Is this the thanks we get, South Africa? Nigeria goes for its pound of flesh – All the details of the diplomatic row

by Lekan Olanrewaju

The basics

Last Friday, 125 Nigerians who travelled to South Africa aboard Arik Air and South African Airlines flights were deported on arrival in Johannesburg.
Said Nigerians were allegedly carrying fake yellow fever vaccine cards.

56 South Africans were barred Tuesday night from entering Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.

28 were subjected to similar treatment on Sunday



The outrage and incredulity which the generally define the reactions to the developments can be summarized in one word “seriously”.

“Seriously? They really did that to Nigerians?”

“Seriously? Ordinary South Africa is doing that to Nigerians? If it were America I would even understand.”

“Seriously? Nigerians really tried to enter a country with fake documents? When will our people stop disgracing us?”

“Seriously? The Nigerian government is planning to retaliate? They are really bothering themselves with this pettiness?”


On Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, who also, in quite the interesting coincidence happens to be the former High Commissioner to South Africa, said the South Africans were deported from Lagos because of “irregular travel documents”.
Is it some form of eerie coincidence that South Africans all of a sudden decided to attempt entering Nigeria with “irregular” documents? Perhaps their idea of a joke?  Or is there more to the timing of their denial of entry into the country? Now, it’s either these South Africans have been unfairly denied entry into the country, simply as retaliation, or there were genuine grounds on which they shouldn’t have been allowed into the country. The latter would imply there have been South Africans entering the country with irregular documents for a while now, and the authorities in charge decided to turn a blind eye to it till they were provoked to take action. In a world where this manner of thinking was not the norm, chances are this mess would not be happening in the first place.
Were the Nigerians who wanted to enter South Africa without their vaccinations expecting the authorities of the country to turn a blind eye to it? Or does the fact they used fake documents suggest that they were trying to con their way in, as opposed to holding out hopes of being allowed in due to “friendliness”? And if the latter were the case, does the Nigerian Government really have the right to be upset at another country for choosing not to follow its own example and turn a blind eye to rule breaking? And does the Nigerian government it is an administration worth emulating? Or should they, instead of getting angry at South Africa and throwing tantrums, reevaluate themselves and see if the problem is from here? Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhaging disease which in most cases leads to a toxic phase which in most victims leads to liver damage and then death. On paper, the facts are stark. It’s, understandably, not something to be treated with laxity. However, the WHO has reportedly had Nigeria cleared for Yellow Fever for years. Does this matter? Or rather, should it matter? Rules are rules, at the end of the day. South Africa reserves the right to determine whatever validation it needs from people wanting to enter its soil. However, do diplomatic relations between two countries extend toward the bending of rules for citizens of one or both of said countries? And in the case where said rules are not bent, is it really unfair treatment? If other citizens were made to confirm the vaccinations then why should Nigerians be any different? Unfortunately, it seems no questions are being asked and actions are only being taken based on impulse and fueled by pride.

More than meets the eye

In a report published by The Nation, an unnamed Government official is quoted as saying

“Nigeria supported the then rebel-controlled Transitional National Council (TNC). South African President Jacob Zuma backed the late Gaddafi.
In the last one year, there has been a cold war between Nigeria and South Africa, beginning with the Libyan crisis. At the time the world was against Gaddafi, Zuma openly identified with the late dictator. He bulldozed his way to head a committee of the AU on Libyan crisis but the report presented to African leaders was wishy-washy and biased.
Nigeria succeeded in persuading most of the AU states to recognise the TNC. Nigeria’s position was also adopted by the UN.
South Africa has not forgiven Nigeria for making it to ‘lose out’ in international politics. It was a major foreign policy setback for President Zuma, who is gradually being isolated by world leaders for opposing reforms in Libya.
Also, Zuma wanted one of his wives to become the President of the AU Commission at the last session in Addis Ababa, but the election was stalemated. His wife could not win at the first ballot and this has angered South Africa, which believes that Nigeria wielded enormous power. “

Regardless of however one may view this quote, it’s not difficult to fathom that there is “something else” behind this row.

According to The Foreign Affairs Minister, the government is determined to “maintain the dignity of Nigerians everywhere”.

