“He that wants to be my discipline, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” – Jesus Christ.

Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa

I was only 27 years old when I became the De Facto Ambassador of Nigeria to South Africa.

How did that happen?

I was spitting fire and brimstone, I called the late Abacha unspeakable names because of his brutal government. I screamed at the South African government for not taking care of my people.

All of these were captured by the world media such as the CNN, Sky News, BBC, the United Nation’s TV, South African media and Nigerian print and electronic media to mentioned just this few.

The late Abacha unsuccessfully sent mercenaries to attack me in Johannesburg. At the same time my photo was posted at State Security office at Lagos International airport for ease of recognition when I arrive. I became exiled and a fugitive.

Six years after my exile I returned to Nigeria with both the late Abacha and his first son buried 6 feet in graves. May their souls rest in peace. Amen.

I also was in charge of Ghana and Liberia citizens at the same time.

How? I have been to the office of the Red Cross in Johannesburg to ask for their intervention in the way Nigeria citizens were mistreated and killed in South Africa.

Seeing my zeal and my willingness to serve humanity, Instead of pampering me, the Red Cross further laddened me with the responsibilities of taking care of another English speaking West African countries such as Liberia and Ghana.

I gladly accepted the honor and co-opted them into the Nigerian community in South Africa.

Humanity is one, I have always told people.

June 12, 1994, I arrived in South Africa just a little over a month after Mandela became the President of the Republic of South Africa.

Not knowing what to expect. I have come to seek greener pastures and to enhance my personality. I was naive and fresh from the Seminary school training to become a Catholic priest.

I never knew what awaited me.

Nigeria had just established diplomatic relations between both countries, with Ambassador Marius Offor acting at the time and Mohammed Abass acting Consul General.

Nigerian citizens started trooping into South Africa as refugees. They were running from the brutal government of the late General Sani Abacha military regime.

Upon arrival in South Africa, it was very difficult for them to obtain any sort of immigration permits; asylum permit became the only legal permit available to them.

Yet Nigerians were not classified as asylum seekers in South Africa.

It made matters worse for Nigerians to move freely and to settle. Most of them decided to falsely seek asylum as citizens of Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and any other African country of their choice but not Nigeria.

Some were unlucky in the process and were detained for misrepresentation, while some succeeded.

Enough is enough. I then took it upon myself to fight for their rights; rights being that they are Nigerians, and Nigerians they must be.

This fateful morning, I went to the immigration office. Whilst there I noticed that there names of African countries on different rows.

There was no one on the row that has Nigeria; whereas the row of Ghana, Liberia etc had a long queue of not the real citizens of those countries but Nigerians.

I dared the South African government, went and stood alone in the row that had Nigeria.

At the time that the name Nigeria was undesirable. The mere mention of Nigeria immediately qualified you for immediate deportation.

But for how long shall this continue?

So I denied myself took up the cross for my people and followed on the path of Jesus Christ.

For he that wants to save his life shall lose and he that is prepared to lose his life shall gain it.

Greater love has no man than he that gave up his life for his fellow man. This it told the United Nation’s TV journalist who came to interview me.

I also told the journalist to “go home and tell my people that for their tomorrow I die for today ”

As I stood alone at row that had Nigeria, my people were murmuring and warning me of immediate deportation. But I stood my ground regardless.

I was then summoned by a stern looking immigration official. They were mostly all white people at the time.

Few hours later I emerged as Daniel did from the lion’s den; proudly hoisted my permit issued to me as a Nigerian.

Funny enough, the hitherto empty row that had Nigeria was now packed full of people. My people have reclaimed their identities as Nigerians and restored their dignities as well.

To the utter surprise of the immigration officials, the rows of the other African countries suddenly was empty. Where have they gone? To their the row of their true country of course.

They all succeed in obtaining immigration permits as Nigerian that they indeed are.

Come 1999, when Nigeria returned to democracy. The South African government refused to transform their legal residence as asylum seekers into a normal residence permit. In fact, Nigerians were issued with prototype letters to leave South Africa with 14 days.

I went to war again. I took along few Nigerians in the leadership of the Nigerian Union at the time; went to the Head Office of the South African immigration in Pretoria to lobby for our people to be allowed to stay as legal immigrants.

We were met with cold faces.

I then took it up with the South African Parliament. I made a submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Immigration; I used the very same South African Constitution upon which the Parliament was established to win our case.

What was the case? It was the policy of the South African Immigration not to allow Nigerians who were married to South African citizens, to process residence permits based on their marriage.

Section 9 of The Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the South African Constitution expressly prohibit discrimination against anyone.

I successfully made a case for my people using the above legal instrument against the same Parliament that created the legal instrument.

No, it was not me; it was my alter ego. My alter ego is the Lion of Judah.

The above is a perfect illustration of what happens when we do not have a leader.

Not just a leader that occupies a leadership position for the mere sake of filling the post but for the good reason of leading and demonstrating leadership whenever it is needed.

A few weeks later I became the leader of the Nigerian community in South Africa, doubled as a Pro-Democracy leader using the South Africa Nigeria Democratic Support Group as a platform; established by the ANC government of the late President Nelson Mandela.

We used the platform to campaign for sanctions against the late Abacha military regime.

Few months thereafter, the Nigerian government was sanctioned by the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations and the Organization for African Unity now African Union.

This is an idea whose time has come again; as we face yet another brutal government led by General Buhari and cohorts.

As a result of the sanctions against the late Abacha military regime, the Nigerian missions in South Africa and indeed all over the globe couldn’t function as they normally would, for lack of legitimacy.

I was then recognized as the De Facto Ambassador of Nigeria to South Africa.

The youngest ambassador at the time; I was 27 years.

It wasn’t a thorny crown after all.

I gave the ultimate sacrifice for my fellow man.

Best among people are those who benefit mankind.

I thank you.

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 3275 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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