Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has advised Nigerians evacuated from South Africa following the xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in the Rainbow Nation to get ready to go back.
This is because he is confident the meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, next month will yield a positive outcome.
The ex-Head of State said Buhari and Ramaphosa should be ready to make the right statements that would encourage the Nigerians who returned home to go back to South Africa.
Obasanjo said this on Saturday in his Abeokuta residence when asked by reporters what he discussed with Ramaphosa last week.
He said Ramaphosa told him that he and Buhari would discuss how xenophobic attacks on Nigerians could be stopped.
Obasanjo said, “I took the opportunity of being in South Africa to actually pay a courtesy call on President Cyril Ramaphosa and he quickly granted me the opportunity. One of the major things we discussed was this issue of xenophobia or Afrophobia.
“The President told me that there was so much at stake and whatever mistake we had made, we had to correct it. And I think that was a very good statement and I know that he meant it, because he immediately said ‘what can we do or should we do?’”
He advised South Africans to tread softly on the issue of foreigners seeking opportunities in their country.
He said, “The idea of thinking or saying that foreigners are taking your jobs should be killed, because most of these foreigners paid something into the country.
“I met more than two Nigerians who are doing legitimate businesses and the turnover runs into millions of dollars and they employed 50 to 60 South Africans.
“All these must be expressed and must be shown that Nigerians in South Africa are not drug peddlers and criminals; there are many of them that are genuine businessmen and professionals and who are making meaningful contributions to the economy and the social life of that country.
“I think that is all we must be doing and be saying and my joy is that President Cyril Ramaphosa is ready to do what needs to be done to stop these incidents and to put the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa on the right track.
“One of the things they are going to do between South Africa and Nigeria is that they are going to have what we established during my tenure – that we called bilateral commission.”
On the Nigerians evacuated from South Africa, Obasanjo said, “I hope they will go back to the South Africa from what I heard from President Ramaphosa. Like I said, the meeting that President Buhari and President Ramaphosa will have during the first week of October should smooth the ground. And the right statements and the right action coming from both sides should encourage our people to go back.
“But, as I have always said that Nigerians living outside Nigeria must try to be good citizens of wherever they live.”
According to him, Ramophosa is ready to bring back the mutual understanding between Nigeria and South Africa.
He said, “I believe the President of South Africa did the right thing to quickly send emissaries to apologise to the countries that were affected (xenophobic attacks), countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique and I think this was good.”
Obasanjo said Nigeria spearheaded the fight against apartheid in South Africa to ensure that the black man was not treated like a second-class citizen anywhere in the world.
He added, “The record must be put right and we must let people know what has been done for all. What do we do for some of the people who helped us during our own civil war; what do we do? Some people don’t even remember those who helped us now, South Africa has got rid of apartheid since 1994. The young people who are agitating today don’t even know what we did. But we shouldn’t blame ourselves for that because we did what we did and we will do it again.
“There is no gratitude as such, what is in there is common interest and it was our enlightened self-interest and we don’t demand anything from South Africa for what we did. We did it because we believed it was our responsibility to do it.”