September 14, 2019

 Xenophobic rage: Our story — Returnees

 Xenophobic rage: Our story — Returnees
  • …South Africans don’t know God

  • …I was so impoverished

…I couldn’t afford ticket to return home

  • …Most common jobs in South Africa are drug related businesses and Advance Fraud

  • …Police watch as they kill Nigerians

  • …I regret stepping my foot in South Africa

  • …Shame of retuning home kept me back

  • …South Africans are rapists- LASU graduate

  • …The only thing I’ll miss is regular power supply

By Lawani Mikairu, Bose Adelaja & Esther Onyegbula

As the huge Air Peace airline Boeing 777 aircraft landed and the door finally flung open for the big flying metal to empty its occupants , the atmosphere at the Cargo section of the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos was suddenly greeted with songs by the returnee Nigerians from South Africa.

They chanted the first stanza of Nigeria’s National Anthem, expressing joy for comming  back to their mother land , Nigeria , after the harrowing experience in the hands of South Africans. Even at the point of departure from South Africa their immigration officials were poised to hurt them the more.

Nigerians who   turned up for the airlift were still being arrested by South Africa immigration officials at the departure wing   of the country airport   demanding to know how they were able to enter South Africa in the first instance.

The Killing Spree: Timeline of Nigerians killed in South Africa(Opens in a new browser tab)

Air Peace flight, which left Nigeria at 11:30 pm on Tuesday arrived OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg about 4:00 am and about 320 Nigerians were already waiting to be airlifted before the immigration officials started their antics. They were demanding papers and accusing returnee Nigerians of travelling without the right document.

“Only 182 Nigerians were allowed to board the flight”

Air Peace   airline Chairman ,Barrister Allen Onyema had said “ the evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa would cost the airline about N300 million, which include the payment of passenger service charge, aeronautical and other charges in addition to the cost of operation”.

Most Nigerians who left the shores of the country for South Africa, went solely  for   a common   purpose- to search for better living conditions.   While some died without seeing their dreams come through, others who managed to return home voluntarily, owing to series of xenophobic attacks are full of regrets.

The expressions on the faces of most Nigerian returnees who were flown on the Air Peace airline, Wednesday night , said it all. Some were lost in thought, apparently   wondering where they would pick up the pieces of their lives, having lost time and all they laboured for in the attacks.

Others looked worried and twice their age, having worked harder than they should , over there, all in a bid to make money.

One of the returnees , Onyekachukwu Major, a   46 -year-old from Agbor, Delta State told Saturday Vanguard in an interview that : “I travelled since 2009. South Africans are envious of Nigerians and their manner of approach is not encouraging. If you could recall the days of apartheid which led to the imprisonment of late Nelson Mandela, you will recall that Nigerians supported South Africa a lot in those days. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo donated   good sum of money to the struggle to end apartheid”.

“The most common jobs in South Africa are drug related businesses and Advance Fee Fraud which some of us cannot delve into and that is why I took to the streets for survival and I kept struggling in South Africa because there is no job”.

“Accommodation is costly over there and that is why many people are sharing a room apartment to lay our heads. I am glad to return home because this is my first time of returning home. I was unable to come home because I was impoverished over there and could not afford the flight ticket. Thank God for this type of opportunity. I have two children, a boy and a girl who have not set their eyes on me since they were born. South Africans don’t know God and so many Nigerians are jobless over there but are ashamed to return home” he added.

Xenophobic attacks: Documentation delays Air Peace from fulfilling its promise(Opens in a new browser tab)

Chinyere Glory, 34, from Imo State and her six-year- old boy Emmanuel were among the returnees. According to her, she travelled to South Africa eight months ago due to the high cost of living in Nigeria. Unfortunately for her, things did not work out as expected due to hostility. ‘’Pretoria and several places in South Africa are unsafe and the government should try its best to evacuate her people from there”.

“In most cases, both the Military and Police watch Nigerians being killed and their property destroyed by South Africans and they show little or no concern. I will never return to South Africa but my husband is yet to return because he is yet to get buyers for our car and other valuables. But he is yearning to return home and move on with life” she said.

Also, 25 years old Ekeh Oluchi-Miriam and her four children who are among the returnees said she travelled to South Africa seven years ago after her marriage. Unfortunately for her, she has been jobless since then as her tailoring business did not thrive as expected   and she had to auction her two sewing machines at 2,000 rands. ‘’South Africans do not like patronizing Nigerians and my sewing machines have been redundant but I thank God that I arrived Nigeria in good condition with my four children because life was meaningless over there. We lived in Johannesburg. My husband went out one day only to watch helplessly how our people were being killed by South Africans and since then, we have been longing to return to our home country which came to reality today,”

Ahamefula Ogbonna, a trader from Imo State said he travelled since 2005 and all was well until September 2, 2019 when his shop was set ablaze by South Africans. ‘’I rented a shop at Abaerton, Johannesburg, which was stocked with 25,000 rands, and was doing well in business.

One day, I was in front of my shop when I saw South Africans afar setting shops ablaze and I ran for safety but before I returned, all shops belonging to Nigerians have been set ablaze and I would have been killed if I had not taken a wise decision to run for safety. Many of us had to return to our rooms to sell our property in preparation to return home. It is pathetic that South Africans could be wicked and heartless as we go about our legitimate business,”

Meanwhile, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Chairman of Nigeria Diaspora Commission has expressed the federal government pleasure at having some of the returnees back safely to Nigeria. While fielding questions from reporters at the Lagos Airport, she said : “It is such a wonderful moment to see them arrive safely, it is not an easy task to bring them home safely, you can see that they are all happy reciting the national anthem, this shows that there is unity and nothing will divide us. Like   Mr President said their lives are what matter, so, we will continue to live as one united family. Let Nigerians know that there is no place like home because what you are running away from is better than where you’re running to”.

She further said : “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to liaise with relevant authorities to ensure they are happy. Adequate transportation will be provided to take them to their respective destinations and fares will be given to all of them including their children”.

Xenophobic killings: South Africa, Nigeria and principle of diplomatic reciprocity(Opens in a new browser tab)

“This is the first batch and their 15 hours delay was deliberately caused by the South Africa government. This will not happen again, we still have so many others to be returned home but South Africa is taken their documentation and they will return home as soon as the documentation is completed”.

Abike said the returnees will be provided with a telephone sim park and N40,000 worth of air time to enable them communicate with their relatives and loved ones while a representative of the World bank said interested ones among them will be supported with soft loan and trainings in various capacities to enable them start life all over again.

Also speaking at the Lagos Airport after the plane touched down, the Executive Chairman of Air Peace airline, Barrister Allen Onyema who was on hand to welcome the returning Nigerians back to their country said    he was happy to have assisted fellow Nigerians after seeing the gory pictures and videos of what Nigerians were going through in South Africa.