“When a Nigerian is deported on flimsy excuses, there will be appropriate reaction. It may not be retaliation but it will be reciprocal, one way or the other.” he said.
“Let it be known that South African officials do not have monopoly of deportation of travellers. Henceforth, any deportation of Nigerians will be met with equal measure of reciprocal measure; we will not let it go unreciprocated.”
Regardless of the cynicism that has come to be the automatic response whenever the Nigerian government claims to be doing anything “for the people”, what comes to mind here is, is this going to be another situation where citizens have to pay for the actions and choices of the government?
In a case where citizens of a country are simply reduced to the level of pawns in some kind of deportation chess game, whose interests are really being looked out for?


A major issue here seems to be the role Nigeria played in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, mentioned the fact that that Nigerians, including women and children joined in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and said the deportations were an unfair and unAfrican way to pay Nigerians back for their kind gesture. She described the action as “illegal”, and “inhuman”. In a statement issued Tuesday in Abuja  Dabiri-Erewa described the act as “continuous unwarranted hostilities against Nigerians by the South Africa government’’. She said that the Nigerians, including women and children, were delayed for 24 hours without water and food in inhuman conditions before being returned to Nigeria. She added that Nigerians do not ask require Yellow Fever Cards from South Africans when coming in to Nigeria even though passengers must have passed through this process while applying for the visa in the Embassy.


“We showed that we are ungrateful. Forgive us”. These were the sad words uttered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu during his address at the convocation ceremony of the American University of Nigeria, Yola in 2009. He was apologizing for the previous xenophobic attacks by South Africans on other Africans, including Nigerians, resident in the country, which he described as “a totally shameless thing to do.” The disheartening reality is, South Africa has a history of hostility towards foreigners, even, or especially when said foreigners are Africans. It’s not difficult to fathom why the recent deportations would be viewed as an act of cruelty, in the same vein as that which they already have a reputation for. However, a reality just as harsh is that there is a dark cloud that looms over the head of any Nigerian at any given time. The use of fake documents to gain entry into a country does nothing to fight the reputation for dishonesty and corruption which has unfortunately come to be attached to the word, “Nigerian”.


But what say you? Do any negative stereotypes about any country have any bearing in a situation like this? And is the best way to go about defending the rights of Nigerians by retaliation? Or should more diplomatic approaches be made in which citizens would not be caught in the crossfire of a power tussle? Sound off below.


Comments (15)

  1. cannabis oil for cancer

  2. when will nigerians appologise for bringing crime and drugs into south africa? Maybe we should send back all your illegal imigrants? I guess we would to appologise for that? It got to a point where Nigerians have been percieved as criminals in south africa. It nigerians in south africa have rightfully earned that perception. But it is true. We need your money, i just wish it wasnt so.

  3. Sigh… write up a storm and create a mountain out of a mole hill, suggest possibilities that maybe never have existed…writers… i tire for una! Such a dramatic lot! South Africa has apologised. Nigeria deserves the apologies. It wont happen again. The End.

  4. All this one na story. Of course, anyone with half a brain knows that South Africa was wrong. But the question is is Nigeria handling this the correct way? We can't criticise South Africa for doing something and then go around and do the same thing. Isn't that hypocrisy and pettiness? That is the issue now. Let's not fool ourselves abeg. We've only stooped down to their level.

    "Or should more diplomatic approaches be made in which citizens would not be caught in the crossfire of a power tussle?" <- This says it all. Are they not human beings too? Abeg.

  5. South Africa loves Nigerian money (DSTV, MTN etc) but detests Nigerian people. Surprised that it took this long to figure that out.

  6. Are you smart at all? So your point is that everyone should come out and condemn South Africa for deporting “almighty” Nigerians? Since you’re too myopic to see, it’s simple. South Africa alone knows the basis on which they declared the documents fake. The fact that Nigerians are displeased about that fact does not affect the authenticity of the documents in question. It’s clear you’re talking like someone who supposedly ‘knows the procedure’, but the fact remains you were not at the airport and cannot speak on the right or lack thereof of the action. The author has left out a lot but from all indications this isn’t an opinion piece. Even if YNaija condemned SA for the action, even if the whole world condemned it, can’t you think? What if the documents were actually fake or “irregular”? It’s clear people have been using shoddy procedures to go between the two countries. See the way Naija sent back God knows how many South Africans for having “irregular documents”. They knew about that before and they couldn’t act on it till now? Wise up please.

    Nigeria does not respect itself enough to demand it from anyone else.

    1. South Africa has apologized, and in so doing have actually put a number to how smart and deep thinking you are. We all can now go back to our regular programs, knowing the South Africans have eaten the humble pie and will never try this again. End of story.

