About 65 church members in Johannesburg may not be granted visas to visit Nigeria after causing a diplomatic row that saw police attempting to storm the Nigerian consulate general in Joburg last week.
Nigeria’s consul general, Okey Emuchay, told international news agency “Saturday Star” that members of the Twelve Apostles Church in Christ who claimed their visas were cancelled last week allegedly because they “refused to pay a bribe”, would “never go to Nigeria again”.
Armed policemen stormed the consular offices in Illovo last week in three vehicles, after being summoned by church members who demanded their passports back when they alleged their visas were being denied.
The incident has since caused major diplomatic fallout, with Emuchay describing the police action which was captured on CCTV, as “unprecedented invasion of Nigeria and an attack on the mission”.
The Nigerian consul met officials of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation about the incident during the week over the row.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. The attack on us was unprecedented and unfortunate. It’s an attack on sovereignty,” he said.
“The siege lasted for two-and-a-half hours. It happened well beyond when we are effectively closed for visa applications. My fear was if it happened earlier when there were lots of Nigerians here it would have been very bloody.”
Emuchay said although the SA Police Services management has apologised to the Nigerian mission for what happened last week, the government of Nigeria wanted to know who ordered the “invasion of the consulate”.
He said the mission would insist on a thorough investigation to determine who ordered the action.
Emuchay denied claims that consular officials had allegedly demanded “a bribe” from church members, insisting that asking for additional documentation was not tantamount to asking for a bribe.
He showed the Saturday Star some outdated documents he said had been submitted by the church members and said the church had failed to obtain a proper certificate of incorporation as per requirements.
“I ordered the cancellation of the visas to the church members after police arrived and shut off the consulate,” he said.
“I had to call our government in Abuja to inform them about this incident. I don’t think the police understood the implications of their action.
“What happened here is no different from what happened in Tehran, Iran (where a British embassy was attacked after a diplomatic fallout).”
Emuchay said as a result of what happened last week there was now “collateral damage for all the 65 church members”.
“They will never go to Nigeria again. They have tarnished the integrity of 167 million Nigerians. They must now tell the world who they were discussing the bribe with at the consulate. It takes two people to consummate a bribe.”
Last week, Thami Khanyile said the church had lost over R500 000 in booked air tickets and accommodation as a result of the visa denial.
“They (consular officials) told us that the Nigerian church which we were visiting did not provide them with a genuine certificate that our church was registered,” he added. “We saw this as a ploy to try to solicit a bribe from us.”
Saturday Star reports that Khanyile could not be reached for comment this week, but Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, said the matter was being handled diplomatically and outcomes would not be communicated to the media.