The recent visit to Nigeria of Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, appear to have healed the smeared relationship between the two countries following the hash xenophobia attacks that made ugly headlines early this year.
But it is regrettable that even with spirited efforts both leaders have made promising unrestricted diplomatic and interpersonal relations, free flow of citizens as well as business interchanges, the relationship is still smeared as Nigerians who do business in the Zulu country recount their ordeals and pains in the hands of airport immigration officers at Johannesburg Airport as well as other airports in South Africa.
Narrating his ordeal at Johannesburg airport at The Daily Timesoffices in Abuja, a Nigerian business man, Mr. Edwin Okoro Benjamin said that he was detained at the airport by the immigration officers who forcefully made people pay into the South African economy.
According to Benjamin, Nigerians travelling to South Africa should beware of deliberate hostilities targeted at them by the immigration extortionists who hide under the checking of resident permits and hotels reservation to detain travelers and extort them.
His words, “I was booked to spend four days in Johannesburg; upon alighting from the airplane, I was told to present the hard copy of my hotel booking which was already in soft copy. I was detained at the Analytical Risk Management Aviation Security (ARM) where I was told to present copy of 50 per cent of my hotel reservation, which I did through the internet.
“I never imagined that after paying through the internet that I will still have to travel with the hard copy, and the authority did not tell me about it. But because they needed me to give them some tip off which I refused, I was detained for three days. I watched them do the same with travellers; it has become so official they don’t care who you are. They even automatically change to speaking their local Zulu language whenever they perceive you are a Nigerian.”
Benjamin further said the South Africans openly demand for bribe in dollars and some business men pay as much as 100 dollars or 250 Rands before they are allowed to pass through. “When it was my turn, I refused to give them. To my surprise, I was marched with other people to a place called the ARM where you will be kept like a thief until you bribe.
“Our passports were seized as well as our phones so we cannot communicate; and while we were there, the immigration officers kept coming to us for money and when you give Rands, they would refuse and demand for dollars. The worst part of the whole thing is that they must find one reason to nail one down. Like my own case I had no case but they now turned on the fact that the hard copy of my hotel bill must be produced.”
Lamenting over the extortionist culture at the Johannesburg airport towards Nigerians – especially business men, Benjamin revealed that the South African Government has failed to synchronise the requirements of Home Affairs Services and VFS on the issuance of resident permits in the country.
“Some Nigerians are actually having such problems on their resident permits and they cannot be held at fault for that; it is actually the problem of the two governments, yet SA immigration officers demand the hard copy of one’s resident permit; even when presented, they will also demand the soft copy again. I tell you, the crookedness of that system stinks and the country is not just worth it.”
Benjamin also revealed one of the illegal ways South Africa generates money for its airlines, pointing out that the style is awkward. “This is maltreatment targeted at Nigerians mostly; I have seen that most people detained at the airport are those who did not fly South African airways – and the idea is for you to miss your flight if you refuse to tip in dollars or Rands. But when you fly their National carrier, you will be given a little consideration. It is a whole lot of scam,” he cried.
Benjamin then called on the Federal Government, the Nigerian Immigration especially to do something urgently to save Nigerians from the embarrassment by South African extortionists. He also called on travellers to beware of the 50 per cent of his or her hotel bookings before leaving Nigeria to South Africa, 1000 dollars travelling allowance and the hard copy of resident permit as the extortionists hinge on all these to detain Nigerians until they are forced to part with their hard earned monies.
Well, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.