Nigeria not cutting diplomatic ties with South Africa – minister

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Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama Friday said that the country does not intend to sever diplomatic relations with South Africa despite xenophobic attacks on its citizens.

“We are not thinking to the stage of diplomatic ties called off,” Onyeama told the Nigeria Senate Committee on Diaspora. “There are various options. We are not by any means at a stage where we are breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa.”

He said available statistics from the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria indicated that over 800, 000 Nigerians are legally living in the South African country. But a 2016 figure by South Africa’s statistics office showed that there are only 30, 314 registered Nigerians living in the country.

The minister noted that any attempt by the Nigerian government to cut the diplomatic relations with South Africa will greatly affect Nigerians and would result in a huge investment loss. Safety of Nigerians in South Africa has been the subject of debate across the country due to the persistent anti-foreigner attacks in South Africa.

Asides attacks on Nigerian businesses, many Nigerians have been killed in the country. Reports say about 118 Nigerians have lost their lives in recent years. Some were said to have been killed by South Africa policemen.

This forced the Nigerian government on Monday, September 2 to vow to take “definitive measures” to address the issue. Describing the attacks as sickening, Onyeama said South African police protection for Nigerian businesses has been “ineffective”.

But the South African police minister Bheki Cele said criminality, not xenophobia, should be blamed for the attacks on foreign-owned businesses in the country. “Nothing… has sparked any form of conflict between the South African and foreign nationals,” Cele said.

South African police on Monday said it arrested more than 60 people following looting in Johannesburg and protests in the transport industry linked to a wave of anti-foreigner sentiment, AFP reported. The Nigerian government demanded compensation and accountability for losses suffered by its citizens from the South African government.

But the South African government expressed no willingness to grant Nigeria’s demand. While Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched a ‘special envoy‘ to meet with South African authorities on the matter, Onyeama said their report would be a guide to the next action to take interest of the country.