Nigeria - Government Reacts To South African Deportation Saga

Diplomatic fireworks are being fired from all cylinders. This is to avoid a major diplomatic row between Nigeria and South Africa over what...

Diplomatic fireworks are being fired from all cylinders. This is to avoid a major diplomatic row between Nigeria and South Africa over what is considered as the harsh and unfriendly treatment meted out to 125 Nigerians by the South African authorities over the weekend. The said number of Nigerians were deported from South Africa as a result of not possessing (or possessing alleged fake) Yellow Fever Vaccine cards.

The Nigerian government and the government of South Africa have held a meeting over last week's deportation. The yellow card, which is a public health document, shows that bearers have been vaccinated against yellow fever.
The meeting was held yesterday afternoon in Pretoria, South Africa. The Federal Government has already registered its displeasure over the incident.
Speaking with THISDAY in a telephone conversation, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, condemned the actions of South Africa's immigration authorities as not being in tune with international best practices.
He maintained that Nigeria has no yellow fever epidemic, which is why most countries do not require yellow fever vaccination certificates from travellers coming from Nigeria before allowing them entry.
"Yellow fever is an issue mostly with countries in the Southern Hemisphere," Ashiru noted.
Foreign Relations analysts have already condemned South Africa's action which is capable of causing a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Already, top officials of organisations involved in air transport met yesterday in Lagos at the instance of the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, and agreed among other things that Port Health staff would be part of the screening team to profile the yellow fever document of South Africa-bound passengers.
Representatives of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Immigration, Customs, Airport Commandant, Director of Security, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Port Health Services, South Africa Airways and Arik Air also held a meeting yesterday and concluded that the problem concerning the deportation of Nigerians from South Africa should be resolved immediately.
The meeting also agreed that the head of Port Health and other officials should be sent to South Africa to find out exactly the grouse of the health officials of that country resulting in the deportation of Nigerians, even after they had showed that they were inoculated for yellow fever with relevant documents to back their claim.
Last Friday, South Africa Airline (SAA) returned 75 passengers to Nigeria, while Arik Air brought back 50 passengers including Nigerians who have been living in South Africa for years.
Demuren told THISDAY in a telephone interview that the two countries were responsible for the immigration problem, adding that it was agreed that Nigeria would abide by the given conditions as specified by South Africa Port Health and if the officials persist in embarrassing and harassing Nigerian passengers, then government would adopt equally hostile attitude towards the country, which apartheid policy was scrapped in 1994.
“We looked at all the problems. Some are from us and some are from them and we proffered both short-term and long-term solutions. The short term solution is that officials of port health will be screening the passengers before they travel to South Africa. We have to approach it this way, but if we found out they don’t want to co-operate, then we adopt a very stiff measure,” Demuren said.
Another official who attended the meeting told THISDAY that from the facts gathered at the meeting, South Africa Immigration might be doing this to undercut Arik Air, Nigeria’s only carrier that operates to South Africa.
“From what was discussed, we can say that their action was politically and economically related whereby South Africa may be using the system to undercut Arik Air. So Arik is now insisting that all their passengers must get their yellow fever cards from Port Health. So if you bring your card they will take it and tell you to go to Port Health and get the inoculation and the card; yet they still turn them back.
“So government wants to know what South Africa wants. There is a directive that before you get South Africa visa that you must have been proven to have been vaccinated against yellow fever disease, which means that anyone that has that visa must have been vaccinated but now they are repatriating Nigerians who have their visa,” he said.
The source also said that the meeting concluded that it would give South Africa one week to resolve this issue but “if it is not resolved within one week Nigeria will retaliate. Arik Air will take officials of Port Health to South Africa to find out what their position is. We want to exhaust all diplomatic measures before a stiffer action would be taken”.
Also yesterday, the Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa reacted to the illegal deportation of Nigerians from South Africa and said in a statement that she condemned the act, describing it as “continuous unwarranted hostilities against Nigerians by the South Africa government”.
Dabiri-Erewa also described the South Africa government attitude as degrading and condemned the continuous hostility to Nigerians by the South Africans as 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.
“Do Nigerians ask South Africans to fill yellow card when coming to Nigeria? Even though passengers must have passed through this process while applying for visa in the embassy; why treating Nigerians with scorn and indignation?” Dabiri-Erewa said.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday summoned the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ashiru, over the diplomatic row brewing between both countries.
Ashiru is expected to appear before the committee today to clarify the circumstances leading to the deportation of the 125 Nigerians and what steps have been taken to resolve the crisis in the relationship between the two countries.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, who spoke with journalists in Abuja on the issue, said the committee was disturbed by the deportation as well as the series of attacks on Nigerians and its interests in South Africa.
“We are indeed worried about all these indignations and scorn Nigerians are subjected to all over the world especially by her sister African nations. This calls for a review of our relationship with these countries,” he said.
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