The scheduled evacuation of the next batch of Nigerians willing to return to the country may have been postponed till Sunday by the Federal Government to enable the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa to resolve some immigration issues with South African authorities.
One of our correspondents learnt that the remaining 453 Nigerians waiting for repatriation in Johannesburg would have to wait until the bottlenecks were over.
The South Africa immigration authorities had on Wednesday delayed the flight of the Air Peace aircraft conveying the first batch of 187 returning Nigerians for over seven hours.
Chairman, Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, confirmed to The PUNCH in Abuja on Thursday, that the government was working to address the issues.
Asked when the next evacuation would hold, she said, “We will wait for further advice from the CG (Consul-General) of our mission in Johannesburg on the next steps. We are looking at Saturday or Sunday, but I can’t confirm the day as documentation is ongoing.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, could not be reached for clarification as calls to his phone indicated that he was out of network coverage.
Giving an update on the operation, Dabiri-Erewa said, “About 640 registered to come home. Out of 317 billed to return by Air Peace in the first batch, 187 returned due to some bottlenecks put in place at the last minute by the South African authorities.
“Because of the serious hurdles put in place by the authorities, we will have to wait for an update from the consulate as they resolve some issues with the SA authorities.
“However, the Chairman Air Peace, Allen Onyema, said the airline was on standby and ready for more evacuations anytime.”
The NIDCOM boss disclosed that the 187 Nigerians who returned to the country on Wednesday had dispersed to their various states to reunite with their families.
She explained that they were given new SIM cards with N40,000 airtime and 9GB of data to enable the government to contact them for registration for re-integration programmes.
She noted, “We got their contacts through the SIM cards given to them and we will be contacting them soon on various re-integration programmes. Lagos State, for instance, will be providing a package for those from the state. Other states will be encouraged to do same.”
It was learnt that the returnees would also get a soft loan from the Bank of Industry as support to those interested in trade.
South Africans haunted Nigerians – Returnee
Meanwhile, one of the Nigerians evacuated from South Africa said the situation in that country had degenerated to the point that Nigerian citizens were hunted to be killed.
The returnee, who gave his name simply as Anthony, told The PUNCH that he spent seven years in South Africa where he witnessed many xenophobic attacks.
According to him, the policy of segregation still thrives in the country and Nigerians are mostly the target.
He said, “They go from house-to-house and dragged Nigerians out to kill them. I want the Nigerian government to know that the lives of our citizens are very important. The Nigeria police must stop killing Nigerians. South Africans don’t kill their people; they respect them.”
Another returnee, Chidi Obasi, from Abia State, said the report that no Nigerian was killed in the recent attacks was not true.
He explained that Nigerians in the area where he lived felt uncomfortable and had been looking for ways to flee South Africa.
“They are killing our people, yesterday another Nigerian died. They are killing Nigerians and they keep them in the mortuary,” he said.
Godwin Igwebuike from Delta State, said the xenophobic attacks were for reasons ranging from serious allegations of drug trafficking to mundane things such as dating South African women.
Another returnee, said apart from the killings, some South Africans deployed other means to punish Nigerians.
According to him, he worked at several places including one of the airports in the country and did not get his salary for many months.
He said he would have returned earlier but didn’t have the necessary travel documents, adding that many Nigerians were in a similar situation and were stranded in South Africa.
In another development, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, Benjamin Uwajumogu, on Thursday called on governors of the South-East states to set up a committee to ameliorate the trauma of returning victims of xenophobic attacks from their states.
Uwajimogu in a statement in Abuja showered encomiums on the Air Peace boss, describing him as “a Nigerian businessman with conscience .”
Also, the Senator representing Anambra South in the National Assembly, Ifeanyi Ubah, commended Onyema, for his display of patriotism.