Lai Mohammed Warns Against Reprisal over Xenophobic Attacks in South-Africa
You are all aware of the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians – and of course other foreigners – in South Africa, and the huge costs, in human and material terms, to Nigerians living in South Africa. Those attacks have escalated in recent times, with deadly consequences. You are also aware of the reprisal attacks that have targetted South African businesses in Nigeria.
2. The efforts of the Federal Government to decisively deal with the attacks have been well communicated to Nigerians. For the purpose of this press conference, however, let me quickly remind us that President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched a Special Envoy to convey to his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, his concerns and also interact with his South African counterpart on the situation.
Also, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, acting on the instruction of Mr. President, has summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria to get a brief on the situation; express Nigeria’s displeasure over the treatment of her citizens; and secure assurance of the safety of their lives and property. Nigeria is recalling its High Commissioner to South Africa, in addition to boycotting the World Economic Forum on Africa being hosted by South Africa. And plans are on to evacuate Nigerians who are willing to return home from South Africa. Of course, a number of other measures are also being considered by the government to keep Nigerians in South Africa safe.
3. But the purpose of this press conference is to reiterate the appeal to Nigerians, who are justifiably angered by the attacks on their compatriots in South Africa, not to resort to self help by carrying out reprisal attacks against South African businesses in Nigeria; to alert Nigerians to the fact that some unscrupulous people are engaging in disinformation to inflame passion by using fake news and videos of non-related attacks; to very strongly warn the naysayers and hoodlums who might want to capitalise on the widespread disenchantment and anger of Nigerians over the attacks in South Africa to foment mayhem, and to appeal to Nigerians, especially opinion leaders, not to allow raw emotions to guide their response to the attacks.
4. I will take the issues one by one, starting with the attacks on South African businesses in Nigeria. Reports of these attacks, which have dominated the social and traditional media in the past two days, are quite disturbing and depressing. Obviously, hoodlums have hijacked the peaceful protests by some Nigerians to loot shops at Shoprite and other Malls in some locations across the country. A Nigerian lady whose shop was looted at the Novare Mall in Lagos said she lost millions of naira to the hoodlums who looted her shop. The offices of the MTN nationwide have either been attacked or threatened. Other South African firms have either shut their doors or are open under heavy security. As we said in our intervention on Tuesday, Nigerians own and run the shops in the various Shoprite malls across the country. Nigerians work there also. MTN is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the investors in this company are Nigerians. Theworkers are mostly Nigerians. Same applies to other South African businesses in the country. By attacking them, we are hurting our own people. That is the blunt truth.
5. Some hoodlums have also targetted foreigners under the guise of protesting against the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. This is saddening. If we are complaining that South Africans are attacking Nigerians in South Africa, how then can we tolerate Nigerians attacking Nigerians and foreigners right here in Nigeria? What purpose do such attacks serve, other that for Nigerians to lose their investments and jobs? Must we cut our nose to spite our face? It is in this light that I want to assure all Nigerians, and indeed foreigners living in Nigeria, that the Federal Government has put in place adequate security measures to protect the lives and property of all. The security agencies have been put on high alert, and looters will be arrested and made to face justice.
6. I also want to use this press conference to alert Nigerians to the video clips being circulated on the social media, purportedly showing how Nigerians are being killed in South Africa. Three of such videos come to mind:
i. One video shows a man who has been set ablaze trying to escape, and those circulating the video identified the man as Nigerian. This is not true. The video shows Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, a victim of xenophobic violence in South Africa in 2008, and it is not that of a Nigerian being attacked in 2019.
ii. Another video shows those said to be Nigerians jumping down from a multi-storey building that was purportedly set on fire by xenophobic attackers in South Africa. This is fake news as the video is that of a Suraj Coaching Centre in Gujarat State, India, that was gutted by fire on May 24, 2019, leaving about 18 people dead.
iii. The third video, purportedly showing the bodies of Nigerians who were burnt in xenophobic attacks, is the raw footage of those who were killed in a Tanzanian fuel tanker explosion in Morogoro that left at least 60 dead on Aug. 10 2019.
7. Those who are circulating these videos should immediately desist from doing so. Apart from inflaming passion, the videos are also complicating the efforts of the government to calm frayed nerves at home in the wake of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Recall, gentlemen, that we alerted Nigerians to the dangers posed by fake news and disinformation when we launched our National Campaign Against Fake News on July 11 2019. That campaign is more urgent now than ever, and I implore the media, in particular, to give it a renewed play. Fake news and disinformation represent a clear and present danger to every society.
8. We want to appeal to our opinion leaders and celebrities to be guarded in their utterances and comments on the xenophobic attacks and the reactions from Nigerians. Words have meaning, and wrong words are like poisoned darts. In the words of the Buddha, ”Better than a thousand hollowed words, is one word that brings peace.”
9. In conclusion, gentlemen, we want to reiterate the following:
i. The Federal Government will leave no stone unturned to protect Nigerian citizens anywhere around the world, including South Africa where they have been subjected to repeated xenophobic attacks, with terrible consequences that include loss of lives and property
ii. President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched a special envoy tomeet with his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, whileForeign Affairs Minister Geoffrey has summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria. Of course you are aware that Nigeria is recalling its High Commissioner to South Africa, in addition to boycotting the World Economic Forum on Africa taking place in South Africa. Government is also ready to evacuate Nigerians willing to
return home from South Africa, in addition to other measures being considered to decisively tackle this cankerworm of xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa.
iii. We appeal to Nigerians who are angered by the xenophobic attacks on their compatriots in South Africa not to engage in reprisal attacks, because such attacks hurt our own people more. We also want Nigerians to know that wrong videos and disinformation are being circulated on social media to inflame passion and distort the plight of Nigerians in South Africa. Nigerians should be wary of the purveyors of these wrong videos. We strongly warn hoodlums who may wish to hide under the peaceful protests by Nigerians to loot, maim and kill that the security agencies will apprehend and bring them to justice. And to opinion leaders, we ask that they be guarded in their comments.
Minister of Information and Culture