national issues as enshrined in our statutes, the Force reiterates that these must be done within the confines of the law. Miscreants and criminally-minded people who masquerade as genuine protesters are therefore warned to stay-off the streets of Nigeria as the Force will not hesitate to bring to bear the full weight of the law on any such law breaker. Parents and Guardians are therefore enjoined to prevail on their children and wards to desist from acts capable of causing breakdown of law and order in the country.
“Meanwhile, the Force has commenced investigations and profiling of the arrested suspects with a view to establishing their connection with the stealing, malicious damage, arson and disturbance of public peace on the day of the incident.
“The Force is hereby reassuring all law-abiding citizens, embassies, foreign missions, foreigners and their businesses within the country of their security and safety.”
Videos of destroyed business outlets said to belong to Nigerians in South Africa
In Anambra, a visit to MTN and DSTv retail outlets, including those operated by their Nigerian agents in Awka, Nkpor, Onitsha, Nnewi, Ihiala and Ekwulobia presented similar picture of precautionary business shutdown.
This, according to one of the top MTN officer in Awka who gave her name simply as Uche, was to discourage anything untoward against their staff, facilities and installations.
She revealed that almost all their workers are Nigerians, whereas equally substantial part of these businesses were owned and managed by Nigerians who only secured the franchise of MTN, adding that mob attacks are “often spontaneous, unconscionable and without deep consideration.”
According to her, once one passer-by, whether as a joke ot frustration, kicks throws the first stone, others, especially hoodlums, may cash in on it to wreak havoc.
An Ihiala-based lawyer and housewife -Mrs Ada Omah-Chukwuma whose husband has been in South Africa for the past twenty-three years said she was so scared about the safety of the spouse after watching the horrible videos and pictures on social media and cable television.
She charged the Nigerian government to “rise up to the occasion for just once, this time so as to bring the regular mindless attacks, killings and looting of property/businesses of Nigerians and other nationals in South Africa to an end.”
Mrs Omah-Chukwuma bemoaned what she saw as “lousiness and docility” of the Nigerian government in responding swiftly and in a strict manner to South African government and other African nations like Ghana where such selective attacks against Nigerians when it first began few years ago.
In her views, if the Federal Government had taken decisive action of sending the Ambassadors of such nations home “for briefing” no such bloodletting would reoccur or emulated anywhere else again.
A retired civil servant Dr Magnus Nwodu who now lives in his Ogidi countryhome recollected how the Nigerian Government staked the comfort, welfare, resources, diplomatic sagacity to see that black South Africans attained freedom from the white-backed apartheid era. He recalled that Nigeria led nations of the world to boycott world games, international meetings/conferences, harboured notable South African nationalists like Nelson Mandela, gave citizenship to enable them travel the world for their voices to be heard when it mattered most.