On Wednesday, about 187 Nigerians were evacuated from South Africa due to the hostility in that country, where indigenous blacks attack and kill other Africans. Over 800 Nigerians are still billed to return to their motherland. But what future awaits them back home here as they escape the bloodletting in a foreign land. Chinedu Eze reports
As the Nigerians, who were evacuated by the indigenous carrier, Air Peace disembarked from the aircraft on Wednesday night, there was a mixture of happiness and despondency. They were happy that their lives had been saved. But deep down, they were worried about the future unknown.
The returnees narrated their narrow escapes from death in the hands of black South Africans, a situation that calls for celebration on the one hand. There was also a cornucopia of despair, because the future for them is cloudy and uncertain.
Although the ramp of the cargo/hajj terminal of the Murtala Muha
mmed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos was dimly lit, some of the returnees still covered their faces, because they were ashamed of the unplanned return, of dreams that were aborted and of the cynicism that might grace their path after the euphoria of their return by relatives and friends alike.
This stems from the belief by many Nigerians that anyone, who travelled out of the country to live in a foreign land has gone to make money and must return with “forex”. Many of the returnees came back with their lives. They lost every material asset attached to their name. So, the question is, how long will their excitements last?
Truth is that Nigeria may not hold so much hope for them, because as they ran away from the killings in South Africa, they may not be sure of their safety in their motherland, which in the last four years has been riven by killers – from bandits, kidnappers, to ritualists and suspected herdsmen with a weak security architecture that leaves the citizens forlorn.
By hiding their faces, many of the passengers, bereft of hope and sad that they did not meet their people’s expectation, might be thinking of another country to travel to soon after the psychological recovery of the attacks in South Africa.
THISDAY learnt from a Nigerian resident in South Africa that some Nigerians who studied in South Africa wish to head to other countries like Canada direct from that country instead of returning home. This was also part of the discussion during the interlude of disembarkation and transition to Customs makeshift facility for profiling that Wednesday night.
The returnees told their story of how they were hounded and how they watched the gory killings, the burning of Africans from other countries and the traumatic memory of the smell of burnt human flesh, which continues to haunt them and would be a sad, tragic companion of their lives.
One of the returnees, Aliu Saheed told his story thus: “I stayed in Pretoria city. I have been in South Africa for five years now. The police can’t control them (the killing South African youths). They just come to an area and start shooting and killing innocent people. It is only the white policemen that came from a far distance to help.
“When the North Pretoria police station was contacted, they did not respond until when backups came from outside the county. They released rubber bullets to the perpetrators of the act; and they won’t be affected, because the bullets are rubber. The fire fighters came to quench the fire at some point but the taxi drivers chased them away.
“They kept bragging that there is nothing anyone can do since this is their country. They kill us the way they like. We are calling on our President to save Nigerians, who are still in South Africa, because they plan to kill them. As I speak to you now, they are not allowing Nigerians work. They close all our shops as I speak to you.”
On the claim of raping the South Africans, Saheed said it was a lie.
“After registering and about leaving for Nigeria, a lot of South African ladies said they will follow Nigerians back to their country. When Air Peace came to evacuate us, the South African authorities gave them serious problems. They delayed us for several hours, saying they wanted to check our documents and their system wasn’t working well.
“But we know this is a big lie. They delayed the flight, because they know Air Peace will pay landing and parking fees as long as the plane is on ground. They are doing this to punish Nigerians. Some people are currently in South Africa without food and water. They asked for finger print documentation and that immigration has to check us in case we have criminal record.
“My advice for the Nigerian government is for them to make this country a better country. We have intelligent and hardworking Nigerians! I am not supporting fraud, but the government must ensure there are job opportunities for people and this is the reason why people are leaving the country,” Saheed said.
Another returnee, Uche Victor Nwaocha, told journalists that, “I have been in South Africa since 2007. I built my business in South Africa and everything has crumbled today. If you see the cars the South Africans burnt. All my achievements are gone. I don’t want the shame again. Those ones there must come back.
“They are taking people out systematically and their government can’t speak the truth to their people. Their problem is simply poverty. Nigerians are not barbaric and they don’t kill people. South Africans burn people and while these people are feeling the pains from the burns, they keep hitting them with instruments.”
The Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who offered them free flight home, on getting into the aircraft on arrival to welcome the Nigerian returnees, shed tears when they sand a song to appreciate him and accompanied it with the National Anthem. The country unified at that point.
“When I stepped inside the aircraft to welcome them, they mobbed me and started singing the Nigerian national anthem. There was nobody there, singing about separation; they felt proud to be Nigerians. They rose in unison; that drew tears from me.”
It is hoped that the Nigerian government will heed Saheed’s advice by creating jobs for the citizens so that the country’s youths would stop travelling overseas to face precarious existence.
Pix: Nigerians, who just returned from South Africa following xenophobic attacks disembarking from the aircraft.jpg