ABUJA – Nigerian protesters attacked and vandalised the head office of South African mobile phone giant MTN in Abuja on Thursday in apparent retaliation for anti-Nigerian violence in South Africa, an MTN spokesman said.
“They are protesting against the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. It’s our regional head office in Abuja. That’s where we have our customer care centre,” the MTN spokesman said.
“They vandalised equipment, stole customer phones and I-Pads. Some customers too were attacked.”
A South African government source described the attack as serious. “This wasn’t just some people on the street throwing stones. They broke into the building and stole things and broke things,” the source said.
The incident coincided with a visit by MTN chairman Phuthuma Nhleko to the Nigerian capital to see Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who has been in charge for the last month in the absence on sick leave of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s two largest economies and pre-eminent diplomatic and military powers, enjoy a volatile relationship.
This week, at least 20 shops believed to belong to immigrants were looted in South Africa’s capital although police refused to say if the attackers were specifically targeting foreigners.
Anti-immigrant violence flares sporadically in South Africa, fuelled by persistent 26 percent unemployment and a belief that African foreigners, some of them illegal immigrants, are taking jobs from locals.
Responding to attacks on the shops, Nigeria’s foreign ministry said it would summon South Africa’s envoy to raise its concerns over “xenophobic attacks” on Nigerians, other Africans and Pakistanis.