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Nigerian gangs attack, force compatriots to flee South-Africa

Besides xenophobic attacks, Nigerians living in South Africa now face extortion and death at the hands of fellow countrymen in the former apartheid colony, forcing many to flee to other countries for safety, writes ERIC DUMO.

His voice and countenance say it all. Far from the bubbly figure that he once was, Ikechukwu Anyene has almost become an old shadow of himself. A former President of the Nigerian Union South Africa, the businessman had to run back to Nigeria recently after his life came under threat. Marked by a deadly Nigerian drug gang in South Africa for elimination following the imprisonment of two of their top members, the soft-spoken Anyene is uncertain what the next moment could bring.

“My life is no longer safe,” the dejected man told our correspondent during a recent encounter. “People are after my life for a reason I do not know. Sometimes they send messages to my phone number or tell people to inform me that I should be prepared for death because I am on their hit list.

“Initially, I took the matter with a pinch of salt but when I realised that the gang after me was not joking, I had to run for my dear life,” he added.

Living in South Africa since 1995, Anyene had walked his way through the rough patches of life to establish several thriving businesses across major cities in the former apartheid colony. A respected figure within the Nigerian community in that country, he rose to become the leader of his compatriots in that society owing largely to his organisational prowess. Old and young – everybody knew him in that space – a situation that brought peace to his heart. But in June this year, that peace left him when, on the fourth day of that month, a gang of Nigerian men armed to the marrows, stormed one of his business outlets in Johannesburg. They came for his life. But after several hours without a sign of him, the hoodlums decided to leave a mark behind. They killed his employee, also a Nigerian, vowing to come back for Anyene himself. It was the climax of the hunt for his life. He needed to make some fast moves.

“The gang members came to my shop shortly after I left the place that day,” Anyene explained as he narrated his near shave with death at the hands of fellow countrymen in South Africa. “When they couldn’t find me after waiting for hours, they killed a Nigerian guy working for me.

“This guy doesn’t belong to any association or even union. For the five years he worked with me, he was the one taking care of my business while I was involved in other activities. He was killed on June 4, 2019, at about 5:30 pm.

“We reported the matter to the police for investigation. Two weeks after the incident, one of the guys in prison called and said that they were the ones behind the attack and that they came there to kill me. He further said they killed my worker to leave a warning for me.

“They have silenced a lot of people in this way. A lot of people run away and leave their property and businesses once these gangs come after them.

“Almost everybody told me to run away from that environment. People advised me not to even trust the South African police, that I should run for my life.

“I really don’t know why these guys are after my life. They probably think that I am the one that got the South African authorities to jail two of their leaders after they killed a Nigerian in 2013.

“For the fact that I was President of NUSA at the time, they think I was the one that orchestrated their going to jail but I have nothing to do with that,” he said.

According to findings by our correspondent, two Nigerian men – Dickson Wodi and Charles Obi – were sentenced to 75 years in jail respectively for the killing of another Nigerian in Johannesburg in 2013. The two men, who are held in Leeukorp Prison, Sandton, and Baberton Prison, Mpumalanga, respectively, were said to have murdered their compatriot following a disagreement over drug turf. Despite being behind bars, the two drug lords are said to still coordinate several hits through their gang members without any sort of hindrance. They approach Nigerian businessmen and women including others doing well financially for money, assuring them of peace in their adopted country if they obliged or trouble if they refused. Those, who chose the second option have either been killed or forced to live with life-threatening scars.

“I had to close down my business and run back to Nigeria when the threat to my life became unbearable,” Banjo Davies, a 41-year-old father of three, told our correspondent a few days back at the hotel he is currently staying in Ogun State.

“I operated a thriving restaurant in Johannesburg for six years and never had any issues with anybody until about two years ago when Nigerian cult and drug gangs started demanding and extorting money from me.

“They used to demand around N50, 000 every month from me when converted to our currency here in the past but the amount rose to almost N300, 000 every month around late last year. I couldn’t bear the situation anymore so I had to temporarily close down the business.

“Instead of allowing me to be, they kept disturbing me for settlement even when I no longer operate the business. Three of them attacked and inflicted injuries on me around February this year but I escaped and moved to Pretoria area.

“In May, I realised that they had traced me to where I was staying with a friend and tried to kill me. I escaped that day and fled to Kwazulu Natal from where I later sneaked into Johannesburg and back to Nigeria in June.

“I left behind everything I ever worked for in South Africa. My business, car, property and other valuables, I left everything and ran back home for safety because if I had remained in Johannesburg, it is either the gang keep extorting me or kill me eventually,” he added.

Like Davies, John Adekoya, a 38-year-old software developer is another Nigerian that has been forced to flee South Africa due to the terror visited on him by Nigerian gangs prowling the streets of the ‘Rainbow’ nation. As a resident in that country for four years, the Oyo State-born IT expert had big things on his mind when he relocated to that part of the world. First staying with a relation for the first one year he arrived in South Africa, Adekoya, through hard work and doggedness, was able to raise enough money to rent his own apartment in the Hillbrow area of Johannesburg shortly afterwards. His expertise in software development and friendly disposition earned him clients from far and near. But sadly, his rising success also earned enemies from within. Before long, the Nigerian gangs smelt his success and came after him.

