by Lekan Olanrewaju
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.