Adelani Adepegba, Maureen Ihua-Maduenyi and Leke Baiyewu
No fewer than 817 Nigerians had yet to be evacuated from South Africa as of Tuesday.
The Federal Government had on Wednesday last week evacuated 187 Nigerians from South Africa following xenophobic attacks on them and other Africans.
On Tuesday, the Consul-General, Nigerian High Commission in South Africa, Godwin Adama, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, said the number of those who had registered for evacuation had increased to 1,004.
Last week, the Federal Government had said 604 registered for evacuation.
No fewer than 320 were supposed to be evacuated on Tuesday, but the exercise was delayed because South Africa initially did not grant an Air Peace aircraft, a landing permit.
The evacuation of 187 Nigerians last week was delayed for 15 hours by the South African authorities.
With the registration of 1,004 and evacuation of 187 last week, at least 817 people were awaiting to be evacuated on Tuesday.
The Consul-General, Nigerian High Commission in South Africa, told The PUNCH that 320 Nigerians would be evacuated on Wednesday.
According to him, the technical issues faced during the first evacuation are being addressed.
He complained that some individuals, who registered for evacuation, failed to show up. He added that officials had been contending with such discouraging tendencies from the people.
Adama explained that about five coaches were being filled with people for the trip to the airport, including many children.
Some who registered for evacuation failed to show up – Consular
He said, “We have been working since 6am when I got here (consulate). I have not sat down. We have 320 coming back tomorrow(Wednesday).Some people who are supposed to be on the flight, when you call their names, they are not here. We have registered 1,004 persons. When these ones go, we will still have people on the ground.”
Adama further disclosed that those without valid Nigerian passport were being issued emergency travel certificates, adding that certain documentation and immigration issues had also been addressed.
He noted, “Right now, we have five coaches here which we are loading. There are so many children. Those who don’t have current valid passport have been issued emergency travel certificates and we have ensured that their documentation is correct so that we won’t have the challenges we had the other time.
“We are also working with the host authorities – immigration and protocol – so that by tomorrow (Wednesday) things can be seamless.”
Plans to bring back 25 detained Nigerians
Asked about plans for the evacuation of Nigerians in custody of the South Africa law enforcement agencies, the envoy revealed that those in custody would also be returned on subsequent flights.
Adama disclosed that many Nigerians were being held in various detention facilities across South Africa, adding that the Nigerian High Commission was in touch with only 25 of them.
“We are ready to take those who are in detention camps, but we don’t have space right now because they (South Africa) didn’t finalise the process. If we have the opportunity, next time, we would take them.
“I would not know the exact number now because we have not visited all the detention centres. We are in touch with 25 but they are far more than that in different centres,” the CG explained.
Commenting on the alleged cancellation of valid visas held by Nigerians during the evacuation of the first batch, Adama said only few persons were affected, noting that they informed him that they had no plan to return to South Africa.
S’Africa delays landing permit for Air Peace
Earlier on Tuesday, South Africa initially refused to grant Air Peace the landing permit.
The airline was scheduled to evacuate the second batch of Nigerians from South Africa following xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in the former apartheid country.
The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, confirmed the delay in granting the landing permit in an interview with journalists in Lagos.
Onyema said, “We did not take off by 1am as scheduled because South African authorities had yet to give us landing permit. We are hopeful that they will give us the permit.
”Our crew waited till 3am, but when the permit did not come, they went back to the hotel. Once we get the permit, we will set off to South Africa. We don’t want to speculate, but we are hopeful they will give the permit.”
But later on Tuesday, Nigeria’s Consul-General in Johannesburg, Godwin Adama, told the News Agency of Nigeria that South Africa had granted the landing permit.
He stated, “They want Nigerians to arrive during the week. They (those who will be evacuated) are taking off from here midnight. I do not know the exact time, but they will be leaving (South Africa) midnight.
“I do not know why they were denied the landing permit. I think it is an airline operational issue. They did not get it yesterday, but they told me that it came late yesterday (Monday).
“It was weekend and they were going to get it this morning; the airline did not tell me it was deliberate, but they explained to me that they had got it.
“Our manifest arrived last night towards the close of work and they were to take off 1am Nigerian time yesterday (Monday), but they did not because it was late.
“I have got it now, so they will be able to make me know the time of their arrival here so that we can know when to take off.”
Adama said buses provided to convey Nigerians, who wanted to return home, were still at the mission premises and that intending returnees were there.
