By: Barrister Austin Okeke
In the early parts of 1997, a vibrant Nigerian popularly known as Ncha South was brutally murdered in the process of a botched kidnap attempt on him, right in front of his liquor store in the middle of the city of gold, Johannesburg.
This was few months after the late Engineer Lawrence Ifoh was shot point blank, allegedly by a police officer popularly known as Eke Simon at the Statesman apartment in Berea, Johannesburg. This was one of the early strikes by an in-house enemy who knew so much about the late Lawrence Ifoh’s business deals.
It then became a trend for some unscrupulous Nigerians to either kidnap Nigerians for ransom or send their police friends to rob fellow Nigerians of their goods and money.
Thank God! We came out gun blazing in defence of our people. And the South African law enforcement agencies joined forces with us and the rest, as they say, is history.
At some point, we had 4 dead Nigerians in the state mortuary waiting to be sent back home to their bereaved families, so that they may find closure.
I have lost count of the number of dead Nigerians we have sent home under similar circumstances. Taking a guess, I will say over 100 dead Nigerians who died as a result of police brutality, violent crimes and criminality. May their souls rest in peace! Amen!
Most of our people couldn’t open a banking account because of the nature of the asylum permit issued to them by the South African authorities. As a result, many either kept their money inside their flats or hid it in the so-called storerooms. They then became easy targets for ruthless robbers.
The Nigerian community literally became an ATM where the police came to draw money anytime they liked and as much as they liked.
The Ncha South story
The kidnappers got the hint that Ncha South was about to purchase the Parklane Hotel; a lovely hotel and apartment building in the heart of Johannesburg, housing one of the well-known nightclubs in the city at the time called “the pub with no name”.
The Nigerian community in South Africa did not receive the news of his death well. A young budding businessman whose life was truncated prematurely all because of greed. We had to send him to Nigeria for his bereaved family to bury him.
His wealth was pillaged and dissipated by the boys under his employ and by his supposedly close friends and business associates. They practically robbed a dead man of his acquired assets. What a shame!
An irate crowd of Nigerians ran to me livid with anger, baying for the blood of those responsible for these atrocities. Chairman, chairman, do something, they are killing our people, they said to me. I was serving as chairman of the Association of Nigerians in South Africa.
The Nigerian community had had enough of the terror and the siege by fellow Nigerians acting in concert with their partners in crime.
The situation called for leadership. Demonstration of true leadership demands a lot from the head that wears the crown; no matter how uneasy it might seem. You must be calm and be even-tempered at all times.
De facto ambassador
The leadership at the time rejected the method of “an eye for an eye “, “measure for measure” and “a tooth for a tooth”.
I came to understand the position of a President and Commander in Chief of the armed forces when he has to order the death of its citizens or make a declaration of war. Not a palatable position to be in I must confess, no matter how justifiable.
We applied our minds and sought counsel from the South African law enforcement agencies. We literally dragged the reluctant Nigerian Consulate into the fray.
It was typical of our government to ignore its own people whose primary business it is to protect, no matter where they reside.
It was advisable at the time to drag in the Nigerian Consulate General, albeit the fact that I had become the De Facto Ambassador of Nigeria in South Africa at the time. This was the time of the late General Sani Abacha’s military regime. The regime faced various sanction. Consequently, the Nigerian missions all over the globe couldn’t function as they normally.
International law allows a host government and other international organizations to recognize the leader of a community as a De Facto Ambassador in a situation such as the Nigerian missions found themselves at the time.
And so I led a protest march to the United Nation’s office in Johannesburg to deliver a memorandum of grievance for the incessant murder of Nigerians in South Africa. I personally visited the Red Cross office in Johannesburg with the same complaints, demanding intervention and assistance.
Funny enough, the Red Cross, noticing how energetic I was, and my willingness to serve humanity, instead of pampering me, ladened me with the responsibilities of taking care of other English speaking West African countries such as Liberia and Ghana.
I took it with pleasure, went out to the streets of Johannesburg, gathered as many as I could, Liberian and Ghanaian citizens and duly discharged my humanitarian duties with pleasure free of charge. Outside of the Red Cross duties, we co-opted some of the willing Liberian and Ghanaian citizens into the Nigerian community meetings as one and the same people.
I must say, enjoyed the accent of our Liberian guys when they have to speak in pigeon English o.
Back to our story.
Johannesburg becomes Little Lagos
I dutifully extended the Diplomatic Immunity I enjoyed to the leaders of the various branches of the Nigerian community, those that had joined forces with us the National Body, in the battle against the nefarious activities that were taking place within our community.
We subsequently declared “boys oye”. We tagged it “environmental sanitation”. And the South African law enforcement agencies came to the party.
The city of Johannesburg came to a standstill for a whole week. Nigerians went on a rampage against fellow Nigerians and their partners in crime. The media was abuzz and inundated with news of our clean-up exercise in the Johannesburg CBD. That was when Hillbrow, and Berea in Johannesburg were renamed “little Lagos”
Simunye, Aro, Albert, Alaiwo, and Ochi War became scapegoats because they offered resistance to our clean-up exercise.
With the exception of Alaiwo, the others were later apprehended, sent to Sun City without bail or trial. They came out after about 18 months of awaiting trial. It was all part of the grand scheme to sanitize the Nigerian community. Thanks to the South African law enforcement agencies.
Alaiwo escaped a kidnap attempt. Felix Baba, Alloy one naija, Ike Kwa kwa and the late Alex from Oba town in Anambra state (may his soul rest in peace) “our wounded soldiers” were all arrested and eventually sent to the notorious Sun City prison for 7 days.
On the day of their court appearance at the Johannesburg Magistrates court, the leadership of the Nigerian community attended, alongside their friends.
In order to ensure the release of our wounded soldiers, I had to sign an undertaking that no harm shall befall Alaiwo within the next 6 months.
Alaiwo fell before the 6 months window period. I was subsequently summoned by the police to explain what had happened to Alaiwo. I presented myself, turned the table against the police, and challenged them to go do their investigations.
It was their job to go out there, investigate and afterwards tell us what had happened to our fellow Nigerian, not the other way round.
Ask me how I managed to do all these daring things. I will tell you to go ask my alter ego, not me. My alter ego is “The Lion of Judah”.
Albert was the first to go the way of all flesh just a few months after they were released.
Simunye followed suit.
Aro was just a few days ago.
May their souls rest in peace! Amen!
Austine Okeke is a Nigerian born South African Attorney who specialises in South African and Nigerian laws. He once served as the chairman of the Association of Nigerians in South Africa.