How safe are Nigerians in South Africa?


The killing of a senior government official in her hotel room in South Africa has reignited calls for stiffer measures against the country and its interests in Nigeria, writes Eric Ikhilae.

The yet-to-be explained death, in the earlier hours of June 13, of another Nigerian in South Africa, has reignited debate over Nigeria’s failure to effectively confront what appears to be a deliberate, steady and consistent attack on Nigeria’s interests in that country.

A mother of two and Deputy Director-General (DDG), Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN), Mrs, Elizabeth Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu, was on Nigeria’s delegation to this year’s African Insurance Organisation (AIO) conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

On June 12, she was seen with her colleagues at the farewell dinner held for participants. But on June 13, the day she was billed to catch her flight back home, she was found dead in her room at Emperors Palace Casino, Hotel and Convention Centre, Johannesburg.

The incident, like many cases of Nigerians killed in that country, received passing attention – with some suggesting cardiac arrest; but for the curiosity of some concerned Nigerians, who questioned the manner the hotel management and security agencies in South Africa reacted to the incident.

Against all expectations, the South African police allegedly failed to examine the closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of events in the hotel the night before Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s death. The management of Emperors Palace Hotel also allegedly and reluctantly handed the CCTV footage to South African police about two weeks after the incident.

The fear of a cover up is further fueled by the evident contradiction in the suggestion by those, who claimed to have seen the CCTV footage, that no one was seen entering the deceased’s hotel room the previous night, and the finding in the autopsy report of June 27 signed by the Director-General of the Department of Health, Republic of South Africa, to the effect that the Nigerian died of “unnatural causes consistent with strangulation.”

Nigerians enraged

The suspicion, generated by the lack-lustre attitude exhibited in this case by the South African police, coupled with the growing tradition of unprovoked killings of Nigerians in South Africa, has impelled prominent Nigerians and groups to insist that enough is enough.

Obiano: tackle killings at highest level

Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano urged President Muhammadu Buhari, the South African government, through the country’s High Commission in Nigeria, the National Assembly, among others, to ensure that those behind the killing of the 53-year-old Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu are identified and prosecuted.

He said: “The fact that Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu was a representative of the Nigerian nation at an international conference gives so much gravitas to the case. It needs to be tackled urgently at the highest level, which I sincerely believe you can duly facilitate. We must get to the root, no matter the cost.

“The least that can be done for her now is to prove that she did not die in vain by probing effectively her killing and getting the killers to face justice.

“The CCTV footage in Emperor’s Palace Hotel where she was strangled will go a long way to lead to a closure on this matter. Any further delay in solving it all cannot be countenanced.

“The suspicion that she could have been murdered was further confirmed in a separate document issued by South Africa’s Department of Health on June 27, 2019, where it corroborated the autopsy report and revealed that she was strangled.

“This is not the first time Nigerians have died in suspicious and curious circumstances in South Africa.”

When they think you have money, they track and sometimes kill you’

Senator Orji Uzor Kalu demanded that the Nigerian government takes measures to stop what he described as the endless killing of Nigerians doing legitimate businesses in the former apartheid country.

Kalu, who gave further insights into how Nigerians are sometimes trailed to their hotels and either killed or robbed in South Africa, said: “I was in the country and I visited the embassy. I interacted with three former presidents.

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“When they think you have some money, they track you from the airport to the hotel and sometimes kill you. The Federal Government needs to do something. The person killed was a government delegate.

“The hotel in question must provide the footage for investigation. Everywhere in South Africa, they pursue Nigerians around like common criminals. We have businesses there the same way they have businesses here. Three former presidents of South Africa have lived in Lagos. If they have, they should treat us as friends.

“Let us invite their ambassador to Nigeria and our ambassador to South Africa. I don’t know when enough will be better. But enough is enough. This has to stop.”

Killings won’t stop unless…’

Senator Ahmed Kaita said the killing would not stop as far as the Nigerian government treats killings of Nigerians with kid gloves.

On his part, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha urged the Senate to consider getting the South African Ambassador to explain these killings.

Senate declines to sever ties with South Africa

Senator Francis Fadanhusi’s suggestion that Nigeria severs diplomatic ties with South Africa over “the unwarranted and incessant killings of Nigerians in that country” was however rejected by the Senate.

