South Africans were quick to point out that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s just-ended state visit to the country was long scheduled before September’s xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals.
While the host country seems to be satisfied with the three-day visit, Nigerian residents in the Rainbow Nation have expressed reservations that Buhari’s talks with host President Cyril Ramaphosa had accomplished what they had wished him to do on their behalf as xenophobic victims.
The main bone of contention by the Nigerians living in South African was the question of compensating them for the loss of property during the violent attacks, which saw their homes trashed and vehicles burnt in the streets and parking spaces of their car dealerships.
In addition, most of the Nigerians are still living in fear because, as they told their president during a closed meeting, their hosts – including officials and security agents – have stereotyped them as thieves and drug dealers.
“A lot of us are living in fear in South Africa because no one knows what is going to happen next,” a senior member of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive Congress Party’s South African branch, Babatunde Agbeniga, said on Sunday, 6 October 2019.
While hundreds of Nigerians were flown home at the height of the attacks, thousands more remain in South Africa.
This was the reason why they still feared a resumption of the xenophobic attacks against them, they said.
However, during the closed door talks with Buhari, the Nigerian leader assured his compatriots that during discussions with Ramaphosa, they had discussed the placing of a mechanism to make sure such attacks do not happen again.
During the talks, which took place on Friday, 4 October 2019, with his fellow citizens, Buhari described the September attacks, which left 12 people dead – none of them Nigerians – as an “embarrassment to Africa.”
However, Buhari advised his compatriots to live in harmony with the locals.
“When in Rome do as Romans do,” Buhari said.
He added, “As a government, we are quite disturbed by these very unfortunate events and have taken actions and measures to address this issue and prevent their recurrence with the South African government.’’
He urged Nigerians to respect South African laws, to represent the country well and never to forget their roots, before urging “the few that sometimes give us a bad name to desist from such misdemeanours and to be good ambassadors” of Nigeria.
Ironically, despite claiming to be affiliated to Nigeria’s ruling party, Agbeniga and his fellow members of APC SA were not part of the closed meeting with Buhari at a Pretoria hotel “for security reasons.”
“I want him [Buhari] to listen to the voice of the people. People are not happy about the situation in Nigeria. People are not happy about the situation here (in South Africa),” Agbeniga, who calls himself the Chief Whip of the APC SA, said.
Buhari’s three-day visit included bi-national talks between the South African and Nigerian officials, and last Friday’s meeting with the Nigerian citizens.
It was from this “family” meeting that Agbeniga said he hoped Buhari and Nigerian residents here would address the issue of compensation for the losses suffered during the attacks.
The question of compensation, however, did not arise at the “family” meeting nor during Buhari’s official meetings with his hosts, leaving Agbeniga to hold no hope that the xenophobic attacks victims would ever be given something to wipe their tears with for their losses.
“The xenophobic violence and what took place in the past few weeks leave us with no hope. Nobody is happy about this. Lives, properties and livelihoods were lost,” Agbeniga said.
This was why the host government should be able to compensate anyone who lost something because it was not their fault, Agbeniga said.
He said he would present the issue of compensation to the South African government through the Nigerian embassy.
In this regard, the APC SA said it had a list with hundreds of names of Nigerians who should be compensated for the attacks.
As Buhari returned home to Nigeria at weekend, his visit to South Africa might not have solved all problems at hand between Abuja and Pretoria.
What is certain, however, is that he had at least taken that first step needed to normalise relations among people of Africa’s two biggest economies in the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks of September.