Calm may have returned since the xenophobic violence that erupted in South Africa in late August, 2019 led to reprisal attacks in some Nigerian States; however, affected victims in Nigeria, some of whose businesses were lost to the avoidable violence, are struggling to make sense of what was in no way their fault.
South African multinationals, notably Africa’s telecommunications giant, MTN Nigeria, had several of their franchise offices looted and their properties destroyed. One of the most heartbreaking incidents happened in the Bodija area of Ibadan, Oyo State, where Data Clinic Nigeria Limited had one of its MTN Connect Stores completely burned to the ground.
Recounting the unfortunate incident, the manager of the Connect Store, Ms. Inibehe Atanda, narrated how on September 3, 2019, at around 4:15pm, there was continuous banging on the store’s gate, followed by the shattering sound of window panes. She said that upon hearing this, customers who had come to the store for one thing or the other, began to panic. When she realised who they were, Atanda said she quickly went outside to try to calm things down, shouting that the business belonged to a Nigerian, and not a South African store.
“The protesters were about eight in number, including a female. They came throwing stones into the store. At first I was confused, and had to go check the cause of the disturbance outside. When it dawned on me why they had come, I shouted that the shop is a franchise store and belongs to a Nigerian, not a South African store. When they left, we had to quickly round up everything because the customers were scared of staying back.”
Around 9:15pm the same day, Ms. Atanda got a call from one of the store security, informing her that some people had come on motorcycles, with two kegs containing what he suspected to be petrol and were scaling the office fence.
“When the protesters came, he was at the gate. He said that he saw about eight or nine people coming down from motorbikes and asked them who they were. Immediately they saw him, they jumped the fence to attack him, and so he ran and hid. It was from his hideout that he saw them pouring fuel to the store and setting it on fire, and called me.”
Atanda said she had to quickly rush to the office. “When I got there, the whole building was already on fire. When the firefighters came, I gave them the keys to see if they could open the door, but the heat, and burn from the metal door prevented them from gaining entrance, so they had to break down sections of the building to enable them put out the fire.”
The sad part was the firefighters were unable to save anything. “I don’t know the words to use to describe how I feel, because that night I was here all through, watching where I work burn to ashes, and couldn’t save anything. Even when the fire was out, I was like, “Can I at least have my computer system?” Because it was like all my years work had just been burnt; all my documents. For me, it’s like starting afresh,” a distraught Atanda said.
Data Clinic Nigeria Limited started as an Information Communication Technology (ICT) firm, before going into business with MTN Nigeria as a franchise company in February 2011. As a franchise, the company is a wholly owned Nigerian business. The company’s Operations Manager, Mr Peter Egbon, said that though MTN supplied part of the company’s equipment that was used to set up the business in 2011, and as is typical of every franchise agreement, Data Clinic Nigeria also contributed its own equipment that runs into millions.
The Connect Store at Bodija has like 15 staff working in it; made up of a cleaner, two security, two sales assistants and several others. Ms. Atanda said that every one of the about 15 staff are worried about their future. “From that time we all have been without a job. Some of the workers have been calling to know if they still have a job, especially since the store remains burned since the 3rd of September.”
Now the fear of the workers having lost their jobs is one part of the story. The other half is with the customers, some of whom had brought their phones for repair on that day. “Some of our customers had come that day to book their phones for repairs. We expect that once the store is renovated, they’ll be back to request for their phones,” Atanda said.
Describing the destruction as a “huge damage”, Ms. Atanda said, “It doesn’t make sense that the protesters would attack businesses with links to South Africa; firstly, because the said businesses are in your own country. This company took the owner years to build, and now it took him just one night to lose it. That is a huge loss. Dialogue should always be the key, not destruction. The timeline to destroy is shorter than the timeline to build. You build with time, people, trust, and emotions. There are times you don’t even have the money and then you put in a lot just to build that business; and then somebody will just wake up one night and turn all that sweat to ashes. It doesn’t make any sense.”