Murder sparks India-Nigeria diplomatic storm
Tensions rise between major trading partners after killing, riots, and crackdown on illegal migrants.
New Delhi, India – Christian Nwaneli stood outside the Nigerian high commission in New Delhi, waiting to settle a business dispute with his Indian business partner.
Nwaneli, a resident of Lagos – Nigeria’s most populous and Africa’s second-fastest growing city – wanted the embassy to help him retrieve several thousand US dollars his partner had owed him.
But the Indian partner did not turn up and instead Nwaneli received a text message asking him to come to Gurgaon, 30km south of Delhi, for the money.
“I chose not to go for security reasons … I will never come back to India. It’s better to trade with the Chinese,” Nwaneli told Al Jazeera.
Tensions between Nigerians and Indians have escalated since Nigerian national Obodo Uzoma Simeon was found dead in Goa, a popular tourist destination, in the country’s west. Simeon was stabbed to death on October 31 in Panaji, Goa state’s capital.
Goa police were quick to lodge a murder case, however, the killing led to widespread protests by Nigerian expatriates, snowballing into a major law and order problem.
About 200 angry members of the community blocked a highway while the body was being taken for post-mortem examination. Police brought the situation under control and registered cases of rioting, arson and damaging public property against 51 Nigerians and one national of Ghana.
“Forty people have been arrested and a few others were detained for their involvement in rioting and other unlawful activities,” Kishan Kumar, director general of Goa Police, told Al Jazeera. “We are committed to serve people better and will allow no local or foreigner to take the law into their hands.”
‘Nigerians a cancer’
For months, Goan police have been investigating suspected Nigerian links to drug gangs.
Last week, the Goa government submitted a report about Simeon’s murder to the Ministry of External Affairs, stating he was killed because of “infighting between drug-related gangs,” and that a local named Surender Por had been arrested for murder.
There are only 50,000 Nigerians living in India, but there are over a million Indians living in Nigeria. Thousands of Indians living there will be thrown out on the streets if the forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa does not stop
“We have received the report. Preliminary leads indicate infighting between possible drug-related groups leading to the killing,” spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters last week in New Delhi.
Despite the arrest, the diplomatic relations between Nigeria and India are strained. Some 50,000 Nigerians live in India, while about one million Indians reside in Nigeria and are represented significantly in the business community there.
A degree of xenophobia is sweeping Goa with some local politicians fuelling the fire with inflammatory remarks.
Goa’s Art and Culture Minister Dayanand Mandrekar claimed Nigerians were a “cancer,” and dubbed their actions detrimental to the tourism industry. That he retracted his statement later and apologised did little to undo the damage done.
Signs reading “Say No to Nigerians” have been placed at several locations in Goa, and residents of some neighbourhoods have publicly resolved not to rent out apartments to Nigerians.
After the rioting, Goa’s Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar ordered police to find and expel any Nigerians living illegally in the state. Goan parliamentarian Shantaram Naik was equally undiplomatic.
“Nigerians misuse education schemes, violate the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), indulge in the drug trade and yet try to boss over Goans, which no civilised society would tolerate,” said Naik.
‘Salt in the wounds’
The intemperate statements evoked angry responses from Nigerian officials in India.
“Indians need to understand that a large number of Nigerians are living legally in India and even if some are living illegally, there are laws in place to deal with that and those should be implemented,” Nigeria’s high commissioner to India Ndubuisi Vitus Amaku said.
Nigerians misuse education schemes, violate the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), indulge in the drug trade and yet try to boss over Goans, which no civilised society would tolerate
“If Nigerians are living illegally [in Goa], you don’t wait till their compatriot is murdered before you go around picking them up and threatening them with deportation. That’s like rubbing salt in their wounds.”
Jacob Nwadibia, an administrative attaché of the Nigerian high commission in New Delhi, went so far as to issue a blunt warning.
“If discrimination against Nigerians was not stopped immediately, Indians in Nigeria may face repercussions,” Nwadibia said.
“There are only 50,000 Nigerians living in India, but there are over a million Indians living in Nigeria. Thousands of Indians living there will be thrown out on the streets if the forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa does not stop,” he said.
Nigeria has become India’s largest trading partner in Africa with bilateral trade doubling since 2008.
According Indian High Commission in Nigeria, Indian investment in Nigeria will triple to $10 billion by the end of this year.But mutual distrust is yet to be bridged as the recent events in Goa show.
“The discrimination is apparent and we just want that it should end and the law should take its own course,” Tokunbo Falohun, a spokesman for the Nigerian embassy in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.
The Indian community in Nigeria is also nervous in the aftermath of the Goa incident. Indians have started circulating external affairs ministry contacts for anyone facing harassment or other problems.
“A sort of paranoia has started to creep in after the incident in India, but things are fine as of now,” Radhika Mehra, who lives in Lagos with her family, told Al Jazeera.
Back in New Delhi, Nigerians and nationals of other African countries already only live in specific pockets in the city where they feel relatively safe.
“I face racism on daily basis,” said Fortuna Mayala, 23, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Mahatma Gandhi University.
“Indians think black people are evil, that they are the devil, as if we are monkeys from some strange planet. It is hard to get rented accommodation for us in the capital.”
Mayala, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, added that he has not made any Indian friends during his one-year stay in the city.
That some Nigerians have been involved in crime has strengthened the stereotypes against them, and honest, hard-working people such as Nwaneli, the businessman, have paid the price.
Unable to settle the dispute with his Indian partner, and with no desire to stay in India any longer, he said: “I am frustrated here. India needs to change.”