SA eats humble pie over Nigerian deportations

2012-03-08 11:44

Nigeria scored a diplomatic coup today when it brought the South African government to its knees and got it to apologise for deporting 125 Nigerians from OR Tambo airport.

The deputy minister of international relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, was made to eat humble pie at a media briefing in Pretoria when he said the South African government “deeply regrets” the deportation.

On March 2 immigration officials at the airport denied entry to 125 Nigerians because they had fake yellow fever vaccination certificates. Apparently all the certificates had the same serial number, suggesting they were produced en masse in Nigeria.

After the deportation the Nigerian government hit back and refused entry to South Africans entering Lagos.

Nigerian airline Arik Air suspended its Johannesburg-Lagos service for a day in protest and the Nigerian government threated to kick out big South African companies that operate in Nigeria, like MTN and South African Airways (SAA).

According to a South African official, the Nigerian foreign minister told South Africa that South Africa is upset because the country lost the battle for the African Union chairperson and took it out on Nigerians.

The AU will have another election for a new chairperson in June, and South African officials are worried this issue will come up in Lilongwe, where Nigeria will lobby hard for the incumbent, Jean Ping, to remain AU commission chairperson.

Therefore the decision to nip it in the bud and apologise, rather than keeping up the fight.

“How will it help us to keep on taking blows at each other? These guys won’t stop and now at least we have nursed their egos, so they can’t say anything anymore,” a government official told City Press.

Ebrahim told reporters today that South Africa and Nigerian health authorities would exchange vaccine batch numbers.

Senior officials at the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) will from now on be consulted before deporting large numbers of Nigerians, Ebrahim said.

Two senior Nigerian embassy officials were present at the briefing at the Dirco headquarters, but would not comment.

When asked if they had apologised to South Africa for the deportation of South Africans, Ebrahim answered on their behalf: “We did not ask them to apologise, we don’t expect them to.”

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