The Federal Government has cautioned celebrities and opinion leaders against making unguarded comments on the recent xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa.

Disturbing images and news of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and their businesses have littered the public space in the past few days.

Nigerian female musician, Tiwa Savage and some celebrities have cancelled their engagements in South Africa due to news of the attacks which have also resulted in a social media war between citizens of both countries.

But addressing journalists in Abuja on Thursday, September 5, 2019, Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, said news of the attacks may have been escalated by fake videos in circulation.

The government would like to alert Nigerians to the fact that some unscrupulous people are engaging in disinformation to inflame passion by using fake news and videos of non-related attacks,” the minister said.

The video clips being circulated on the social media, purportedly showing how Nigerians are being killed in South Africa. Three of such videos come to mind:

”One video shows a man who has been set ablaze trying to escape, and those circulating the video identified the man as Nigerian. This is not true. The video shows Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, a victim of xenophobic violence in South Africa in 2008, and it is not that of a Nigerian being attacked in 2019.

”Another video shows those said to be Nigerians jumping down from a multi-storey building that was purportedly set on fire by xenophobic attackers in South Africa. This is fake news as the video is that of a Suraj Coaching Centre in Gujarat State, India, that was gutted by fire on May 24, 2019, leaving about 18 people dead.

”The third video, purportedly showing the bodies of Nigerians who were burnt in xenophobic attacks, is the raw footage of those who were killed in a Tanzanian fuel tanker explosion in Morogoro that left at least 60 dead on Aug. 10 2019.

”Those who are circulating these videos should immediately desist from doing so. Apart from inflaming passion, the videos are also complicating the efforts of the government to calm frayed nerves at home in the wake of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa,” he added.

Effect of reprisal attacks on Nigeria

While condemning the destruction of some businesses owned by South Africans in Nigeria, the Federal Government cautioned hoodlums who might want to capitalise on the widespread disenchantment and anger of Nigerians over the attacks to foment mayhem to desist from such actions.

Obviously, hoodlums have hijacked the peaceful protests by some Nigerians to loot shops at Shoprite and other Malls in some locations across the country. A Nigerian lady whose shop was looted at the Novare Mall in Lagos said she lost millions of naira to the hoodlums who looted her shop. The offices of the MTN nationwide have either been attacked or threatened.

“Other South African firms have either shut their doors or are open under heavy security. As we said in our intervention on Tuesday, Nigerians own and run the shops in the various Shoprite malls across the country. Nigerians work there also. MTN is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the investors in this company are Nigerians. The workers are mostly Nigerians. Same applies to other South African businesses in the country. By attacking them, we are hurting our own people. That is the blunt truth”.

While enumerating some actions of the Federal Government to address the issues, the minister assured Nigerians of the commitment of the Muhammadu Buhari administration towards ensuring the security of lives and properties of citizens and other nationals in the country.

Meanwhile, Nigerians on Twitter have criticised Governors Nasir El-Rufai and Kayode Fayemi, Emir Sanusi Lamido, and former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesilifor attending events in South Africa despite the xenophobic attacks on citizens resident in the country.