It was an ambience of mixed emotions, mostly melancholic as 187 Nigerians affected by the xenophobic attack in South Africa finally returned home.
The returnees expressed joy having being brought back home after weeks of dealing with the attack.
At exactly 9.32pm on Wednesday, a Boeing 777-200 Air Peace aircraft arrived at the hajj and cargo area of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
The returnees on getting off the plane began singing songs of victory and chanting several praises on the airline, the Federal Government and the Nigerian consul general for the great efforts made to take them away from South Africa.
Narrating their ordeal with journalists, most of the returnees attested to the brutality of the South Africans in their attacks against Nigerians.
According to them, the attackers went from house to house, shops to shops, looting and burning whatever they saw as businesses belonging to Nigerians.
A returnee who identified as Julian Anthony from Edo State said he has lived in South African for seven years, working as a media producer. “It was terrible my brother; we barely escaped with our lives. We were all scared; they go from home to home looking for Nigerians. The apartheid in South Africa is still there.”
Onuoha Chizoba from Abia State, who had also lived there for seven years doing pastoral work said: “The area where we live we felt uncomfortable and 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; yesterday another Nigerian died, but they come to say on social media that no Nigerian was killed; it is a lie, they are killing Nigerians. They keep them in the mortuary and some died in the bushes.
“Locked up shops were looted and they burned all the cars inside; it was sheer wickedness. They come together, they start breaking the shops, burning the shops and stealing things.”
After finishing their profiling by officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service, the Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, welcomed them, singing the national anthem to express their gratitude for their safe return.
Reports have it that the returnees ought to have arrived since 2 pm on Wednesday but were held back in South Africa for over 12 hours as the information received from the Nigerian consulate in South Africa said South African immigration service insisted on another round of documentation by the returnees.
Speaking, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa said that the South African immigration officials tried to frustrate their trip for no reason.
“They were trying to stop the airlift from happening, but it has happened and we are happy that Nigerians are back home and so out of 317, Air Peace was able to do 187 and we are glad they are back. And President Buhari has ordered that any Nigerian that wants to come back should do so voluntarily, you can see the joy and beauty of coming home,” she said.
According to her, provisions have been by the Federal Government for the returnees to be reintegrated and that the Bank of Industry (BOI) is ready to assist the returnees with skills acquisition and start a business of their choice.
“We are giving them stipends to help them get back home and SIM cards too to each of them,” she added.
Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who flew with the aircraft to and fro from South Africa, admitted that it was a tough journey and that on getting to Oliver Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg, the aircraft was kept on the ground for hours.
Nigerians who were ready to fly back home were detained and questioned by the South African immigration service who requested evidence of their permission to enter the country.
“I want to implore all Nigerians to be his/her brother’s keeper and l am just thankful to God for giving me the heart for being able to take that decision; it was something I did happily for my nation and in support of the government,” Onyema said.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama commended the Air Peace Airline for the successful journey of the first set of 187 Nigerians willing to return from South Africa.