IT is one incident too many. But it is clear that the Federal Government is no longer ready to accept the frequent mistreatment of Nigerians by South African authorities and allow such actions go unnoticed.
Prior to the latest indecent treatment of some Nigerians aboard Arik Air plane, past incidents had created spasms of tension and slowly faded away. But the tension do come back to haunt diplomatic relations between the two countries. As it seems to want to do now.
But this time, deeply layered diplomatic feathers might be ruffled in the end as South Africa’s action is meeting with a swift response from Nigeria.
Yesterday, the government said it could longer look the other way when Nigerians are maltreated by any nation.
Pretoria had last Thursday refused Nigerians from entering into South Africa over the possession of fake yellow fever inoculation cards. .
Responding to The Guardian’s enquiry on the action of South African immigration authorities, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, said: “This is unacceptable. It is quite unfortunate. This is an affront to diplomatic norms. The South African immigration officials do not have a monopoly of maltreating other nationals.”
The Nigerians were reportedly brought back to the country owing to the yellow fever controversy. On what line of action the government would take, Ashiru, a former Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa, said: “I have directed our mission and the consulate in Johannesburg to launch a first recourse protest. This is strongly worded. Nigeria would get to the root of the matter. We are meeting with the South African authorities on Monday (today) after which we will take the appropriate action. Nigeria will not stand by and watch Nigerians treated that way. We will take a firm and mature stand on the matter…”
Alongside Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa is one of the few countries requiring Nigerians to have yellow cards as a pre-requisite for entry. Whereas most of the developed western nations like the United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany and the United States (U.S.) do not have this provision.
Also, diplomatic watchers have often argued that Nigeria, in reciprocity, ought to be insisting that South Africans bring along tuberculosis certificates since that country has very high tuberculosis prevalence rate, a disease that is also very contagious. Ashiru continued: “We are amazed by the insistence of South Africa on yellow cards before Nigerians can enter that country when Nigeria does not have a yellow fever epidemic. How can some people sit somewhere and say that a card issued by another sovereign country is fake? The card is a prerequisite for granting. We shall also be demanding yellow cards from their nationals in reciprocity… We have made it clear that fair treatment of Nigerians is now a major foreign policy drive by our government. But they (South Africa) do not have monopoly of making life difficult for others.”
South Africa had in the past meted out undignified treatment to prominent Nigerians like Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who later received an apology. In 2001, the then Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Kema Chikwe, was held hostage by the South African Port Health, which insisted that a minister of the Federal Republic must be vaccinated and quarantined. Earlier that same year, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited South Africa, he publicly admitted the humiliation suffered by Nigerians in the country.
The South Africa Immigration and Port Health have insisted that they do not recognise the yellow cards from Nigeria and that the signature on them were irregular.
The Guardian learnt that this is clearly out of their brief because such matters are determined by their high commission or consulate in the issuing countries.
Ahead of Nigeria and South Africa meeting today on yellow fever documentation, a senior government official told The Guardian yesterday that Abuja is disturbed with racketeering of yellow fever cards at some of the nation’s airports.
As the situation escalated, culminating in hundreds of Nigeria and West African passengers travelling from the region being refused entry, Arik Air had reached the conclusion to suspend flight to Johannesburg last Friday but rescinded the decision. .
The yellowish booklet of about six pages is sold openly for N500 with intending passengers allowed to fill in their data, which include name as it appears on the international passport with forged dates of inoculation.
Usually, touts take desperate travellers to obscure areas of the airports or to the toilets where both the seller and the buyer strike a deal. .
These cards carry the signature of the medical officers that conducted the vaccination that never existed.
On the implication of the development for Nigeria, Medical Director, Medical Art Centre, Lagos, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru said: “There is a normal vaccination for yellow fever and these are produced in batches.”
The vaccination, he said, once taken lasts for 10 years. He lamented that Nigerians have been procuring the cards at the airport. .
Meanwhile, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has criticised the action of the South African government.
In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday, the lawmaker described it as “continuous unwarranted hostilities against Nigerians by the South Africa government.’’
The 125 Nigerians, who arrived South Africa on Thursday, were deported on Friday with 75 of them aboard South African Airways while 50 were in Arik Air. .
Dabiri-Erewa in the statement, described Pretoria’s attitude as degrading and unacceptable.
“It is pathetic that 125 Nigerians, the highest so far, which include women and children, were delayed for 24 hours without water and food in an inhuman condition before being bundled back to Nigeria. .
“Does Nigeria ask South Africans to fill yellow cards when coming to Nigeria? Even though passengers must have passed through this process while applying for visa in the Embassy, why treat Nigerians with scorn and indignation? This is really appalling,” she said.
The lawmaker recalled various roles Nigerians played in ending apartheid in South Africa.
She, therefore, urged the government to apply the rule of reciprocity to South Africans coming to Nigeria.