The world was recently held spell bound when xenophobic attacks in South Africa which turned violent leaving 7 dead and many more injured.
Similarly, May 4, 1985, saw many foreigners carrying mattresses, clothing and cooking utensils, poured back across the borders to their homelands when the Nigerian Military government had earlier in April of that year ordered thousands of illegal African immigrants to leave the country and go to their home countries. The immigrants were mostly from Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin Republic. The borders were open to expel about 700, 000 illegal immigrants and it was the first time since the borders were opened since the previous year (1984). The borders were closed to combat the black market of the country’s ailing currency (the naira). But until the borders were opened on May 4, only small scores were reported to have left on airplanes and ships.
This order came from the then Military Head of State, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari who overthrew the Shehu Shagari government in December 1983 to become Head of State had in January 1984 ordered the first batch of about 2 million illegal immigrants who were mostly Ghanaian to go to their home state blaming them for the nations wide spread unemployment rate. The borders were clogged with people carrying personal belongings across to their country.
The foreigners had come due to an attraction to the oil rich progressive country but due to the failing economy and an increasing crime rate which was attributed largely to the number of immigrants who poured into the country, they were asked to go back home. This was a second part of the foreigners forced out of the country by the government.
According to reports, the Nigerian custom officials were strategically located and on the west (border with Benin) they were thoroughly searching immigrants and refusing them to leave the country with more than the N20.00 or $17.65 allowed by law. The foreigners were part of the millions (mostly Ghanaians) who had poured into the country hoping to benefit from its economical base but as the world’s demand for oil declined, the nation was thrown into a deep state of economic decline hence the need for the expulsion of foreigners.
The state-controlled Lagos radio reported that Interior Minister Mohammed Magoro had met with ambassadors from neighboring countries whose citizens were affected by the expulsion order. The radio quoted ministry officials as saying foreigners would be driven to the borders in ministry vehicles or allowed to buy airline tickets with Nigerian currency. Ordinarily, foreigners must pay in foreign currency.
Ghanaian officials said about 300,000 of the 700,000 foreigners were migrant workers from Ghana. Officials said 100,000 were from Niger and most of the rest from Chad and Cameroon. In addition to the attraction of Nigeria’s oil boom, many of the non-Ghanaians came to Nigeria to escape drought and the threat of famine in their home countries. Several hundred illegal aliens, expelled from Nigeria and barred from entering Benin, camped that night in a no-man’s land between the two countries, witnesses reported.
Benin border officials, who turned non-Benin nationals away, said that Nigeria’s opening of the border had surprised them and that they had received ”no clear instructions” on how to deal with the influx of aliens. Benin officials said they were justified in rejecting non-Benin nationals since many of the aliens might try to stay in Benin because they had no money to continue their journey.
Reportedly, no vehicles crossed the frontier, but witnesses reported that many minibuses and private cars with Nigerian license plates had entered Benin along isolated bush tracks. Foreigners who went through the bush had to obtain permits to travel through Benin, a tightly controlled Marxist nation, if they were to get to their final destinations.