By Adeola Aderounmu
One day in early March 2014 a Nigerian man killed a police officer in South Africa. The tragic incident took place at La Rochelle in Johannesburg. The Nigerian was caught with illegal drugs and he resisted arrest. He killed the police officer that was to arrest him and fled. The South African police force is full of corrupt officials and there was something not right about what transpired between the dead cop and his murderer.
That incident did not occur in isolation. It is part of the larger problems and fate that have befallen several Nigerians who thronged South Africa in search of the Golden Fleece. It is impossible to threat the South African situation in isolation if one sets out to highlight the overall situation or plights of Nigerians abroad. I will not digress though.
The history of violence in South Africa is well documented and reported. The effects of several years of apartheid rule left indelible marks and social consequences beyond the scope of this essay. Unemployment remains a major problem in South Africa too. One can generalised the scarcity of jobs, high crime rate and pastime sex culture already in existence among the local populations.
When apartheid rule ended, the emerging socio-cultural circumstances provided a platform that enable foreigners including Nigerians to thrive in South Africa. What is sad is that some Nigerians went ahead and blended with the South African underworld engaging in drugs, fraud and other types of criminal activities. It is easy to verify this sad turn of events by visiting South African prisons to see the growing number of Nigerians who are locked up.
Now, it must be well stated that there are very good Nigerians living and working permanently or temporarily in South Africa. There is almost no where in the world that is in short supply of Nigerian professionals cut across all areas of human endeavours. South Africa is not a different story or country in this respect. Several Nigerians are successful in their businesses and other endeavours. Some are big entrepreneurs. Some sell things ranging from hairs, to Nigerian food, clothes and general groceries. Many Nigerian women are into hairdressing and ise owo (handiwork).The lures of Nigerians to South Africa include the extended possibility of travelling to Europe. Some made it. But for others, days turn to months and months to years, and frustrations set in. One of the hardest calls to make at this period of time is the “go back home call”. This feeling of living abroad creates a sort of pride or ego that is not easy to let off. Many people find it hard to return to Nigeria because they think they have failed in their sojourns to find a better life abroad. They fear the stigma at home.
The Yorubas have a saying that “if you cannot move forward, you should be able to retrace your steps and go back home”. From experience I know that many Nigerians prefer to stay on and forge ahead. Whilst there have been many success stories from such resiliencies, one cannot ignore the ill luck that befell others as well.
Though some people have tried to point out a certain Nigerian tribe as the major culprits in majority of the crimes committed by Nigerians in South Africa, the people who own the country have no time for such classifications. They put all Nigerians together as one and treat them as such. Some Nigerians are notorious as drug lords in South Africa and some others are credit card fraudsters.
Nigerians have even taken their cult-like activities to South Africa. There are confirmed reports of Nigerians living in Johannesburg who are killing one another. The scenario is ugly because of what appears to be a chain of counter-retaliations.
This adds to the list of the things that led to Nigerians not being respected in South Africa. Drug business is always ugly anyway. These selfish Nigerians who are bent on making money at any price that they can even shoot a policeman in a foreign land deserved to be condemned in the strongest manner possible.
In Johannesburg, it is quite easy to be robbed as the day turns to night. The city harbours many desperate people. Many South African men are described as lazy. Sometimes, it’s just refusing to work and preferring to hide behind some medical reports to justify abstinence from work. Guns are legalized and easy to acquire in South Africa.
Even mad people own guns in countries around the world were guns are legalized. In South Africa you can buy a bullet for N200 and they are readily available. This dangerous mix must have aided the status of Johannesburg as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
No discussion on South Africa can be complete without the sex industry. There, women are described generally as easy. The prostitution trade seems to suit the women from East Africa and neighbouring South African countries. A number of the people I spoke to do not agree that Nigerian women are into this trade. Some, however, insisted that Nigerian women are also involved in the oldest profession in the world.
Anyway, as the month of March draws to a close the South African police closed up on the murderer. The police took to the street in large numbers. Somehow they identified the Nigerian who shot the police. He was arrested and now in custody. At the same time Nigerians also protested what they termed as xenophobia. The South African people especially the family of the slain cop joined the police in the protest. They wore ANC attires and wrote “Nigerians must leave” on their banners and placards. They also warned Nigerian drug lords to be ready for battles.
