Prologue: There is one Biblical injunction that Nigerians, irrespective of religious proclivity, adhere to with admirable consistency; and that is to be found in the Book of Romans Chapter 12 Verse 15 – “Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep”. It doesn’t matter whether they are at home or in the Diaspora, as demonstrated by Nigerians in Johannesburg, South Africa in the wake of the Synagogue building collapse in Lagos. Here is the story with pictures.
Members of the Nigerian community in South Africa held a candlelight vigil at the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg for the South African victims of the Synagogue Church of All Nations’ (SCOAN) building collapse in Lagos, Nigeria.
The event, organized by Nigerian Union South Africa (NUSA), was attended mainly by a cross section of Nigerians resident in the Gauteng Province, family members and friends of the deceased, religious ministers, and officials of the Consulate, led by the Consular Officer in Charge of Trade and Investment, Mr. Uche Okafor.
NUSA President, Mr. Ikechukwu Anyene, told NewsPlus in an exclusive interview that the vigil was informed by the need to identify with the grieving families and honour the dead as done in Nigeria:
“We feel the pain of South Africans, we were at the airport when the wounded were brought back from Lagos and we felt as a Nigerian community in South Africa, we should do something as we normally do in our own country to commiserate with South Africans.”
Act of God
Speaking at the vigil, one of the officiating priests, Executive President of Impact Africa Network and the Chairman of International Gathering for Peace and Human Rights, Bishop (Dr) Chidebere Ogbu, described the incident as an act of God and stressed the need for Nigeria and South Africa to continue to work together.
“Right now, the two most empowered countries in Africa are Nigeria and South Africa. For the two countries to have a problem now is not in any way for the benefit of Africa. So, this little problem should not bring a crisis between Nigeria and South Africa,” Dr Ogbu advised.
Also, Mrs. Lindelua Uche, a South African woman married to a Nigerian for the last 16 years, pointed out that the tragedy could have occurred anywhere. She said, “Building collapse is not only a Nigerian problem. Buildings do collapse everywhere in Africa, including South Africa. This incident, rather than divide us should bring us closer”
A lawyer and religious minister, Mr. Chidozie Ejimadu, who rendered a moving poem at the event to honour the deceased, said those who are trading blame for the SCOAN tragedy should ponder and exercise wisdom in their reaction:
“God works in complex ways. If people start jumping up because a building collapsed in Lagos, why don’t they also ask, ‘why is it that God allowed apartheid to rage in South Africa for a very long time?”
Below is the full transcript of the interview with NUSA President.
NP: You organised d a candle light vigil for those who died in the Synagogue church building collapse in Lagos; why did you think that was necessary?
As a Nigerian community in South Africa we felt that we should do something that we normally do in our own country to show that we sympathize; this is to commiserate with South Africans. This is not enough. We still have to do more because we’ve made plans to visit the families of the victims to mourn with South Africans.
NP: And all of this is to show that South Africans and Nigerians are one?
NUSA PRESIDENT: Yes. It is very important to show them that we care, that their pain is our pain. This tragedy shouldn’t divide the two countries; it shouldn’t be a form of friction… Because there’s tension now but I know that the cooperation and understanding that we already have will continue when the tension goes down. We just want that instead of this tragedy pulling the countries apart, it should just bring us to work together to avoid such tragedies in the future
NP: I know that the Nigerian Union has been having intensive programmes on trying to bring Nigerians and South Africans together because we hear news all the time about Nigerians being killed on account of one sentiment or the other and some people would say it is envy, others would say it is hate, and people would even use the stronger term xenophobia. What is the situation about that now as we speak?
NUSA PRESIDENT: Honestly, there’s a general high level of police brutality in South Africa. It’s not only Nigerians that are killed by police in South Africa; you can recall that 4 miners were shot dead in Marikana in South Africa. There are so many instances where citizens were brutally murdered.
Now, in this case, Nigerians are also affected and we are more concerned about Nigerians that are affected. We are engaging them; our government is also engaging their government to bring this situation under control. The situation has not subsided because yesterday a Nigerian was murdered in Rustenburg and the 2 Nigerians that wanted to stop the assault were shot but luckily they survived, and a few days back some Nigerians were brutalized in Lindela detention camp.
The situation is still bad. As a community leader, I must be honest and say that it is still bad but we are working relentlessly to bring the situation under control. What I think is that it’s not necessarily about South Africans killing Nigerians, it’s just general violence.
NP: This one of yesterday as you said, (Thursday the 25th of September), what actually happened?
NUSA PRESIDENT: Ok, the Chairman of North West Province (NUSA) where Rustenburg is, informed me that the police went to his house to search, I don’t know what for, and they started torturing him and at a point started suffocating him. At a point the guy started screaming and so on and so forth; and when they saw that the guy was about dying, they put him in their car, probably they were driving to the hospital, and then some Nigerians trailed them to know where they were taking the guy to and in the process they stopped them and in the process …the police… ehm…..shot 2 Nigerians there ….
Ehm, we have helped the family to open a case against the police in Rustenburg and actually, some of the policemen have been detained. So, hopefully, the law will take its course.
NP: I’m sure the consular officer…the Consulate here…they are on top of this?
NUSA PRESIDENT: They are working on it; they are on top of the situation – both the Consular Officer here in Johannesburg and the Consular at the High Commission in Pretoria – they are on top of the situation and we are planning to go down there, probably tomorrow (Saturday, September 27, 2014) to meet with the police authorities there.
NP: There’s been this problem I recall, of not being able to certify the actual number of Nigerians in South Africa. I’m aware that there’s something going on about the registration of Nigerians. How far has that gone?
NUSA PRESIDENT: We are actually planning to launch that project in October. What we plan to do is to make sure every Nigerian in South Africa is issued an identity card and we are working on that with the Consulate and High Commission. We call it a consular card. That way, we’ll be able to know the actual number of Nigerians in South Africa. The estimated number is 400,000 but I tell you from what we have seen, driving around in the provinces, we have more than 1million Nigerians in South Africa. By the time the project is concluded we will be sure how many we are in South Africa.
NP: Are you also doing things to put some Nigerians on the straight and narrow because most of the time they tend to colour Nigerians with a bad brush because of the things some of us are doing. What are you doing to make sure this doesn’t continue; the few bad eggs that are giving the rest a bad name?
NUSA PRESIDENT: We have a programme to help them acquire skills through technical colleges that abound in South Africa here. We have identified also a school set up by Richard Branson* in Johannesburg where they give young entrepreneurs free training. So, we believe in equipping Nigerians that aren’t skilled with skills because in this country, if you’re skilled you will not go hungry and we are going around Nigerian communities educating them and re-orientating them to live within the law because you can be successful living within the law and you can actually be more successful living within the law and be organized. So, we are re-orientating them and also working out ways to help them acquire skills.
NP: Thank you for the great work you’re doing.
NUSA PRESIDENT: Thank you sir.
Credit: Audio-to-text transcription by Nicholas Ekata
*Richard Branson, the UK billionaire and owner of Virgin groups, has business concerns in South Africa, including a private 10 000 acres game reserve located in the Sabi Sand Reserve bordering Kruger National Park, Ulusaba as it is called is in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, Virgin Money, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Active (Gym and Spa) and of course, the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship located in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
PS: At the time of this report, A special envoy, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe had been assigned to liaise with Nigerian authorities for the repatriation of the bodies of the South African victims of the building collapse, 2 months after the incident.