For the umpteenth time, Nigerians in South Africa are at the receiving end of things in the hands of the natives. This time, it is in the hands of those supposed to protect them – the police. In the past one month, at least three Nigerians have lost their lives under police interrogation. The latest one involved a young Nigerian who was suffocated by the police as they sought to extract information from him. This triggered a near unrest by the deceased's compatriots in that country.
The police brutality is coming on the heels of renewed xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in that country. The worrying aspect is that despite all this, the South African Government did not show any real concern to the unfortunate developments apart from the now usual perfunctory apologies and meaningless apologies which will be followed by little or no action.
It was the lack of serious action by the Nigerian Government that perhaps encouraged the South African police to take their turn under the guise of checking for drugs in the homes of Nigerians.
The rule everywhere is that suspects are taken to court and tried and either set free or convicted. Never are they treated as criminals before trial. So why are the Nigerians in South Africa victims of such brutal treatment?
If the seeming conspiratorial silence of the South African Government is worrying, more worrisome is the response of the Nigerian Government. Apart from lame threats, the Nigerian Government has not taken any serious diplomatic action to make the South African Government think twice about roughing up the Nigerian Citizens in that country. That, indeed, is saddening.
But amid these untoward developments, a governor in Nigeria is erecting a statue for the South African president. The governor in question is Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. It is his way of reacting to the brutality his brothers are receiving in the country of his guest, President Zuma, of South Africa.
We had expected Okorocha to use the occasion of the visit of the South African president on his (Okorocha's) invitation, to demand better treatment of Nigerians in Zuma's country, as well as to ask questions of their safety. But Okorocha decided the best option is to hang out flags and build a statue for Zuma.
Okorocha's action, once more, exemplifies the distant relationship between most Nigerian leaders and those they are leading. When a government is inured to the pains of its people, it gives rise to agitations and sometimes unrest as we see in Nigeria today.
Was it any surprise then that the convoy of Okorocha and the South African leader was reportedly attacked by the people of the state as it passed in one area of the state capital?
That Okorocha places more premium on pandering to the whims and caprices of outsiders to solving the glaring problems of his people is indeed shocking.
Now, President Zuma will return to his country, convinced that Nigeria does not care much for her people, and with such belief, we can only expect the worst in the relationship between Nigerians in that country and their hosts. Surely, Okorocha got it wrong. The federal government also, by her meek response to the killing of Nigerians in South Africa, also got it wrong.