The Nigerians, mostly traders, club owners and entrepreneurs, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on the telephone from Johannesburg on Friday, said although they had suffered huge material losses due to the attacks, they would prefer to stay back in the country to rebuild their ruined businesses.
Some also said they might relocate their wives and children to Nigeria while they stay back to work in their host country.
A trader, Lucky Ogbonna, who said he had three outlets in Johannesburg, told one of our correspondents that he lost over N100m worth of goods to the attack while accusing South African police of doing nothing to stop the attacks.
Ogbonna said, “I suffered a huge loss. We suffered the biggest loss during this last incident. I’m a trader and my three outlets were completely looted and vandalised. It is a great loss, my brother.
“I have gone to the police to make a report and they have compiled the complaints but that is the only thing they know how to do – to compile losses. What they do with their compilation is what I don’t know.
Asked if he would take Federal Government’s offer to go back to Nigeria, he said, “Relocation is not on my mind now but I can send my wife and kids back to Nigeria. I will prefer to stay and see how I can start all over again.
“I have thought about moving out of this country (South Africa) before now but now I will send my family to Nigeria and see what I can do after that. I may sell the business to those who will be ready to rebuild it. Another option is that I can rebuild the business and sell it after that. My immediate plan is to relocate my family.”
Ogbonna said he escaped being killed by letting go of what he laboured so hard to build.
He added, “I called the police but none of them answered, others also called them but no response. I believe it is a criminal conspiracy. The police did not want to stop the attackers. I know that South African police could stop them if they wanted to but they did nothing.
“After all, we saw what the police did in Nigeria to those who wanted to attack Shoprite and MTN outlets.’’
He, therefore, appealed to the Nigerian government to force the South African government to pay compensation to all of them who suffered losses, saying he might seek legal advice on the issue.
“I will mobilise other victims and if possible we can institute a joint suit or do it severally but their government must be forced to pay compensation,” he added.
Another victim, Alfred Okechukwu, who owns a business outfit in South Africa, said his loss would be around N9m.
Narrating his ordeal on the telephone, Okechukwu said he had just stocked his clubhouse with a variety of drinks but regretted that everything was burnt down by South African youths. He also said that he escaped the attack by a whisker.
He added, “I escaped being attacked because I got information that they were coming to attack us and so I ran to the club to shut it but before I got there they had set it ablaze so I ran back. I don’t sell drugs. I even employed South Africans who work in my club.
“I can relocate to Nigeria but I just came back to South Africa from Nigeria about two months ago. I went to bury my dad. I just stocked the club with everything I had because this is summer and sales are expected to pick, but they came and burnt down everything.
“I have lost everything that I worked for here. If I come back to Nigeria what will I be doing? Will I become a bus conductor or which work will I come back to do without money?”
He, however, said if the Federal Government would help the returnees to settle down, he would consider relocating to Nigeria.
“But if I leave here for Lagos, I don’t even have transport fare from the airport to Benin where my family members are,” he added. “If our government can insist that South Africa should pay us compensation, I will be happy.
“I left Nigeria about eight years ago and if I return empty-handed won’t the shame kill me? I will be part of any lawsuit or anything that can make these people pay us back. I need money to start my life afresh.”
Also, a motor spare parts dealer, Samson Onyema, said he was not ready to abandon his trade in South Africa to return home despite the attack.
Onyema said, “My business was burnt down completely, but I will not want to return to Nigeria because of this attack. I sell motor spare parts and I don’t want to stop my business here.”
Another Nigerian, who runs a salon in South Africa, Mr Elisha Mbah, said he might not consider coming back home given the situation of things in Nigeria.
He said even though he had lost his goods, he would still prefer to stay in South Africa to try again.
When asked if he would return, he said, “Not really and not now. The state of things in Nigeria will not encourage that. In everything that has happened, you can still map out some other ways to be able to survive here than for me to go back to Nigeria where I would have to start afresh.”
He, however, said he could only consider coming back to Nigeria if there was an assurance of job and assistance in settling down.
He added, “I have children here. Where do I start from? If I must go back home, they would give me a job and help me to resettle. I mean there must be something they would do for me to start life with.”
Asked if he lost anything to the attack, he said, “We lost everything. They set the shop ablaze and everything went up in flames. The value of what I lost would be between R200,000 (about N4.9m) and R250,000 (about N6.1m).
Another Nigerian in South Africa, Mr Emma Adeani, who sounded too distressed to talk, told one of our correspondents that he wasn’t considering returning home at the moment because he had things doing in his host country.
He said, “I have things I’m doing here, just that they vandalised my things. I’m not against going back, but there is something I’m doing here and that was why I came here in the first place. As I’m talking to you, I’m still busy compiling the cost of my loss.”
Another Nigerian victim of the attacks who is confined to a wheelchair, Mojeed Kuku, said he and his family would have South Africa but for the situation back home.
“We would have returned to Nigeria but for our country that is not okay; we lack a lot of facilities. I cannot return now; we cannot go empty-handed. All my sons are schooling here. Maybe when they finish schooling, I can return home. Where am I going to start from if I return to Nigeria?” he asked.