Nigerian returnees from South Africa over xenophobic attacks were welcomed back to the country last Wednesday with N12.6million by concerned individuals, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and some corporate bodies.
As soon as they arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, each of the returnees numbering 315 was dangled with N40,000 each to meet their transport fares and other immediate needs.
But, some of them, who were too excited over their safe return to the country and to reunite with their families, did not collect the stipend.
A breakdown of the returnees showed that 290 Nigerian were adults and 25 infants with the South East topping the figure.
The Nigerians, who fall into the second batch touched down at MMIA at about 7:21pm on Air Peace flight APK7818.
The stipend was provided by banks, telcos, NGOs and other organisations to ease their burden of returning to their states or villages.
Two returnees, who declined to give their names, said that they did not need the money.
It was, however, gathered that some Nigerian holidaymakers disguised as victims of xenophobic attacks to use the free Air Peace flight to visit home and to return to South Africa at a later date.
When the 315 is added to the first batch of 187, the figure rises to 502 of the 640 Nigerians, who have voluntarily opted to leave South Africa for home in the last two weeks
One of the returnees, Daniel Udom, said: “I have spent six years in South Africa. When my papers expired, they refused to renew it even though I was working there.”
Another returnee who simply identified himself as Anthony said that he was happy to be back home alive despite all the challenges he went through in that country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on September 9, 2019 ordered the evacuation of Nigerians who were willing to return home from South Africa.
Commenting on the development at the MMIA, the chairman of Air Peace Airlines, Mr Allen Onyema, said that, “we brought 315 more Nigerians. And you know they registered over 315. The Foreign Affairs Department has just informed me now that I should give them time to do everything about the people they have now. They said they want to make sure that the next people that are coming back are the right people who need to come home and not those who want to be here for holidays or just to visit Nigeria and go back. But I said that as long as there is a Nigerian remaining to be evacuated, we will to do it free.”
Onyema, who single-handedly bankrolled the return of the Nigerians, added that if anybody wants to honour him, he should remember Air Peace chief pilot, Captain Victor Egonu, who led the crew against all odds.
According to him, “the crew members, not minding the challenges they encounter, rejected the $40,000 offer them because it is the policy of the airline to do the evacuation free.”
The Air Peace boss said that that the South African government had frustrated the evacuation process but that Air Peace had succeeded in bringing 315 after the first batch of 187, adding that “we have brought in about 502 from South Africa and that is our joy because it is about life.”
On the ordeals the evacuees passed through, Onyema said: “Some of you don’t know the stories they have got. Forget the political statements coming from South Africa. A lot of gory things happened to these people. Some of them were stranded for the last 10 to 12 years with the fear of being arrested because they had overstayed in the country. They stigmatised Nigerians. So, this is a lifeline for them and most of them are happy coming home.”