Xenophobia: Nigeria insists on compensation for victims

Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigerian foreign minister says South Africa must act decisively.
Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigerian foreign minister says South Africa must act decisively.

The Nigerian government has said it will insist on ensuring the South African government pays compensation to Nigerians affected by renewed xenophobic violence there.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, told journalists on Friday after a closed-door meeting with the Senate Committee on Diaspora in Abuja.

“This is a very important issue because the South African government has been reported as saying that nothing provides for them really to provide compensation,” the minister said.

“That they will have to resort to insurance companies or that kind of private arrangement. We as a government are going to challenge that. In the past, no compensation was paid to these people. For us, it is something we have to insist upon,” he said.

He said the special envoy sent by President Muhammadu Buhari arrived South Africa on Thursday and is expected to return on Saturday.

Mr Onyeama said the panel had “reviewed the possible options, analysed the causes and agreed on a road map going forward.”

“He should be back tomorrow and that will now give the government the basis on which to take on further actions,” Mr Onyeama said.

He said no Nigerian life had been lost in the violence, and said the government was “extremely concerned” that there will be adequate compensation for the properties that have been lost and damaged.

“We are particularly determined that these crises will not recur. It has been happening for far too long and has become almost endemic,” he said.

“With the distinguished Senators, we are looking at all the options we have to ensure this will be the last time we will ever meet to talk about Nigerians attacked in South Africa and to take definitive measures. But we will start doing that once we have the facts and we will take the necessary measures,” he said.

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On the possibility of severing ties with South Africa, the minister said it had not reached that stage.

“There are various options. We will wait for the envoy to come back. There are different measures to be taken at diplomatic level without necessarily cutting off diplomatic ties, but we want Mr President’s decision to be informed after accessing all the facts,” he said.

“The way the South African government reacts will also be very important in helping us decide what we need to do.”

The Committee Chairman, Ajibola Bashir, said one of the highlights of the meeting was the extent of damage to life and property.

He said based on credible information, no Nigerian lives were lost but there were damages.

“They are going to examine the extent of the damage with a view to making a clear demand from the South African government to give compensation for those properties that have been damaged. The state has a responsibility to ensure the protection of lives and properties.

“Fundamentally, we must find a permanent solution to the xenophobic attacks that come between the space of 24 months,” he said.

He also appealed to Nigerians not to take laws into their hands and to exercise restraint.

Nigeria had said it would recall its ambassador to protest the xenophobic attacks.

Nigeria also boycotted the World Economic Forum in South Africa which was to be attended by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo.

On Wednesday, the Nigerian government urged its citizens in South Africa to take advantage of a free flight to return to their country.

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