AFTER a four-day stand-off, Nigeria and South Africa have ended their diplomatic row, which degenerated into the deportation of the two countries’ nationals by both Pretoria and Abuja.
At the root of the crisis was the deportation of 125 Nigerians last Friday by South African immigration officials over the alleged possession of fake yellow fever vaccination document.
The Federal Government, which threatened to retaliate the humiliation of the Nigerians if South African government failed to apologise over the incident, last Tuesday sent home the first batch of the country’s travellers from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
Before they reached a truce, Nigeria had turned back 128 South Africans from the country.
But yesterday, the two countries called an end to the altercation and to strengthen their bilateral relations in the days ahead.
The decision followed a letter of apology sent by South Africa to the government yesterday.
And to ensure that the issues around the yellow fever card controversy, which led to a strain in relations between both countries do not re-occur, Nigeria and South Africa have agreed to raise a Bi-National Commission (BNC).
The thawing of the frosty relations is a product of intense meetings between both sides, which started last Monday.
Briefing journalists in Abuja on the truce, Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, said the planned BNC, which would be headed by the vice presidents of both countries, would have working groups on consular matters, security, immigration, movement as well as documentation.
Flanked by the Minister of State II, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed, Ashiru said: “We have reached the end of this. We have now put this episode behind us and it is time to consolidate on the positive sides and our strides as two African sisterly-states. I have accepted the apology on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria.
“To address all of the issues being raised as to why the row started in the first instance, we are convening urgently our BNC for a comprehensive frame-work that will deter officials from maltreating Nigerians. The machinery being put in place is to proffer lasting solutions. We don’t want it to happen again in our bilateral relations to a sisterly-African countries as we both share a common commitment to the unity and prosperity of the African continent as well as a just and equitable world.”
The minister said while the row lasted after the initial deportation of 125 Nigerians by the South African authorities, a total of 128 South Africans had been deported within two to three days.
On the issue of compensation for passengers, who have had their work plans disrupted by the unfortunate incident, Ashiru said: “The first thing is to work on the attitude of the common South Africans on what Nigeria represents and our deep historical ties. Modalities for compensation will be discussed in the comprehensive agreement that will now regulate the two countries.
“Part of the new deal is the despatch of a special envoy to Nigeria by South Africa as soon as possible. Arrangements are being made now to receive him in a couple of days. It is to tell our South African brothers that we are not going to their countries to take over their jobs. Our travellers have legitimate businesses and pursuits hence they were issued visas. We expect the BNC to find permanent solutions to some of these misgivings.”
Already, South Africa has agreed to open a vaccination clinic at the Oliver Tambo International Airport (ORTIA). If in the future they insist on yellow cards, “then we will give them samples. We are the ones that can determine the validity of the cards. The South African and Nigerian health authorities would exchange vaccine batch numbers and details about official institutions that administer the vaccine for verification purposes… We felt the South African action had been un-African. Even if you forget your card at home, you can only be quarantined and given the vaccine after a few hours…”Ashiru said.
On lessons for Nigeria, the minister said: “We want to bring this to our nationals that we must comport ourselves well. We must try and obey the rules and laws of other countries. Government will do everything possible to protect them but they have to be compliant with provisions.”
Also yesterday, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) convened a media briefing in Pretoria, South Africa, which was addressed by Deputy Minister of DIRCO, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim.
Reeling out a position jointly reached by both South Africa and Nigeria on the incident, Ebrahim said he was “confident that the steps that were agreed upon would ensure that travel to and from Nigeria returns to normal. We apologise for this unfortunate incident and we hope this matter will not in any way affect our bilateral relations,” Ebrahim told reporters in Pretoria.
“We’ve put into place certain mechanisms to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and we believe that this matter is closed,” he added.
“We are in contact with the embassy in Nigeria, to see that there are no longer problems, and that any difficulties over vaccination certificates are dealt with before a visa is issued.”
He did not expect an apology from Nigeria over its retaliatory actions, he said. “We understand the reaction of the Nigerian authorities.
“Cabinet expressed shock and regret at the reports regarding how African foreign nationals, particularly Nigerians, and other nationals from other parts of the world have been treated” at Johannesburg’s main airport, minister in the presidency, Collins Chabane, told reporters in Cape Town earlier yesterday.
Meanwhile, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) has denied reports that he was among the Nigerians deported from South Africa last week.
In a statement yesterday in Abuja, Ndoma-Egba said the last time he was in South Africa was in October 2011 when he attended the plenary of the Pan-African Parliament.
He added that while he viewed the deportation of Nigerians as reprehensible, he believed that the attempt to link him to the exercise was mischievous.
The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) yesterday said it had not deported any South African national but only refused them entry into the country.
The NIS Public Relations Officer, Joachim Olumba, told journalists in Abuja that the reports in the media that NIS had deported South African over the feud between the two nations were incorrect.
He said the NIS had in the last two months repatriated 10,797 foreign nationals for offences ranging from improper travel documents and other immigration breaches of which South African nationals were affected.
Olumba said: “These foreign nationals were repatriated for various reasons, mostly for not being in the possession of valid travel documents. If it happened that some South Africans were refused admission at the point of entry, it is not a big deal. And I will also say that so many other nationals had been refused admission. We don’t pick nationals of a particular country and give them blanket refusal of admission. We handle each case based on its merit.”