He stated, “We are still really working on the number (320) to see how we can fill up the airline capacity with anyone that is readily available.
“We have more than enough. We are even trying to ensure that the aircraft is filled up. That is why we are readily taking people who are on the ground now. We have more than enough to fill the aircraft. The delay has also helped us.
Adama added that those who had not been cleared were also at the mission premises ready to return home.
The new expected arrival time, according to Air Peace, will be Wednesday evening.
The first evacuation of Nigerians on Wednesday last week was also delayed for several hours following a change in South Africa’s immigration screening procedures for the returning Nigerians.
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The Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had stated that the aircraft was on the ground for close to 15 hours before boarding was completed.
Air Peace had volunteered to evacuate Nigerians willing to return home following attacks on foreigners including Nigerians in South Africa.
Reps knock S’Africa, threaten Onyeama with warrant
In a related development, members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday condemned South Africa and its citizens over xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in the country.
The lawmakers, however, hailed the Chairman of Air Peace, for evacuating Nigerians from South Africa for free.
They invited the airline boss to appear before them on Wednesday for commendation. They, however, accused the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, of shunning their summons.
While threatening to invoke their power to issue an arrest warrant against the minister, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said he would report Onyeama to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Earlier at the plenary, the Speaker, in his opening speech as the lawmakers resumed from a two-month annual recess, recalled how the leadership of the House had to reconvene “to address the most unfortunate events of xenophobic attacks on Nigerian citizens.”
According to Gbajabiamila, the scale of the attacks, the cost in lives and property and the appearance of involvement by state actors in the worst of the attacks were some of the issues the leadership deliberated upon.
He stated that leadership of the House released a statement articulating the feelings of the Nigerians on the attacks and demanding actions from the South African government.
He said, “We stand by the commitments we made in our public declaration and we will continue to work to ensure that those who have been hurt by these attacks are properly compensated for their loss.
“The House commends the efforts by the Federal Government of Nigeria in addressing the issues that gave rise to these unsavoury events, as well as holding the government of South Africa accountable through the available diplomatic channels. We will continue to support these efforts by whatever means is required of us. We will also seek to take whatever active measures we can to help the returnees resettle in Nigeria and to resume productive lives here at home.”
The Speaker urged the House to commend the actions by leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters and a respected voice in the politics of South Africa, Julius Malema, for openly condemning the attacks.
Gbajabiamila added, “In a similar fashion, Sir Allen Ifechukwu Onyema, Chairman of Air Peace airlines, provided his organisation’s services without charge, to repatriate those Nigerians who were willing to return home to escape the carnage that had been visited upon them. He acted without consideration of cost, of tribe or personal interest. He acted in the best traditions of patriotism and love of country. Our country owes these men a debt of gratitude.”
The comments by the Speaker, especially on the Air Peace boss, was applauded by the lawmakers.
A member, Mr Dachung Bagus, later moved a motion of urgent national importance on the attacks, which the lawmakers debated for about two hours.
While several lawmakers condemned South Africa and called for various sanctions against the country, the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, called their attention to the fact that the country apologised to Nigeria on Monday.
In his ruling on the motion, Gbajabiamila read a riot act to ministers who shunned summons by the federal parliament. He accused the minister of foreign affairs of ignoring summons by the lawmakers to address them on the spate of xenophobic attacks.
The Speaker said the minister failed to answer several invitations by the Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Buba Yusuf, and the leadership of the House. He threatened that the parliament would invoke its power to issue an arrest warrant against Onyeama.
He said, “I want to use this medium to, very quickly, address what I consider a nagging problem and I am speaking directly to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The minister has been asked – on several occasions since this incident broke out by the committee on foreign affairs and once by the leadership of the House – for a full and proper briefing on what happened and transpired in South Africa. It is only when the committee of the House sees the facts that we can actually address the issues properly.
“It is unfortunate that on all those occasions, the minister did not respond to the chairman’s invitations. Even when the chairman wrote on behalf of the leadership that we needed to meet with the minister, he did not respond. I believe that we are one government and I believe we are here to serve the interests of Nigerians.
“I want to use this platform to send a direct appeal to the minister and all ministers for that matter that we need to respect the invitation that comes from this House. I will want to refer to the provisions of the constitution particularly sections 88 and 89. That is all I have to say on that matter. And I will be discussing with Mr President on this issue. I think respect is reciprocal.”
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