South African authorities reportedly frustrated the evacuation of Nigerians yesterday as only 187 out of 317 people initially billed to come home arrived the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) on Wednesday night.
The Air Peace B777 aircraft which conveyed the returnees touched down at the cargo terminal of the MMIA at exactly 9:34p.m.
The aircraft with registration 5N-BWI was piloted by the Chief Pilot of the airline, Capt. Victor Egonu.
The returnees were full of joy as they disembarked from the aircraft even as they rained curses on South Africans over the xenophobic attacks in the country.
Nigeria’s foremost airline, Air Peace, had offered to airlift Nigerians in South Africa free of charge following the fresh outbreak of violent attacks perpetrated on foreigners by the people of South Africa.
President Muhammadu Buhari therefore gave approval for the evacuation of Nigerians willing to return home with no fewer than 700 people registered by the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg.
However, the Air Peace aircraft which arrived OR Tambo International Airport Johannesburg by 4:00am on Wednesday was delayed for 12 hours, according to the Chairman of the airline, Mr. Allen Onyema.
Many Nigerians who arrived at the airport to be airlifted home were arrested at the airport for allegedly coming into the country without valid travel document.
With the development, only 187 arrived in the first batch. The returnees confirmed the South African government was miffed by the evacuation and decided to frustrate the flight.
One of the returnees, Victor Uche Nwocha from Abia state, who disclosed that he left his wife and daughter behind, said the South African government was “crying” that Nigerians were being evacuated despite the violence unleashed on them.
“We must applaud our Consulate and the owners of Air Peace. They frustrated us. We came to that Consulate since 4 o clock; they were turning us up to down because they don’t want the press to show what is happening,” he said.
The Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa confirmed that the South African government frustrated the flight “for no just reason.”
She said: “The flight was delayed for no reason at all but despite all those frustrations, you could see the excitement, you could see the joy. They frustrated us deliberately. Out of 317, Air Peace was able to bring 187. But they have landed and we are glad to receive them.
“President Buhari has ordered that every Nigerian that wants to come back home should be returned and you could see the joy and the beauty of coming home.
“I want to appeal to Nigerians to let’s love our country. Despite our challenges, there is no place like home.”
Mr. Onyema said his airline is ready to evacuate every Nigerian willing to return home once the approval was granted by the South African government.
He said the flight was frustrated by the South African authorities. He said he offered the flight when he saw the gory pictures of attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
Onyema urged all Nigerians to be their brothers’ keepers, saying despite that the evacuation would cost him about N300m, he is ready to evacuate all Nigerians willing to return home.