Comrade Alagoa Morris is the Head of Environmental Right Action (ERA), Niger Delta Resource Centre and also the Project Officer of ERA. In this interview with MBAH OKEMSINACHI, he talked about the attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, diplomatic solutions to avert future occurrence, reprisal attacks by citizens in Nigeria and how the Federal Government failed in its responsibility to protect Nigerians home and abroad.
How would you describe the attacks and killings of Nigerians in South Africa?
Xenophobia is very strange when it comes to Nigeria. I have not heard it happening in Nigeria. Nigeria has never done it to any country. Yes within us here we do have communal clashes, ethnic clashes here and there, but targeted at foreigners, I have never heard it.
The ones that happened was ‘Ghana Must Go’, and that was peaceful. There may be an official pronouncement of the government about persons who maybe didn’t properly enter the country officially and are not economically allowed to do certain things, but if you entered Nigeria officially and you have work permit and all those, no problem.
What is happening right now in South Africa is very unfortunate when we take into cognizance the fact that during the apartheid years, Nigeria’s foreign policy had always been centered on Africa.
Nigeria made her foreign policy around Africa, committed resources to ensure that Africans are free from minority rule. When you talk about apartheid, South Africa was the real place where the white minority ruled.
And today it is very surprising that we are hearing Nigerians even though it affects other African nationals are being attacked. This is not even the first time.
It has happened about a year or two ago and now it is repeating. It is very unfortunate, most unexpected and it’s not brotherly at all.
Whatever grievance the nationals there have against Nigerians, I think they should handle it officially. Make official complaint to the ambassador there, to the consulate and then the message will officially be transmitted to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But today on emergency basis, Plane is being sent to South Africa to evacuate some of our stranded persons there; anyone that is ready to come back and this is very unfortunate.
Just like flood just happened and you begin to look for where to take off unplanned. Unplanned evacuation, unplanned relocation, it’s very unfortunate and it doesn’t give us any good case.
Do you think the Federal Government’s response so far is adequate and how would you assess the Federal Government in terms of protecting her citizens both home and abroad?
If you look at the situation, I always say that patriotism is earned. When the Americans say “do not think of what your country will do for you, think of what you can do for your country, I don’t think countries like Nigeria should be repeating that quote, because in America, the government cares for her citizens.
It is like Hitler saying, “If you kill one of my soldiers, I will take 200 of yours. Just recently, somebody that died during the world war, somebody that died years ago in the war front in Afghanistan or some other place, the son who was a toddler when the father died is the one that drove the plane that went and brought the body that was identified as his father.
They brought the corpse home with American flag for burial. Will Nigeria do that type of a thing? Even in death, America values their citizens. Forget about the gun fights and the little racial something that have been happening there. Those advanced nations they take their citizens very important.
In Africa here, I have not seen especially when you talk about coming home here in Nigeria. If you want to talk about all these, sometimes you may leave apart what is happening in South Africa, but no. It touches us.
It is some of our brothers and sisters that are being maltreated there in South Africa; that are being killed. But that does not mean that it is well here at home. Just two days ago, we heard that the Inspector-General of Police is saying they will now send special security team to the South West.
Is it because the South West state governors have now met with traditional rulers and people like this OPC leader, Gani Adams is saying they will take action against herders? They have now seen that this people want to come up with special security so they want to go there and do one thing or the other.
What about the East? What about here in the Niger Delta? Just on Sunday, people were traveling to Abuja and they were kidnapped between Lokoja and Abuja. It is not well in the country.
We are talking about what is happening internally here which the President has not taken adequate steps. Service chiefs have not been changed. We have not seen the type of steps that we would say, yes something reasonable is happening, that will give us confidence.
If you talk about that, it’s a very sorry situation. But then, now it’s outside and we are still feeling for our people outside just as we feel for those that are being kidnapped daily, that are being killed daily either by Boko Haram and other bandits or kidnappers kidnapping follow citizens.
It is as bad as that. But when you talk about the one that is coming from outside, sometimes they say if two brothers are fighting, if an outsider comes to put hand, these two brothers that are fighting might even turn back and fight that outsider.
So no matter how bad it is here, we still feel another factor is trying to undo us and so all of us are now putting our attention there. When talk about Nigeria whether we are from North, South, East or West, we see ourselves as one.
Even though people will say there has been no country but there was a country according to Achebe. There was a country. Those who are saying there was no country, they lied. They are struggling to bring the president of Nigeria. There was Nigeria and Biafra war.
We are using Nigeria currency. We are identified through international passport as Nigerians. So you cannot say there has been no country.
We may say yes from the beginning the foundation of the country was not properly laid and so there were errors and this could be corrected through restructuring, referendum or any other means. But for you to say there has been no country, who are you?
