From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
“Not again”, many Nigerians must have thought when news filtered in last month, that their countrymen and women were for the umpteenth time victims of xenophobic attacks in South-Africa.
Investigation reveals that the history of xenophobic attacks in the country which Nigeria led the struggle for its liberation, dates back to 1994 and the nature of these vicious attacks have become even more violent and destructive over time. A study based on a citizen survey across member states by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Daily Sun gathered, showed South Africans expressing strong anti-foreigner sentiment, with 21 percent of them in favour of a complete ban on entry by foreigners and 64 percent in support of strict limitations on the numbers allowed into their country. South-Africans have continuously blamed foreigners for unemployment, crime and spreading AIDS in their country.
With viral videos of defenceless Nigerians hunted down and attacked like animals shared across the country, the anger expressed by Nigerians online and at different fora, along with the protest in Abuja led by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) did not therefore come as a surprise. The fact that Nigerians in South Africa lost goods and property valued at N84 million during an earlier round of attacks against foreign nationals in 2015, and with them again incurring huge losses in the latest attack elicited strongly worded condemnations by Nigerians, with many calling on the Federal Government to intervene in a “decisive and effective manner.”
Spokesman of the Nigerian Union South Africa (NUSA), Emeka Ezinteje Collins, informed disclosed that Nigerian homes and businesses in Pretoria West were attacked in several late-night incidents, adding that Nigerians now live in fear.
“Our people and other foreigners are apparently living in fear of the unknown as the hoodlums have promised more attacks under a group called the ‘Mamelodi concerned residents’.
“We have also received reports from our members of receiving threatening anonymous calls requesting that money be paid to avert destruction of their properties”, Collins further said.
The anger across Nigeria on the recent attacks, may have gingered the National Assembly to make an unprecedented intervention, with two different resolutions, one in the Senate and the other in the House of Representatives, to send delegations to the land led by President Jacob Zuma. Under Zuma, Nigeria and South Africa have remained friendly even when there were instances of what could be described as sibling rivalry occurring between both countries at different times. In March 2016 for instance , the South African president, who was led to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari addressed federal lawmakers, with his speech dwelling on the role played by Nigeria in ending apartheid in his country and how relations between both countries have remained cordial.
But owing to the latest round of attacks, the House resolved to send a delegation to the parliament of South Africa, sequel to a unanimous adoption of a motion of Urgent National Importance by Chairperson, House committee on Diaspora, Rita Orji.
She had while moving the motion said homes of some of Nigerians and their businesses in South Africa had been set ablaze for no just reasons, adding that Nigerians accused of prostitution and drug dealing were being killed without trial, while the local police looked the other way.
But in a surprising twist, Orji didn’t make the list of the six -man delegation which leaves for South Africa this week, to spend five days, undertaking, what has been dubbed, legislative diplomacy by the Chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje.
The six-man delegation, is led by the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila. Orji’s absence on the list has been explained to be not such a big deal as her deputy, Shehu Aliyu Musa, will be representing the Diaspora Committee. ButvDaily Sun findings indicate that the lawmaker’s flamboyant style of dressing and the passionate, animated way she speaks may have cost her a spot on the trip to South -Africa. This is because the House not wanting its trip to be fully labelled a jamboree, picked lawmakers known for their sombre demeanour.
On the part of the Senate, the decision to send some of its members to Zuma’s country, followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by the Senator representing Cross Rivers North, Rose Oko, urging the senate to intervene in the renewed attacks.
Speaking during the plenary, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki said the Upper Legislative Chamber resolved, “to send a strong parliamentary delegation to the South African parliament to register its displeasure over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians. “
On the decision of the Senate to send its members to South Africa a week after the resolution by the House, Gbajabiamila reacted thus: “why do we have the Senate doing the same thing as the House? I agree with you on this. But both Houses are independent as this is a bi-cameral legislature. For the ease of government and diplomacy, it would have been proper to have one of the two Houses- to avoid duplication of labour. My personal opinion is that just one of the Houses should have done this job. I believe what happened is an oversight by the Senate, because if you look at our history, normally when the Senate has done something, most times, even if it comes up during plenary, we always say the Senate has decided on the matter or the Senate is looking into the matter and that way, we don’t waste legislative time”.
The House Leader’s remarks may have forced the Senate to rescind its decision as the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who was to head the Senate’s team, announced last Wednesday that the Red Chambers would no longer be sending a delegation to South Africa.
Ekweremadu explained that “… we noted that the House Representatives insisted on going to South Africa independently.
“We thought we could send a single delegation of the National Assembly to avoid the unnecessary embarrassment of multiple delegations.
“In the circumstance, the Senate decided to pull out of the trip and allow the delegation of the House of Representatives to proceed. We wish them safe trip and good luck,” Ekeremadu said.
Legislative diplomacy isn’t entirely new to the National Assembly as it has been carried out using templates such as the House of Representatives, Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Regardless, Gbajabiamila during a press conference held at the National Assembly last Tuesday explained why the House is taking legislative diplomacy a notch higher, with the visit to South Africa.
“Foreign Diplomacy and constructive engagement of foreign officials in modern day and constitutional democracy is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Executive. Diplomacy and engagement of foreign countries especially when it involves the security of a country’s citizen has become extensive and non- traditional to the extent that some countries even use private citizens or former Presidents for engagement . Today, presidents address foreign Parliaments, an indication that diplomacy is best practiced beyond executive confines and has since dovetailed into legislative arena”, the House Leader said.
Speaking on the targets set by the House for the delegation, Gbajabiamila said: “We will attempt to meet with the South African Parliament to discuss the possibility of both countries enacting hate crime laws. This would cover crimes committed based on nationality.
“We intend to engage the S.A parliament and other authorities on areas of mutual benefit and how much both countries could lose from xenophobia and possible retaliatory actions or severing of diplomatic ties.
“This delegation will seek to strengthen the Nigerian /South African Bilateral Commission, which only exists on paper for now. We hope to meet with Nigerians who reside in SA and assure them of government’s intervention. We will advance and hopefully get a commitment on the need for payment of compensation for the victims of this last attack”.
Undoubtedly, those Nigerians who say the lawmakers trip will cost the country money it should have saved, especially in this time of economic recession will be looking to see if the trip by the House would yield any fruits. With the Senate leaving the job to the House the way it did, some say the House must return home with tangible results.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Elendu-Ukeje said that there are reasons to have faith that the planned collaboration between both parliaments will lead to testable solutions.
“I supported the motion – because when conventional means of diplomacy fails, other unconventional means must be deployed. And one of them is legislative diplomacy, where we will be engaging with members of the South African parliament, to intimate them on what it (xenophobia) does to their country, how they’re viewed “.
“We are going there with the mindset, that we will not fail. I must say with legislative diplomacy, what we will do is engage the parliament and what parliament does is to make laws for the good governance of the country. So, we will be looking at agreements and pieces of legislation, that is pro-immigration. We will be looking at pieces of legislation that says to South Africa, that they must work against structural racism and xenophobia, we will be reminding them that, like the Nigerian parliament, their country is signatory to United Nations treaties against xenophobia, racism and all forms of hate crime. We will be reminding them that we have platforms through which we can take up their inability to ensure these treaties, they signed are effective in their country. We will be reminding them that silence is complicity. I don’t see how that can fail because we are taking a message to them”, she added during the committee’s press briefing.