Pretoria – Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama has distanced himself and his government from warnings issued to South Africa that killing of Nigerians would result in dire consequences if not stopped.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior special assistant on foreign affairs and the diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had issued the warning three weeks ago during a meeting with the South African high commissioner in Abuja.
The warning followed reports that many Nigerians had been killed in South Africa in what had been believed to be xenophobic attacks.
Asked whether Dabiri-Erewa had spoken on behalf of the Nigerian government and what such dire consequences would be, Onyeama said: “The only definitive or authoritative statements come from the Foreign Ministry or spokesperson of the presidency.”
Onyeama was speaking at a bilateral meeting that was held in Pretoria on Monday between him and his counterpart Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
Others present at the meeting were South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and Abdulrahman Dambazau, Nigerian Interior Minister.
The Nigerian government had asked for the urgent meeting to discuss the ongoing outbreaks of violence against Nigerian nationals in South Africa and to find solutions to end the cycle of violence.
Onyeama took a notably conciliatory tone in his remarks on Monday, saying: “For some time now there have been attacks leading to Nigerian victims, but we know these attacks are not state sponsored, and the people condemn them.”
The Nigerian government has come under widespread criticism from segments of its society for not doing enough to pressure South Africa to protect the lives of Nigerians living in the country.
The upper chamber of the Nigerian parliament has even advised the national government to reconsider its diplomatic ties with South Africa.
At a media conference in Abuja on the xenophobic attacks of February 22, Onyeama had expressed his concern about the alleged involvement of the South African police in attacks on Nigerians, and had said Nigeria had taken measures to put a stop to attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
However, while on South African soil on Monday, Onyeama was quick to reassure Nigerians in South Africa and South Africans in Nigeria that both governments were prepared to ensure their security.
In a poignant reminder, Onyeama recalled: “Nigeria was fully committed and in solidarity with the people of South Africa during apartheid.”
Independent Foreign Service