Xenophobia: Why Many Nigerians Refused To Return

As the Air Peace aircraft that brought the first batch of 188 Nigerian returnees from South Africa, landed at the tarmac of the Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Wednesday night, the returnees were welcomed into the warm arms of some government officials and relatives, amidst different expressions on their faces.

Six hundred others who willingly decided to return home, in order to escape the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, are still awaiting their turn to board the next available flight.

But with a record of over 30,000 Nigerians living in South Africa, one would have expected the number of returnees to be more than 688.
An investigation by Saturday Vanguard on why the number of voluntary returnees is low showed that most Nigerians are still weighing the option. Meanwhile, back in South Africa, foreign nationals among who are Nigerians, are still locked indoors for fear of further attacks, with their workplaces still a shadow of what they used to be.

In a telephone conversation with some of them in different provinces, they blamed the economic condition back home in Nigeria, as the major reason, they are reluctant to return.

One of them, Ferdinand Ikechukwu, who was asked why he did not use the opportunity of the free flight back to Nigeria, said, “ Come to Nigeria to do what? Is the situation there better than what we have here? Is Boko Haram not killing people at will? Are there no militia groups who take laws into their hands and waste innocent lives in Nigeria? What about all the killings back home by bandits, herdsmen kidnappers? What has the government done to address them?
“ Besides, will the government give me a job? Will I return and fold my hands watching my aged parents feed me, my wife and children? I will rather remain here and pray for God’s protection”.


Another Nigerian, Osasoyen Idemia, said “ Government is saying we should come home when there are no plans on the ground for us. If the Nigerian government will address the issue of electricity, about 75% of Nigerians in South Africa will return home because our work needs an unhindered electricity supply. If there is a constant electricity supply in Nigeria, Nigerians who have invested here in South Africa will return home. This is an essential need government must address”.

On his part, Mr Uche Ozioma, said, “ It is not as if I do not want to return home. But I have already established a business here. I have been here for 20 years and I have branches in seven provinces. I have four children, all graduates. Two of them are married to South Africans. I go home (Nigeria ) every December to spend Christmas with my parents and relatives. Tell me, if I leave here, where would I start from ?”

Another Nigerian Edome Asemota, said, “ I can’t leave because there is no hope for me back home. I came into South Africa, three years ago, having spent five years in Nigeria without a job. I did all kinds of menial jobs to eke a living, while in Nigeria, yet, I could not rent a one-room apartment. Besides, the pressure was on me to get married because I am an only child.

“My coursemate back in the university invited me to South Africa three years ago. I started as a sales boy in a car mart in Malvern, a suburb of Johannesburg. I also help people wash cars. At least I could save a reasonable amount. The only problem here is the xenophobic attacks. My prayer is that God will spare my life”.

Cause of attacks

Also, an auto parts dealer, who simply gave his name as Dino, attributed the cause of the attacks on Nigerians and nationals from other African countries to what he described as a lackadaisical attitude of the South African Government to checkmate excesses of the perpetrators of the attacks.

Dino said, “ The attacks are perpetrated by youths who live in hostels. These hostels are in Hillbrow, Malvern, Orlando and almost all the provinces. They are homes provided by the government to jobless people. Aside from this, they are paid monthly.

“Those living in the homes are being used by some government officials to distort the country. They target foreign nationals because that is the only way to gain international attention. They launch attack any time they want money from the government. By the time they get the money, the whole place will be calm.
“ There has been a call to scrap these hostels and give these people jobs. But they are not ready to work because they are used to getting free money. Claims that South African women go after men from other countries and abandon their men is not false. Their women accuse their men of not spending much on them as men from other countries do.
“ At the moment, everyone is indoors. Fortunately, the ongoing crisis is not only affecting Nigerians and other foreign nationals. It is also affecting South Africans because some of them owned the burnt shops we rented for our businesses. Also, some buildings that were destroyed are owned by South Africans.

For instance, I have three South Africans as employees. Like me, they have not reported working since last Monday’s attack. The solution is not in Nigerians or other African countries nationals leaving South Africa. It is left in the hands of the South African government to address activities of these hostel boys”.


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