But instead, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan said: “Nigeria, as a country is tired of the killings and therefore, we believe that the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria must be better. There must be respect for each other.”

Lawan said he was aware that South Africans in Nigeria were treated well, while their thriving businesses enjoy the protection of the Nigerian government and its people.

He demanded that the government and people of South Africa reciprocate Nigeria’s love and hospitality towards their citizens and interest domiciled in the country.

Dabiri: Nigeria not treating case lightly

The Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri- Erewa was quoted by a news medium that the Nigerian government was not treating the incident with levity, and has demanded thorough investigations into Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s death.

Mrs Dabiri-Erewa said: “We have demanded investigations. The Consular-General, Mr Godwin Adama, has sent an officer working with the police and investigating authorities in South Africa. We must know what happened, if it means getting a private investigator we will.

“The South Africans should not push us to the edge, we have reached a tipping point. Someone went for a conference and was murdered? For the sake of both countries and for closure for the families, we must know what happened and we will.

“Mrs Ndubuisi-Chukwu must not die in vain. It is one death too many and we have demanded full cooperation from South Africa, and we expect nothing less.”

One death too many

By the calculation of the Assistant Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Union in South Africa (NUSA), Odefa Ikele, Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s death has brought to five the number of known cases of Nigerians killed this year, raising to about 125 Nigerians killed in that country in three years.

Ikele said four persons were killed in March and April this year, before Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s case in June.

On April 28, 2019, Ebuka Udugbo, who was arrested by the police in Cape Town over a quarrel with his South African girlfriend, was pronounced dead same day in custody.

Without providing any evidence, the South African  police said he committed suicide while in custody. The Nigerian community in the country disagreed.

Ikele also cited the case of Bonny Iwuoha, 48 years, from Ihitte/Uboma in Imo State, who was stabbed to death at 11:45pm on April 6, 2019 in Johannesburg, while Goziem Akpenyi was killed in similar circumstance a day earlier.

The Nigerian community in South Africa reported Iwuoha’s murder at the Booysens Police Station in Johannesburg South. Nothing is yet to come out of it.  The Nigerian community also reported that four other Nigerians were shot dead in March, three of them murdered in Pretoria and one in Johannesburg.

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While speaking in April, Ikele said: “These latest killings make it four Nigerians killed this year. Two were shot dead in March. Three of the victims were murdered in Sunnyside, Pretoria, and one in Balfour Park, Johannesburg.”

Earlier last year, Martin Ebuzoeme was killed in Yeoville, while ThankGod Okoro was shot dead in West Rand, Johannesburg, on April 9, by the South African Police Flying Squad, the same month Clement Nwaogu, a father of two, was burnt to death by his assailants.

On July 6 of the same year, Ozumba Tochukwu-Lawrence was killed at Mpumalanga. Also Francis Ochuba was shot dead alongside his estate agent, a female South African on May 5, 2018, as they visited a tenant occupying his property in Johannesburg.

On May 13, 2018 Chidi Ibebuike was shot dead at the entrance to his house in Mpumalanga. Earlier on August 30, 2017, 27-year-old Kingsley Ikeri, was killed extra judicially by the police in Vryheid town, Kwazulu Natal Province.

‘Seven in 10 killings done by South African police’

NUSA’s Publicity Secretary, Habib Miller, was quoted by a news medium to have said that two more Nigerians were killed within eight days in May last year, and that by May 2018, 118 Nigerians had been killed in South Africa since February 2016.

He added that seven in 10 of these killings were carried out by officers and men of the South African Police.

Past efforts at addressing the problem

In view of the wide condemnation that greeted Ikeri’s murder by the South African police in 2017, the Nigerian government summoned the then South African acting High Commissioner, Kenneth Pedro and subsequently demanded investigation and punishment of the perpetrators.

Spokeswoman of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Jane Adam, said the country summoned Pedro to protest Ikeri’s extrajudicial killing.

Adam said the Under-Secretary for Regions and International Organisations, Ifeoma Chinwuba, who later met with Pedro, expressed Nigeria’s anger at the alleged killing to the South African envoy.

She quoted Chinwuba as telling Pedro that while the Federal Government would not condone illegal or anti-social acts or criminalities, it behooves the South African Government to ensure that every resident accused of any offence is presumed innocent until proven guilty through the judicial process.

