Isaac Aregbesola/Temitope Ponle
Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama says Nigeria and South Africa have set up a 24-hour call centre to serve as an early warning system to protect Nigerians from xenophobia.
Onyeama said at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja that Federal Government was ready to intervene wherever any Nigerian is threatened or in difficulty,
“We will always intervene quickly. An example of this was in Italy, you will recall last year or the year before there was a Nigerian who was attacked and killed.
“We quickly engaged with Italian Government and really took all the necessary steps, arresting people and paying compensation to the family. So we will always engage to protect Nigerian lives wherever they may be.
“We are hoping now to set up a 24-hour call centre so that Nigerians anywhere in the world can call a particular number whenever they are in distress,”
He said that the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa has been directed to facilitate legal support to help the victims of recent xenophobic attacks in the country to get their compensations.
The minister said that the victims of the attacks had been advised to make inventory of their losses through a mechanism that had been created, known as the early warning unit.
“What we have done is that we visited the scenes of these attacks; we spoke to victims, we saw their businesses and we advised them to make an inventory of their losses.
“And, that the mechanism we have created, the early warning unit, what will then happened is that they should submit all their claims through the Nigerian High Commission to be presented at a high level meeting to push the issue of compensation.
“First of all we have to see what the insurance laws provide and really take it from there; the important thing is that this should be addressed.
“We also asked the high commission to facilitate with legal support, to identifying lawyers and all that to help in the process.”
Onyeama decried attacks on Nigerians in South Africa and India which sometimes led to death and expressed concern that the South African situation was more troubling because it often re-occurred.
“We have engaged directly with the highest levels of government of South Africa. The Vice President of South Africa spoke with the Acting President at the time
“I went to South Africa with the Minister of Interior and we were able to get the South African Government to set up an early warning unit.
“We wanted an institutional mechanism that will address the issue of xenophobia in South Africa.’’
Onyeama said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified the fact that the Nigerian Union in South Africa did not have any access to the South African Government.
He said the Nigerian community felt it was at the mercy of the South African police.
“We were able to get the early warning unit, comprising the Nigerian High Commission there and the Nigerian Consulate but most importantly, the Nigerian Union in South Africa.
“On the South African side, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs which is in charge of the police and the police.
“They will be meeting regularly to share intelligence, share information, build trust and develop strategies for early warning intervention.
“We thought that was a very important achievement; it is institutionalised, they meet once every quarter or they could meet earlier,” he said.
The minister said that he had directed the Nigerian High Commissioner in South Africa to arrange the first meeting as quickly as possible.
He expressed the hope that the step would go a long way to address the situation.
Onyeama described the attack on Nigerians in India as a one-off thing because it was a response to a particular incident.
He said what was gratifying about the Indian case was that the Indian Government was very quick in condemning and arresting suspects