In this world you must belong to one country. So as far as we are concerned, for now, we are using Nigeria passport. Before you travel out you must have to produce your passport, otherwise they will say whether you are a Ghanaian. So we are one people. When we see ourselves outside, we are like brothers. Like you may be from Abia,
I am from Bayelsa. If we meet in a place like Russia, definitely we are brothers. We are the closest in that environment. It is only when we begin to come towards home hence we reach Africa and we land in one airport, to your tent oh Israel.
That is how it is with people from the same community too. When they meet in Yenagoa here, they are one, but when they go home and the speed boat lands the water side then you move to your compound, the other man moves to his compound.
Some Nigerians have been advocating for suspension of relations with South Africa. What are the economic implications?
It cannot just immediately go to that level. I even read that the national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomole and others, not only the politicians, most others are saying nationalise the assets of South Africa, MTN, Shoprite and the rest of them.
What is the essence of diplomacy? We have people that read international diplomacy and law, international relations. Is it not time that these people should be given their job assignment to ensure that whatever injuries that have been caused, we look for a way to solve.
Tell each other sorry where we ought to tell each other sorry. If there is need for compensation to address some of these issues, to assuage the injured parties and then you reach certain decisions to forestall future occurrence.
You just don’t say because something has happened like this and then you cut ties. No. It doesn’t happen like that. If you take such decision that means you are rash. Some people used to say when you are angry, don’t take decision that time. The decisions you take with anger sometimes are faulty.
So we should not rush it. I don’t think Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa even though some of his ministers are making unguarded statements, provocative statements, I don’t think the president and other well meaning South Africans are in support of what those hoodlums are doing to other nationals.
I don’t think the leadership of that country fully support or passively support what is happening even though they are saying we should create jobs for our people here; that is what one of their ministers said, so that our people remain here and not travel out. But what is globalisation all about. Must we all remain in our country? We need to mix up.
As for me, I don’t like to travel out. But if you have Nigerians, other nationals who feel they want to travel for one important business or the other or if they have money and they say they want to relocate. We have people who will nationalise.
We have some persons who have been in America and some other parts of the continent. What about some of our footballers who have nationalised in other places. So if anyone has that desire he should go and if the country permits them, ok.
We should not rush it. We should take calculated steps, allow those who have knowledge, who are experts in international relations and diplomacy to handle this matter in our best interest.
In this situation where we have reprisal attacks here and there and even Nigerians in South Africa taking up arms to defend themselves, what diplomatic measures should the Federal Government take to address these issues?
As for our brothers and sisters in South Africa, I don’t blame them because it is a natural law. Self defense is your right. When you see that you are under threat, that your life is in great danger, if you know you can defend yourself to stay alive, you do it.
That is the first law of nature; self defense. Far away there, if they can hold themselves to prevent themselves from being killed, I support that. They should prevent anybody who wants to kill them until the law enforcement agency come and take them.
Then talking about what happened, the reprisal, the reactions here, it’s natural. It was spontaneous. It didn’t take days, it was spontaneous. Even in law, it is allowed when you react according to the situation.
Somebody killed your brother right in front of you, the law permits although we are not advising that, but the law can excuse in the nature that he immediately kill another person. It’s spontaneous, it wasn’t premeditated.
The law will tell you that if you ran into another building, take machete and come out to come and now kill. They will use a reasonable person standard to judge you.
That before you ran to that house and carry that machete and come out, you should have been able to think that this thing is not good; that I should do it. So, the action here was spontaneous and don’t forget in most cases some will do that with genuine intentions to destroy and make sure their reaction is felt by the other persons who are injuring our own people. But some are just to loot.
Some are there yes, they are reacting, but the event has given them the opportunity to loot. So you have two, three set of people. Even in South Africa they looted our people’s shops.
They are angry that our people are taking their jobs, but they are looting shops of Nigerians and other nationals. Similar thing is what happened here.
But then that was spontaneous and it’s not unexpected and the reaction of the government was also matured by saying no, two wrongs don’t make a right. Stop it, because we are now blaming South African authorities for not reacting on time.
So, if government here doesn’t react in a reasonable way, we’ll also be blamed by the world. If the authorities here don’t react to prevent that type of reprisal attack, it will also portray our government in bad light.
The only thing you would say is that instead of prosecuting those people, they consider them and release them. Again, the innocent should not suffer for the crime of another. So, for the sake of innocent ones, reprisal attack is not in the best interest.
Thank God we have not heard of any South African that has been killed. Again they said most of their stalls and facilities here, that it is Nigerians that are working there.
Thank God no life lost. MTN, I learnt they closed shops. Shoprite also closed to prevent colossal damage. Any reprisal attack, where innocent persons will suffer grave bodily harm or death, whether in Nigeria or outside Nigeria is not acceptable.
We may say yes from the beginning the foundation of the country was not properly laid and so there were errors and this could be corrected through restructuring, referendum or any other means. But for you to say there has been no country, who are you? In this world you must belong to one country.
So as far as we are concerned, for now, we are using Nigeria passport. Before you travel out you must have to produce your passport, otherwise they will say whether you are a Ghanaian. So we are one people. When we see ourselves outside, we are like brothers.