S’Africa’s Antagonism Persists, Delays Landing Permit to Air Peace

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Allen Onyema

Chinedu Eze in Lagos and Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja

Despite apologising to Nigeria on Monday for its citizens’ recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, South Africa exhibited another unfriendly act yesterday, delaying landing permit to the Air Peace aircraft sent to Johannesburg to evacuate the second batch of returnees, who had indicated their intention to leave the rainbow nation.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoy, Mr. Jeff Radebe, had delivered a special letter containing South Africa’s apology to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had upon acceptance of the request for forgiveness, expressed the hope that the relationship between the two countries would be more robust going forward.

But yesterday’s action by the South African authorities dampened that hope when it initially refused landing permit to the airline that was detailed to airlift 320 returnees to Nigeria.

The airline’s flight to Johannesburg was initially scheduled for yesterday at 1 a.m. Nigerian time.
It was billed to arrive the OR Tambo International Airport by 6.30 a.m., depart by 12 p.m. South Africa time and arrive Nigeria by 7 p.m. the same yesterday.

But the flight billed to airlift Nigerians was delayed because authorities at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg delayed the issuance of the landing permit to the airline.

The Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema, who confirmed the delay to THISDAY, said: “We did not take off by 1. 00 am as scheduled because South African authorities are yet to give us landing permit. We are hopeful that they will give us the permit. Our crew waited till 3 a.m. 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.”

Air Peace is expected to evacuate the second batch of returnees, numbering 320, as a result of the xenophobic attacks on Africans by South African indigenes.
However, the airline later said yesterday that the South African authorities had granted the permit.

The new flight was scheduled to depart to Johannesburg at 12 midnight yesterday to arrive South Africa by 4 a.m today.
Onyema, who confirmed the new development to THISDAY, added that the airline wants to schedule the flight for yesterday afternoon immediately it got the permit.

He said: “But the South African authorities asked us to arrive by 8am. So, we had to delay the take-off to 1 a.m.
“We will depart by 1 a.m. Nigerian time because the South African authorities want us to arrive by 8 a.m. South African time.

“The reason why they did not want the flight yesterday afternoon was that they wanted to have enough time to screen the passengers.
“When we arrive by 8a.m., we will leave South Africa by 12 noon South African time and arrive Nigeria 7p.m. Nigerian time.”
In the earlier evacuation, out of over 600 Nigerians that were willing to return home, only 360 were cleared for the evacuation.

House Angry with Foreign Minister for Shunning Summons on Xenophobic Attacks

Meanwhile, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has vowed to take on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, for failing to honour the invitation of the lawmakers to brief them on the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.

The apparently angry Gbajabiamila, who described the killing of Nigerians as a “nagging problem,” which required urgent and collective efforts of the lawmakers and the executive, expressed displeasure over Onyeama’s decision to ignore House of Representatives’ invitation on the matter.

Referring the ministers in Buhari’s cabinet to the provisions of Section 88 and Section 89 of the Nigerian Constitution, Gbajabiamila warned that in the task of nation building in a democratic setting, no minister has the right to ignore legislative summons.

According to the speaker, “I am speaking directly to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; I will be discussing further with Mr. President on the issue. I think if respect is reciprocal; if the House invites any member of the executive in our pursuit of happiness for all, then I think that should be respected.”

He said: “The minister has been asked on several occasions since this incident broke, by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and once, by the leadership of the House, for a full and proper briefing on what happened – what transpired in South Africa; because it is only when the committee or the leadership see the facts that we can actually address the issues properly.

“It is unfortunate that on all those occasions, the minister has not responded to the chairman’s invitation. And even when the chairman wrote on behalf of the leadership that it needed to meet with the minister, he did not respond.

“I believe we are one government and I believe we are here to serve the interest of Nigerians. Lets use this platform to send a direct appeal to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and all the ministers for that matter, that we need to respect the invitation that comes from this House, and particularly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs because of an issue that is so important.

“I would want to refer him to the provisions of the constitution, particularly Sections 88 and 89. And that is all I have to say on that matter; to refer him to the provisions of Section 88 and Section 89.”
There was a long debate and amendments to a motion by Hon. Dachung Musa Bagos on the urgent need to address the killings of Nigerians by South Africans in their country when plenary resumed Tuesday.