By Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh
ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s Consul General to South Africa, Uche Ajulu-Okeke, on Wednesday dismissed the deportation of 97 Nigerians by South Africa on Monday as an insensitive act, indicating that bilateral relations between both countries has worsened.
South Africa deported 97 Nigerians for various offences following a series of raids on Monday, a few days after immigrants were attacked and some of them killed by South Africans amid claims they were involved in drug running and taking jobs meants for their nationals.
But the diplomat, who appeared nonplussed by the development, subtly describing the deportations as unfriendly said, “I know, coming in the wake of xenophobia, that it (the deportation) was not a very sensitive act.” According to her, the Nigerians were deported due to a “lack of documentation,” adding that, some had said their documents were destroyed in anti-immigrant violence, so they were no longer able to prove they had legal documents.
Speaking in the same vein, a Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari (Foreign Affairs and Diaspora), Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said, “Some of them claimed they were returned for irregular migration offences when the South Africa authority withdrew their voluntary work permits that it had hitherto given to African migrants, and made … work permits more difficult to get. They (Nigerians) have been arbitrarily raided … More (deportations) will likely follow.”
Anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa flared up in late February against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from locals and getting involved in crime.
In retaliation, protesters in Nigeria vandalised the head office of South African mobile phone company MTN in the capital Abuja last month. Some Nigerians have demanded that South Africans leave their country.
Asked about the deportations on Wednesday, Mayihlome Tshwete, a spokesman for South Africa’s home affairs ministry, said his country deported people of different nationalities “on a day-to-day basis”.
“Deportation is a 90-day process and it happens on an ongoing basis, so I won’t get into a singling out of Nigerians,” he said, when asked for details about the Nigerians deported.
Nigeria’s parliament on Wednesday selected a team of 12 lawmakers to travel to South Africa, along with foreign ministry officials, to hold talks with the South African government, parliamentarians and the Nigerian community.
No time was given for when the delegation would leave.
(Additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg in Johannesburg, writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Gareth Jones)