Nigeria could have declared war with South Africa over a surge of “xenophobic” attacks targeting Nigerian nationals living in the rainbow country, Nigerian Foreign Affair Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said Wednesday. The Nigerian government claimed 20 of its citizens were killed in South Africa last year amid attacks on foreigners and foreign-run businesses, Al-Jazeera reported Tuesday.
A demonstration rally against "migrant crime" was held in the South African capital city of Pretoria on Feb. 24, leading to violent clashes between young South African men and migrant workers from other African countries, including Nigeria and Somalia. This embodied widespread anti-immigrant violence across South Africa last month when more than 20 migrant-owned shops in Atteridgeville, which is roughly 75 miles west of Pretoria, were pillaged by mostly South African youths. In Rosettenville, an area near South Africa's financial hub of Johannesburg, residents attacked and destroyed at least 12 houses belonging to foreigners.
Instead of declaring war on South Africa, the Nigerian government opted to work with South African officials diplomatically to quell the anti-immigrant violence, Onyeama said. The two African governments created an “early warning” coalition Tuesday, which will be tasked with tracking and deterring these attacks from happening. The confederacy, which will be made up of immigration officials from both countries, will meet every three months, to ensure that Nigerian national targeted in the attacks would receive monetary compensation from the South African government, Onyeama said.
“When this issue came up, we look at the options before us, we could have declare war with South Africa, we could have recalled our ambassador, we could have nationalized South African companies in Nigeria, we could have even asked Nigerians in South Africa to come back home and we also have the option of dialogue,” Onyeama told All Africa News. "But we opted for the last, which is to engage them in discussion to find a lasting solution to the problem. It may not be the right decision but I believe it could be a win-win situation. I do not believe the South African Government is xenophobic or even the large number of South Africans, so I believe we can achieve a win-win situation here."
There were roughly 800,000 Nigerians living in South Africa in 2016, according to the Nigerian Union in South Africa, the Guardian reported March 13, 2017. The attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses across South Africa have largely been attributed to the country's large unemployment and poverty rates.