In South Africa, it appears that the relationship between Nigerians and the locals are getting worse by the day. There was a story that went spiral on the web when a Nigerian was maltreated by the police and the video coverage taken by nearby residents brought the known brutality and senselessness of the South African police to a wider audience across the world.
But what actually transpired? The police were trying to make an arrest in traffic. Someone had done something wrong or maybe the police caught up with a criminal. This Nigerian man was alleged to have interfered or obstructed police work. It’s like the police are probably frustrated with the word “Nigerian” and then you put yourself in their den by disturbing their work. It’s double trouble.
The action of the police as revealed in the video is highly condemnable. It’s inhuman. It is also wrong to try to interfere in police operations. The police officers were dismissed from service. But how that immediate response by the South African authority rids Cape Town of its racist tags and tendencies are not known.
Just last week in Pretoria, many Nigerians were arrested and they will be deported because they are living in South Africa illegally. It seems the police know where to find them especially at this time of strained co-existence. Those who know the workings of the South African police among the arrested people will bribe their ways off the hook as the South African police are not immune to corruption. They are super corrupt I learnt.
Another possible reason for targeting immigrants especially Nigerians, is that elections are around the corner in South Africa. Some political parties or government around the world like to score political points with immigration matters especially during election season. South African as we now see is not an exception.
Some situations beg for elaborate analyses and some questions for answers. South African companies are growing and dominating certain areas of the Nigerian market/economy. Nigerian citizens in South Africa are not well respected. Classical paradox!
The activities of the Nigerian criminals in South Africa have overshadowed the honesty and positive contributions of the good Nigerians in South Africa. It even devaluates the roles of Nigeria in the apartheid years. How can the situation be tilted in favour of the good Nigerians in South Africa?
In Malaysia and in other countries around the world, the Nigerians who are criminals have continued to taint and deprived the rest of us the respect and accolades we deserved. Even the lazy South African man can pull out a gun and shoot a Nigerian to death in Pretoria because of disagreements over a woman. Women, our precious!
It is highly unwarranted and unjustifiable to turn to drugs and criminal acts due to frustrations. The Nigerian embassy in Johannesburg has some diplomatic work to do. The problems facing Nigerians in South Africa should be raised to a diplomatic row and the solutions must be sought at that level, not on the streets.
The Nigerian embassy must step up its watch over Nigerian citizens in South Africa. The image of Nigeria in that country is very disturbing and it’s a shame if this persists. I’m hoping that the Nigerian representatives in South Africa are career diplomats and not politicians who are short sighted and have no clues on how to deal with citizen rights and bilateral relationships.
Nigerians who are being maltreated due to police brutality and pure hatred require adequate representations from the Nigerian government represented in South Africa by the Nigerian ambassador. Nigerians who are arrested because they are criminals should be allowed to face the law without any street protests. Nigerian Associations and Unions in South Africa must not been seen to support or harbour criminals, drug barons or credit card fraudsters. This should be applicable in Nigerian or tribal associations worldwide.
Where applicable, if there are Nigerians who want to return to Nigeria from South Africa, they should be able to get help from the embassy, without much ado.
In the end, in our hearts, we all know the genesis of these problems. It’s all from downtown Nigeria, our Bongo. As we make our beds, so we lie on them. It’s sadder to think that we try to sanitise our image abroad whilst the Nigerian government across all strata is full of criminals. This is where oxymora overtake our paradoxes and put us in a comatose dilemma as a country.
The funds that could have been used to keep or transform Nigeria back into a paradise have been looted. We are not creating jobs in Nigeria and there is no preparation for the future. A friend wrote “I thought Nigeria was the hell spoken about in the holy books”. That’s the present scenario and that’s what keeps propelling the exodus from Nigeria.
It’s going to be mission impossible to stop our exodus as a people because Nigeria continues to wallow in corruption and serious political misgivings. As we continue to seek greener pastures abroad and irrespective of the socio-cultural circumstances of our host countries the truth is that we have no moral standing or right to export our criminal tendencies. Charity begins at home.
[In writing this article I talked to people that I know who are living in South Africa (Johannesburg and Pretoria). I’ll like to thank them and keep them anonymous]