      1. This is miserabnle. You think you have to insult to show intelligence. So be3cause a country apologise3s, it was right. It's a lack of exposure to how the world works

  7. all these are systematic forms of degradation,let's look at the big picture and borrow from history, do we deserve this? In my opinion I'd say no! The hypnosis has even been subtly introduced into their TV programming(I saw an episode of

    the soap RHYTHM CITY and I was shocked to my bones to see how Nigerians are perceived) still think their women are fine though LOL.

  8. when this whole drama started, I called a friend in SA, who was for the Nigerian response. According to her, Black South Africans accepted their lot as being beneath their white counterparts but above other Black Africans. A Nigerian is never beneath anyone- even in a foreign country. That is the cause of the strain between us. In 2011, black South Africans still know their place as they don't go to some places where their white counterparts go. They hate that Nigerians don't seem to have that limitation. My friend who went on visit to Durban said both the black waiters and the white customers were shocked that they (Nigerians) entered a restaurant to be served! It all boils down to the way they see themselves and trying to put us in our place. The Nigerian Government must not back down!

  9. facts: we travel with fake yellow fever cards – but it was not an issue until now. I know of countries that will give you the required inoculation upon arrival and then issue you with a proper yellow fever certificate but was this done to the erring passengers?

    My thinking is that there is more to this treatment than meets the eye – perhaps we should all dig deeper for this real reason and address that specifically.

    We all know Nigerians and our views towards laws and quick fixes – that has always specifically existed but this appears to target something else.

  10. It baffles me when people write articles like this without at least taking sometime to ask themselves questions. Since the author was too lazy to do that, I will help him do it, and free too.

    The deported Nigerians met their fate because the guys at immigration at the airport in South Africa concluded that the yellow fever cards were fake. Ok, but did this author take some pain to find out what is required to get a South African visa in the first place? From this article, I already have my answer. So I will continue with the path of goodwill I am following.

    A trip to the South African Home affairs website will present to you a list of requirements for you to apply and maybe get an entry visa. One of the requirements looks something like this:

    – A yellow fever vaccination certificate (if required)

    "As required" in this case is used to mean "if your country is on our yellow fever list". Nigeria is on that list, so the certificate is required.

    This 125 Nigerians who got deported entered South Africa with valid visas (there isn't any report yet from the SA authorities that fake visas was the problem too). This means that the consular officers at the South African Embassy in Nigeria deemed the Yellow fever cards (and other documents) these unfortunate Nigerians submitted to have met requirements necessary for entering their country.

    So how did Yellow fever cards that passed scrutiny for getting the visa from the South African Embassy in Nigeria suddenly become fake when it landed at the airport. Shouldn't someone be asking the guys who issued the visas to 125 people (which is not a small nor coincidental number) how they saw 125 fake yellow fever cards and allowed it to pass? Or can we all come to the conclusion that the South Africans issued fake visas (gotten with fake documents) for entry into their country? Therein lies part of Nigeria's anger. That you fail to see it is worrisome. We have decided to reciprocate and deport South Africans who don't have appropriate papers. The Principle of Reciprocity is allowed in International relations. If you do not know that, I suggest you find out.

    We deserve respect from South Africa or any African country for that matter, and in this case we are insisting on it.


  11. This write up is silly. U conviniently left out d facts of d matter. How did SA determine d genuiness of d yellow fever cards? Did they have a repertoire of all d signatures in d country for them to have boldly said the signature on the cards were irregular baring in mind that these cards were part of d documents relied upon @ d embassy before the visas were issued. How could people be so inhuman as to detain children who were on excursion for more than 24hrs without food or water on a flimsy excuse even after the Nigerian government reportedly told SA to have them quarantied and given the necessary innoculation for a fee. I have always had my reservations about SA and its people after all d stories of their hostility against other african countries especially Nigerians. I think these would send a message to them that its not only nigerians that seek to enter theis Country but there people too come to Nigeria.

  12. I support Nigeria's response, SA has always treated us this way. One would have expected differently from a country that suffered apartheid for so long.

    Yet they love our money being gotten through MTN, DSTV, etc., but can't stand us? We are even charged more than other countries, e.g. In Ghana, MTN's tarrif is much lower than here in Nigeria.

    I think we should send them packing & develop our own companies & see how quickly they change their tones.


  13. Nigerians tho, I won't be surprised if their yellow cards are fake…they sell that stuff at the international airport but if they have already gone thru that during the visa process, why the harassment?

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