By, Uchechukwu Ugboaja
In this exclusive interview with our correspondent, Sen. Rose Oko from Cross-River State bares her mind point blank on how South African authorities and their monarchs have been fueling xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other African immigrants in the wake of another series of henious ethnic crimes which she claimed have been shamefully followed by very tepid responses from the Nigerian government. She believes that the Nigerian Senate’s strong delegation to its South African counterparts might just be the right step towards ending this orgy of hate and violent attacks. Excerpts
QUESTION: Distinguish Senator you raised a motion during plenary which took a swipe at both the South African government and leaders as well as the Nigerian government for what you describe as a weak and lukewarm reaction to this issue of Xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa. What was going through your mind as you read the motion.
RESPONSE: The Nigerian Senate as a legislature has the mandate to speak the minds of Nigerians wherever they are in the world and whenever issues that affect them are not properly responded to we are obliged to draw the right attention to it. Therfore on the issue of the atatcks in South Africa it is important to remind ourselves that Nigeria has committed a lot and made a lot of sacrifices to the end of apartheid in South Africa and no sooner had that happens that South Africans began to look at not only Nigerians but African Immigrants as the major source of their problems where they see African immigrants as taking over their jobs and businesses they assume to be theirs. They have displayed that using Xenophobia which had led to the destruction of lives and properties.
There have also been what we would describe as state killings, that is extra judicial killings under the watch of the South African authorities. I can give you an instance where several Nigerians are charged for drug peddling or related criminal offences. The suspects are choked to death or killed in the custody of the South African police and this is a case of extra judicial killing. So both from the state and the citizens of South Africa Nigerians are been meted with ontold inhumane actions and atrocities forgetting very quickly the tremendous contributions Nigeria as a government and as a people made towards the eradication of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Nigerians have continued to cry out, they are angry dismayed and shocked that this is happening to them. As a nation we suffered consequences from other parts of the world as a result of the struggle for freedom in South Africa as you heard on the floor of the senate today. We do believe that this should not be happening because the South Africans themselves especially those who are in high places in government including the monarchs have fueled the behaviour or actions of the ordinary South Africans on the streets towards immigrants leading to the Xenophobic attacks which have lingered for nearly a decade now.
What do you think would be the reaction of ordinary South Africans who hear their monarchs call for the repartration of immigrants and their government making tepid statements in response to attacks and at the same time gives excuses why this things are being done, it certainly will not deter anyone whose aim is to destroy and steal.
Infact we have observed an instance where the authorities claim that the citizens are protesting against bad or immoral behaviours in their communities.
In the case where state actors are accused of extra judicial killings, the authorities find it extremely diffulicult to brings such rogue police men to justice for killing Nigerians and then the cycle continues. People need to be brought to book by the South African justice system in order to serve as deterrent to others. In the case of immigrants whether Nigerian or any other foreigner, such a person should be tried and if found guilty sentenced to jail but not to be chased and killed while undergoing trial in the hands of the government who is to protect everyone under the law.
So we think, that as a Parliament the Nigerian government should go beyond just calling the South African ambassador to respond to the situation here in Nigeria. There should be a formal engagement between the two governments properly addreasingg the issue of these Xenophobic and extra judicial killings and so this has made the Senate take the decision to send a high powered delegation to the South African Parliament in order to engage them on how these xenophobic tide could be stemmed urgently.
We in the senate have expressed our very strong displeasure about what is happening over there as we also urge our government to take appropriate actions and steps diplomatically to end this incidences.
QUESTION: What will you say about the Nigerian Mission in South Africa and its handling of this issue especially in providing security and succor to affected Nigerians over there. Also noting that there were victims during the previous attacks whose loss were valued in millions have not been compeseted, could we say they are failing in their responsibility?
RESPONSE: The Nigerian mission in South Africa will do what the Nigerian government expects of it, the mission is not on it’s own it is a part of the ministry of foreign affairs which is part of the executive arm of government. They will definitely do what they are directed to do in the situation, because it will only express what the federal government wishes it to express as the onus really lies with the Nigerian government to address this matter bilaterally with a view to bringing an end to this problem. It is noteworthy that there are over 120 South African big time businesses operating in Nigeria, while we have a few small business owners who cannot even guarantee their lives and properties in South Africa while the authorities keep treating the issue very peripherally and in a lukewarm manner and we say it cannot continue. Between 2009 uptill date there have been 8 Xenophobic attacks which means that almost every year there are records of attacks metted out on Nigerians.
This year alone we have witnessed about 2 attacks and there was a protest march in Pretoria which was declscribed as anti-immigrants protest march. So whatever their ambassador is saying over here on the issue is not reflecting in their policies and actions back home because their people are still very angry at immigrants, who knows if there won’t be another Xenophobic attack in the future so we must stop it we cannot continue to engage in mere diplomatic talks we must take it further to taking concrete diplomatic actions. If you recall the last time our governmennt acted decisively was in 2013 when president Goodluck Jonathan signed an MOU with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa in the wake of the attacks then which included the ending of xenophobic attacks amongst several other bilateral and diplomatic issues that were discussed at that time. However, since then it has happened more than 5 times uptill date. In order words that MOU didn’t last beyond the Goodluck government. This means that the Nigerian government of today must come up with a fresh diplomatic approach to stem this barbaric trend against Nigerians and their interest in South Africa.
The Nigerian parliament is agast, dismayed and we condemn the entire situation which is why there would be a strong delegation to visit the South African parliament with a view to ending it.
QUESTION: What would you then say to Nigerians at home and in diaspora who are calling for reprisal attacks against South African businesses and interests in Nigeria?
RESPONSE: For Nigerians at home heheere we say that we remain calm to see what our government would do while we remain calm and that is why we say it over and over again that there is need to take urgent action to avoid a situation where our citizens begin to take the laws into their hands. Although the National Union of Nigerian Students (NANS), carried out a protest against a South African telecommunications outfit thereby damaging several valuables in the process and making a few inflammatory remarks. Of course we don’t want such a situation to degenerate therefore government must ensure that it nips the matter in the bud and very quickly.Q
QUESTION: Another crisis have also been brewing in the University of Calabar which have seen the Vice Chancellor of the University Prof. Zana Akpagu at loggerheads with the embattled University Bursar Mr. Peter Ago over certain issues ranging from use PTDF funds and several procurements in the University. Being a stakeholder from Crossriver state, do you think that the University of Calabar can cope with another crisis?
RESPONSE: It is quite unfortunate that this has to happen, incidentally the two actors come from the same constituency where they would be assumed to work in harmony which is beside the main point anyways. However having said that I would say that what is happening there unfortunately happens in quite some universities and institutions in Nigeria. As we speak, I am aware that there are concerned ‘Crossriverians’ who are reaching out to both parties to ensure that the situation doesn’t get out of hand and this can only be achieves if they both sheath the sword in the interest of peace and the academic development of the students, and I think the efforts are still ongoing.