Earlier in February of the same year, in the wake of xenophobic attacks that left dozens of shops owned by Nigerians vandalised in Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Nigerian government also summoned the then South African ambassador, Lulu Mnguni.

Falana sues AGF

Rather than abate, the situation has continued over the years, forcing rights activist Femi Falana (SAN) to consider a legal approach.

Falana sued the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and sought to compel the Nigerian government to recognise the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) to hear cases filed by Nigerians.

He argued that Nigerians were unable to file cases before the court because the country had not made the needed declaration accepting the court’s competence to receive cases from non-government organisations and citizens in Nigerians.

Falana noted that the lack of access to the African Court by Nigerians accounted for why Nigerian victims of human rights violations and relatives of Nigerian citizens killed in other African countries could not challenge such violations and demand compensation in the African Court.

By Article 34(6) of the Protocol for the establishment of the African Court, every member of the African Union is required to make a declaration, accepting the competence of the African Court to receive cases from non-government organisations and individuals in the countries.

But, in a judgment on July 2, 2019, Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, thought otherwise, when he rejected Falana’s suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/356/2019.

Court ‘can’t compel Nigeria to subscribe to African Court’

Justice Tsoho held that Nigeria cannot be compelled under any law to subscribe to the authority of the African Court, and that the law establishing the ACHPR has made provisions for how member states could make the needed declaration, which did not include that a state could be compelled.

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Justice Tsoho, while noting that every member state of the African Union has existing judicial systems, held that there was no basis for the fear expressed by Falana that Nigerians in Diaspora cannot seek redress where their rights are violated.

The judge was of the view that since every African state has a judicial system, any aggrieved Diaspora Nigerian, could seek redress from courts in their countries of residence, where their rights are infringed.

Taking a bold step

Many observers are in unison on the need for the Nigerian government to be drastic in its approach should it want an end to the inhuman treatment to which its citizens have been and are still being subjected to in South Africa.

Falana, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu, Dr. Abdullah Muhammad and Executive Director, Stand for Rights Initiative (SRI), Sunday Essienekak argued that the Nigerian authorities cannot continue to depend on diplomatic platitudes for solution to this grave and persistent threat to Nigerians.

In a statement, Falana argued that the government has not gone beyond the regular condemnation of the brutal killings, and that the government has not deemed it fit to take bold diplomatic measures to guarantee the security of the life and property of every Nigerian citizen living in South Africa.

“The lackadaisical attitude of the Nigerian government to the brutalisation of Nigerian immigrants in South Africa is not surprising in view of the impotence of the state to curb the incessant killing of innocent citizens at home by terrorists, herders, armed robbers, kidnappers and other bandits,” Falana said.

He argued that to stop the extrajudicial killings, government must “pressurise” the South African government to bring all culprits to book forthwith and compensate victims. He urged the current administration to stop “exposing Nigeria to ridicule” by making the declaration to facilitate access to the African court without further delay.

Odinkalu, in Twitter posts, faulted the seeming lacklustre attitude of the Nigerian authorities to the issue, particularly in relation to the death of Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu, and called for stringent action.

He noted that Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu’s killers “denied her children a loving mother” and expressed displeasure over the case, wondering why no action was taken 25 days after the incident occurred.

Muhammad, an expert in International Law and Diplomacy, noted that the attack on Nigerians by South Africans did not start today. He recalled that in 2012, the South African authorities turned back some 125 Nigerians, who were on their way to the country, at the OR Tambo International Airport, on flimsy grounds that they attempted to enter the country without valid yellow fever vaccination papers.

He said Nigeria reacted to that incident with equal measure when it turned back a plane-load of 130 South Africans at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.

Muhammad, who queried the raison d’etre behind South Africa’s “current exhibition of hatred towards anything Nigeria”, wondered if South Africans had forgotten so soon the major role the nation played in the struggle to end apartheid.

“The Nigeria government must stand up to South Africa and ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes against Nigerians are identified and punished, with adequate compensation paid to families of the victims.”

Essienekak said the government needs to intensify diplomatic pressures against South Africa and its interests if “we are to make headway in addressing this unhealthy development”.

While he urged caution and await the outcome of the investigation in the Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu case, Essienekak stressed that the Nigerian authorities owe it as a duty to ensure protection of lives of Nigerians irrespective of where they may reside in the world.



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