The chairman and Chief executive officer (CEO) of Air Peace Airline, Chief Allen Onyema, has revealed that over 1000 Nigerians living in South Africa are willing to return home, following the recent spate of xenophobic attacks.
Onyema stated this against the backdrop of ongoing plans to evacuate more Nigerians from South Africa.
More returnees are expected back today. About 188 Nigerians returned successfully last week.
Confirming the continuous evacuation of Nigerians, Onyema told LEADERSHIP Sunday that Air Peace has not suspended the exercise. He noted that the airline is waiting for the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa to make available the next batch of Nigerians that would be taken out of the hostile country.
He however disclosed that indications from the High Commission showed that about 1000 Nigerians are still willing to return home, adding that the airlift would commence after the Commission finalises the necessary paper work.
He said, “I said it earlier that Air Peace will bring back to our country all those Nigerians who are willing to return and we will continue to bring them back until the last evacuee is taken out of South Africa.
“I learnt from the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa that about 1000 Nigerians are willing to return home. So what Air Peace has agreed with the Commission is that when it finishes with documentation, settled with Immigration, then the High Commission will notify Air Peace which will deploy aircraft to bring them back.
“This is to avoid what happened last time when 320 passengers were expected to be airlifted but South Africa authorities allowed 187 to make the flight,” Onyema said.
Meanwhile, Nigerians who returned last week narrated their traumatic experience while in South Africa.
A returnee, Mr. Aliyu Saheed from Osun State, who was among the 188 Nigerians who came back last week, debunked claims in some quarters that no Nigerian was killed.
Saheed insisted that many Nigerians were murdered and thrown into pits in connivance with the South African police.
“Anyone that says no Nigerian was killed is economical with the truth. Many of us were murdered in the open, thrown into various pits and put in the morgues.
“The South African police connived with these animals. They saw us being attacked, yet, they will do nothing about it. They will rather drive or walk pass. It is a dastardly act that our government should rise against. We can’t continue to play the big brother Africa role without a voice to bark or teeth to bite when the need arises. Many Nigerians are still hiding in various places.”
Another returnee, Adeleke Adebayo, said he left South Africa without informing his wife and children. He is married to a Cameroonian in South Africa.
Narrating his ordeal, Adeleke, a plumber, said he moved to South Africa 15 years ago.
“I relocated to South Africa in 2004 though with visiting visa, but within a year, I regularised my papers. Since then, I have been visiting Nigeria regularly, but despite our show of love, an average South African does not love foreigners, especially blacks. Then I was caught in the web of the crisis, but I escaped by the whiskers.
“To be candid with you, I didn’t inform my wife and children of my coming to Nigeria. I couldn’t tell them. I was afraid for my life. It was at the airport that I summoned courage to call my wife and children that I was leaving that country. I hope to bring them back to Nigeria when the crisis abates, but I have to see my mother who has been praying for me daily since these attacks began. I don’t want her to die of hypertension.”
Julian Anthony who hails from Edo State said he was into media production since he moved to South Africa seven years ago.
He recounted his ordeal thus: “It was terrible. We barely escaped with our lives, we were all scared, they go from house to house looking for Nigerians. The apartheid in South Africa is still there.
“Many Nigerians were killed unjustifiably. Many of us with open and clear businesses were hated for nothing. They see us as usurpers. They claimed we are taking over their jobs, which is not true.”
Onuoha Chizoba, another returnee from Abia State who also relocated to South Africa seven years ago for pastoral work, said the area where he lived was the hotbed for the crises.
Onuoha told LEADERSHIP Sunday that he decided to return to Nigeria when the free flight offer by Air Peace became available.
“We felt uncomfortable that the best thing we had to do was to return home, some Nigerians are still there for reasons best known to them.
“They are killing my people, another Nigerian died, they tell social media that Nigerians did not die, it is a lie, they are killing Nigerians, they keep them in the mortuary, and some are there dead in the bush.
However, Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL) have commended the Air Peace boss, Onyema, for offering free services in evacuating Nigerians fleeing from Xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
COSEYL, in a statement signed by its president, Goodluck Ibem, said “The benevolent gesture of Onyema has placed him as a unifying and bonding factor in a country beset by ethno-religious and political divisions.
“It takes a man with a large heart to be able to do what Onyema has just done to alleviate the suffering of our fellow country men who lost everything they had to the Xenophobic attacks.
“We urge other patriotic Nigerians to emulate the CEO to assist the returnees who lost their property to the murderous attack. These our brothers and sisters need our help in these trying times,” the statement added.
The COSEYL further called on the federal government to improve on the provision of enabling environment and the needed infrastructure for private investors in the aviation sector to excel.
It also appealed to the government to open up more international routes for the indigenous airline as a means of appreciating the selfless service and act of patriotism in such time of need.
While commending the maturity of the President Buhari led government in its reaction to attackers, the group condemned those who attacked Nigerians and the South African government for failing to call it’s citizens to order.
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