“Perhaps my biggest error was buying a Toyota Venza car to compensate myself for all my years of hard work,” the 38-year-old said as our correspondent engaged him in a chat in a Lagos suburb recently. “The moment other Nigerians saw me with the car, I became a target of the gang extorting and killing fellow Nigerians.

“The first time two of the guys approached me, they told me that I had not settled them and had the guts to drive around their territory with such a flashy car. I thought they were being sarcastic but realised they were not joking with me when they pointed two pistols at me.

“That day, I was forced to give them the N100, 000 equivalent of South African Rand after much pleading.

“That was not all, they kept demanding more money in the weeks that followed that incident and when I was not able to give them on one occasion, they traced me to my house; they assaulted me physically and carted away several valuables from my apartment.

“At that point, I knew I wasn’t safe anymore especially when I started receiving strange calls on my mobile. When the situation became unbearable for me, I had to run back to Nigeria because it is only somebody that is alive that can hope and dream about the future,” he said.

While Davies and Adekoya managed to escape back to Nigeria despite sustaining injuries and losing valuables and businesses they had built for years, dozens others, not as lucky, have had life snuffed out of them by the bullets of ruthless Nigerian cult and drug gangs raining terror on fellow countrymen in the former apartheid nation.

For example, on December 3, 2015, a 34-year-old woman, Christiana Onyeka, was killed by gunmen believed to be members of a Nigerian cult gang in Johannesburg. Though the case was reported to the South African police, her killers have yet to be named nearly four years after.

In August 2018, the killing of two Nigerians by members of a Nigerian gang in Pretoria, further highlighted the enormity of the problem. Okechukwu Chukwumezeriri, a 39-year-old native of Imo State, was shot dead on a football field at Rietondale Park, while Olushola Ayanleye, 42, from Ondo State, was shot dead on the night of August 26 that year at Essellen Street, Sunnyside, Pretoria.

There have been several other killings since that period, according to findings by our correspondent.

“The situation has actually reached an epidemic level at the moment,” Anyene cuts in. “Almost every South African Airways flight coming to Nigeria from South Africa has about three body bags of Nigerians.

“The Nigerian community in South Africa is in complete fear. In fact, the community is under siege by these ruthless gangs.

“What the gangs do is that they identify a Nigerian that is doing well and approach him for money. This crime is being carried out by the two guys in prison through their members on the street.

“It is a widespread problem well known within the Nigerian community in South Africa. They demand money and if you don’t pay, they kill you.

“A lot of people have been victims, so everybody is afraid. They force people to work for them as informants. A lot of people are working for these gangs out of fear.

“A lot of Nigerian children have become orphans in South Africa as a result of the killing of their parents by fellow Nigerians. What we were dealing before was xenophobic attacks but now a case of Nigerians killing Nigerians in South Africa has been added to our problems. It is a serious problem,” he said.

Decrying how the situation had affected many Nigerians living in South Africa, current President of NUSA, Adetola Olubajo, told our correspondent that every one of them now lived in fear in the former apartheid enclave.

“It has been terrifying. It is now a case of ‘save our souls’. The terror that had been unleashed by the Nigerian gangs on Nigerians is serious.

“Those guys in prison, they place a call to you and demand money. If you turn them down, they come after your life. In the last 30 months, over 147 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa. Many of them are killed by Nigerian gangs.

“A lot of Nigerians have abandoned their businesses and run away from the country. Many of these gang members have connection in high places and that is why they are being shielded.

“There is no trust for the police in South Africa. Even when you have a lead, if you take it to them, it will be as if you are exposing yourself to the killers. That trust deficit has prevented people from volunteering useful information to law enforcement officers.

“As the umbrella organisation of Nigerians in South Africa, our stand is that whoever kills should face the full wrath of the law, irrespective of his or her nationality. Nigerians killing Nigerians should not be viewed as different from Nigerians being killed by other nationalities.

“Government officials should also take seriously these senseless killings of Nigerians in South Africa by not building or promoting narratives that it is okay for Nigerians to kill themselves,” he said.

In July this year, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, during a meeting with South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Bobby Moroe, said the indiscriminate killings of Nigerians in South Africa was no longer acceptable.

“The South African government must, as a matter of urgency, do whatever it takes to protect the lives and property of Nigerians living there, just as the Nigerian government remain committed to the safety of South Africans residing here and their investments. We will no longer take it anymore,” he said.

Commenting on the situation, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Citizens in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the killing of Nigerians in foreign countries under any circumstances was unacceptable.

Speaking on steps being taken to tackle the situation, Moroe said the government of South Africa would continue to do all within its powers to protect lives and property in the country.

“Our government is firm in its stance that acts of criminality against foreign nationals shall not be tolerated. The law enforcement agencies of South Africa have thus far gone at great length to ensure that perpetrators of any form of crime and violence against foreign nationals are brought to book.

“We, therefore, continue to work with the South African Police Services through the Department of International Relations to follow up on what punitive actions are being taken against perpetrators of violence,” he said.

Dabiri added that Nigeria and South Africa entered into an early warning signal mechanism in the heat of it over a year ago, that had to be reviewed upon the appointment of a foreign affairs minister.

She stated, “South Africa must show the political will to deal decisively with this matter. We are Nigerians. We are humane and we respect humanity.”

PUNCH

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