The diplomatic face-off between the Federal Government of Nigeria and South Africa following the deportation from South Africa of 125 Nigerians, including a Senator has now taken another turn. The face-off has caused issues for South African owned companies in Nigeria, and Nigerians with business and personal ties with South Africa. Last Friday, 125 Nigerians who travelled to South Africa aboard Arik Air and South African Airlines flights were deported on arrival in Johannesburg allegedly because they were carrying fake yellow fever vaccine cards. This action which was described as a “harsh and unfriendly treatment” by most Nigerians has sparked off some retaliatory actions by Nigerian government. In apparent retaliation to the treatment, 28 South Africans who arrived Nigeria on Monday night were deported back to South Africa and the Federal Government has threatened to go tough on South African companies operating in Nigeria.
The ongoing Arise Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos has also been distrupted as SA designers scheduled to show are caught up in the diplomatic row.
Yesterday, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, who is also the former High Commissioner to South Africa said the South Africans were deported from Lagos because of irregular travel documents, adding that this was only the beginnng of retaliatory moves. He said this while addressig the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, noting that the Federal Government would soon sanction South African firms for bringing half-baked graduates to occupy positions that could be occupied by Nigerians. He added that Nigeria has asked the South African government to apologise and pay compensation to the affected travellers and Arik Air.
Also in response to the deportation, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday that none of the deported Nigerians is in possession of fake yellow fever cards as alleged by the South African authorities. Classification by the World Health Organisation indicates that Nigeria is one of the 44 countries with a risk of exposure to the yellow fever virus. However, the Health Minister added that the last confirmed case of yellow fever in Nigeria was in 1995 and that Nigeria is not at risk of a yellow fever outbreak. According to him, the Port Health Services of the Ministry issue Yellow Fever cards and vaccines at all local and international airports, land borders and sea ports in the country. The vaccine is given free but fee of N500 is charged for the card.
He called on South Africa to stop politicizing health issues, saying that so far, no country, individual or group has made any report to the Ministry on the possession of fake yellow fever card by any Nigerian. He noted that the entry visas were given to the travellers after the presentation of their valid yellow fever cards, therefore it was wrong for South Africa to say they were in posession of fake yellow fever cards after they had been issued valid visas. The action by the South African immigration towards Nigerian travellers he said, was an embarrasment and was against the IHR 2005 Article 32.
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, also condemned the deportation which she termed as “illegal”, saying it was done in an “inhuman manner”. In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday Dabiri-Erewa described the act as “continuous unwarranted hostilities against Nigerians by the South Africa government’’. She lamented that the 125 Nigerians, including women and children, were delayed for 24 hours without water and food in an inhuman condition and then bundled back to Nigeria. She added that Nigerians do not ask South Africans to fill Yellow Fever Cards when coming in to Nigeria even though passengers must have passed through this process while applying for the visa in the Embassy. Mrs Dabiri-Erewa also said that Nigerians, including women and children joined in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and it was an unfair and unAfrican way to pay Nigerians back for their kind gesture.
The Senate Committee in response to Mr Ashiru’s presentation, told him to go and close the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa and close the South African Embassy in Nigeria adding that any of their companies handling projects in Nigeria should be stopped.
Nigeria and South Africa are Africa’s economic giants and as this face-off deepens, there are worries over the survival and operations of South African companies in Nigeria.
The biggest mobile telecommunication company in Nigeria is MTN, a South African company. Stanbic-IBTC Bank, supermarket chain Shoprite, Multichoice DSTV are some major South African companies in Nigeria whose stakes in Nigeria could be threatened if a quick resolve is not brought to the face-off. Also, there are a good number of Nigerians studying, working or living in South Africa and vice-versa, whose activities could be hampered if a resolve doesn’t happen soon.
Sources: Punch News, Daily Trust, Leadership