By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
No controversies: March 1, 2012 was one day the Republic of South Africa ungratefully bit a finger that had fed it. Some 125 Nigerians who had endured a lengthy six-hour trip to Johannesburg were turned back on their arrival at the Oliver Tambo International Airport; more harrowingly, after they had been held for 24hours. Their crime: alleged inability to provide genuine documentation of vaccination against yellow fever. So the following day, South African Airways bundled 75 Nigerians into its plane and another 50 into Arik Air, and repatriated them.
If the deportation was painful and unacceptable, the refusal of South African authorities to offer any official explanation is inconceivable. Till date, Nigeria is yet to receive any official explanation from its southern brothers. Even when the top man of Arik in South and Central Africa, Rodger Whittle, sought adequate explanations on the plight of its 50 passengers, the Head of the South African Port Health Authorities had no time for such galling frivolity. He was literally too occupied to answer to any rambling on the rejection of 125 citizens of an ‘insignificant country.’
Well, Arik reciprocated the snub in similar manner. It straightaway suspended further Lagos-Johannesburg trips, citing dispute between international airlines and the Port Health Authorities at the OR Tambo Airport. Dr. Michael Arumeni-Ikhide, its Group CEO/President said it couldn’t watch its passengers travel over-night and arrive their destination only to be met by “haphazard” and “discriminatory” protocol and procedure. Talk of an organisation with clear understanding of dignity for its dependants, its customers. Indeed, Arik has set the pace for what should be a larger national response.
From all indications, a thoroughly puffed-up South Africa had only hidden under the cloak of “fake” yellow fever vaccination cards to discourage Nigerians from entering their country. For one, South African will have to substantiate its conviction that all 125 passengers faked their vaccination cards; that all 50 Arik passengers forged their vaccination (not visa) cards. Indirectly, SA has alleged the existence of a fake vaccination card-milling industry in Nigeria.
It is also curious to note that SA’s Port Health Authorities took its decision with blithe disregard for relevant Nigerian health institutions, including the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASU) — the body most sought-after for the yellow fever vaccination.
Last weekend’s condescending deportation of Nigerians is not the first in South Africa’s disrespectfully long history of contempt for Nigeria and its citizens. And it might not be the last, except the country takes decisive actions. Not even our public officials can be sure of immunity from such embarrassments, considering that some twelve years ago, the then Nigerian Aviation Minister, Mrs. Kema Chikwe, was held down by SA Port Health, which insisted that she must be vaccinated and quarantined; and it took the intervention of the Nigerian embassy in SA to resolve it, as the Minister put up some vehement resistance.
Having continued for decades, the time has come for the Federal Government of Nigeria to put South Africa where it rightly belongs. Frankly, Nigeria might have its litany of socioeconomic woes, but it is not in any way the armpit of the continent neither is South Africa the African Europe or America it is obviously deluding itself to be.
For all the self-importance it has been wearing these days, South Africa has remained one of the world’s deadliest crime centres. A United Nations survey during a two-year period once ignominiously acknowledged it to be the second most common murder spot as well as the first for assaults and rape per capita in the world. As a matter of fact, an estimated 50 murders are committed everyday in SA.
South Africa is the country where ‘sex’ and ‘rape’ do not differ in usage and in practice: every year, some 500,000 South African women are raped. In a 2009 survey, one out of every four South African men agreed to have raped someone; while one in every three women, out of a total 4,000, confessed to having been raped. So, South Africa will need to come out plain on its reasons for adjudging Nigerians as inferior black men.
It is a fact that South Africans are the most xenophobic people in the world. A survey embarked upon in 2006 by the South African Migration Project concluded that South Africans are more opposed to immigration than anywhere else in the world.
Yet no one country merits pariah treatment from others than Nelson Mandela’s country itself: its HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is one of the world’s most shocking. According to a February 2011 survey by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 5.6million adults and children (of a total population 49.1million) are living with the still-incurable disease, apart from an adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of a whopping 17.8 per cent.
In the coming days, Nigerian government officials will need to remind SA of its history — just in case the once crisis-ravaged country has forgotten. During the dark apartheid days, Nigeria was a foremost supporter of the Black South African liberation movements, including the African National Congress. At the time, the Nigerian government freely issued more than 300 passports to South Africans wishing to travel abroad.
Africa’s most populous country was so prominent in the satanic foreign crusade against its brothers that late musician, Sunny Okosun, wrote the hit track, Fire in Soweto, to commemorate the 1976 uprising against white domination. And when apartheid was finally stamped out in 1994 and South Africa needed to grow its economy, a large number of Nigerian professionals immigrated to help the process. Less than two decades after, a nation that plainly begged for Nigeria’s presence then decides it can turn down hundreds of them without one single diplomatic communication? Never.
Monday night’s refusal of entry to 28 South Africans and Tuesday night’s rejection of another 56 is a convenient start-off point. Until the South African government offers a conscientious explanation on last weekend’s whimsical deportation of those Nigerians, all Nigerian international airports should remain unreceptive to South Africans. It is simple: evidence of non-infection with HIV/AIDS is all the airport authorities need to enforce, and we will all be celebrating the effortless ostracism of a southern African country so utterly suffering from delusions of grandeur.
And if neither an explanation nor an apology is tendered, South African businesses resident in Nigeria must be prepared to relocate, starting from its exploitative MTN and DSTV that have ingratiated themselves with Nigerians while steadily and stealthily milking their economy without tangibly rewarding their hospitality.