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‘There’s nothing to show for all my hard work in South Africa’

By Wole Oyebade and Kehinde Olatunji
21 September 2019   |   4:21 am
The South African special envoy, Jeff Radebe, earlier in the week delivered President Cyril Ramaphosa’s apologies to Nigeria at the Abuja State House.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The South African special envoy, Jeff Radebe, earlier in the week delivered President Cyril Ramaphosa’s apologies to Nigeria at the Abuja State House. The visit suggested an admission of guilt and a restoration of sanity in the rainbow nation. But some 48 hours later, Nigerians in South Africa returned from the “line of fire” with gory tales of palpable hostilities still ongoing in the down south of the African continent.

Quite unlike the first batch of 187 returnees that led the way exactly a week before, the latest arrivals were largely young families that claimed to have escaped death by the whiskers.

The admixture of dread and gratitude was all over them. Despite many returning in weather-beaten wears and exhausted, young and old, they still muttered praises to their Creator and the Air Peace airline that saved their lives, and reunited them with their families and fatherland.

Fifty-five-year-old Christian returned with his wife and four kids. Though decked in a white cap and a dark pair of jeans, his was a story of all-to-nothing in a struggle against marauding South Africans.

“They (South Africans) looted and set my shop ablaze. They reduced me to nothing after 11 years. But I have my life and my family to thank God for,” Christian said as he walked away at the Cargo section of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, shortly after arrival last Wednesday.

Another returnee, Kenneth Peters from Edo State was quick to plead for assistance from the government to reintegrate them back in the society.

“I have been in South Africa for over four years. I lost my cars and valuables. I was into mechanical engineering in South Africa. I had a workshop and my business was doing fine until it vanished in my eyes. There’s nothing to show for all my hard work in South Africa.

“All the allegations against Nigerians by the South African government are false. There is nothing like Nigerians carrying fake passport; it is not possible to have a fake passport. You could only have an expired passport.

“The apologies of the South African government are not genuine. On media, they could apologise but they are still perpetrating their evil acts even after the apologies. It is just propaganda; South Africa is not safe for foreigners,” Peters said.

Another returnee, who identified himself as Paul from Anambra State, also confirmed the dire situation in South Africa.

Paul said: “I survived because of God. This people (South Africans) wanted to finish us. They destroyed my business. I was into trade. I will never go back there even if they promise me one million.

“Their government is supporting them, only that they didn’t know that it would result into this. Forget about the apologies. They were planning to launch another attack last week Friday only that it was foiled,” Paul said.

Indeed, no fewer than 315 Nigerians were flown home last Wednesday, courtesy of Air Peace airline’s humanitarian gesture to bring voluntary Nigerian returnees home free of charge. The second batch brings the total number of Nigerians fleeing violence in South Africa to 502.

It was learnt that over 1000 had enlisted with the Nigerian Commission in South Africa to be evacuated home.

Elvis Idele hails from Edo State and also came home with his four children. Idele had travelled to South Africa in 2013 in search of greener pastures “because of the unpalatable situation of the country.” According to him, he had no job and couldn’t feed his children.

“I traveled because Nigeria was terrible then; things were difficult. I had two children, who I couldn’t even feed; we were starving. That was why I decided to travel after much pressure from my friends.

“My friends convinced me to go to South Africa. Even when I told them that I didn’t have the means, they contributed money for me. My friends who advised me to travel to South Africa then are also back. They came with the first batch.

“Initially, I didn’t believe the evacuation was genuine but when they got here they called me that it was real. I didn’t believe it until I saw myself in Lagos. I thought I was dreaming,” Idele said.

The father of four lamented the trauma his children went through in South Africa, though upbeat that life would be more tolerable in Nigeria.

“I believe my children will cope. In-as-much as they are citizens of Nigeria and not South Africa, they will adapt. The situation in South Africa was not palatable at all. In fact, it was my children that were saying we should come back home. They are very happy.

“They had stopped schooling three weeks ago. They were attending a government school over there and their teacher is an Indian. On a particular day, she (the teacher) called me that South African indigenes were planning to kidnap the children. That was why I stopped them from going to school. The teacher even told me I must not bring them back anymore,” Idele said.

Narrating their experience at the South African airport, Idele added: “Would you believe that we arrived at the airport around 6:00a.m. yesterday (Tuesday). They didn’t know that they needed to check us in. We slept there. It was this morning (Wednesday) that they started checking us in.

“When they check one person, they would say, ‘network failure,’ they would stop and after 30 minutes they would start again. When we arrived at the Immigration, they accused us of stealing children. They said our children are not ours. They made sure they delayed the airline. They don’t want those of us with children to leave. We were confused, so we started asking them what they wanted to do with our children. We thank God that the journey was successful.”

Idele told The Guardian that he was a gardener and cleaner in South Africa and was forced to stop working due to the killing of Nigerians.

“I was doing gardening and cleaning in South Africa, but when the trouble started I couldn’t go to work anymore because once your phone rings and they listen to your English and discover that you are foreigner, they will take the person to the bush to kill. When you talk and they listen to the way you talk, they will lead you to the bush. They think Nigerians are richer than them. They don’t work. For instance, they cannot do my kind of job. We get contracts from the whites; it was profitable.”

He urged the Nigerian government to make the country a better place for all. “I don’t want to travel there (South Africa) anymore. Government should make this country a better place for all. The government should give us loans and materials to work. They should try us for just six months.”

Also, Blessing Chioma accused the South African police of inaction when her husband was killed.

Chioma said she returned to Nigeria so she could take care of her kids because living in South Africa became tough without her husband.

“I’m coming from Johannesburg. I was married to a Nigerian, but South Africans killed him in 2012 during the xenophobic attacks. I reported the case to the police. They knew about it. They looked for the guys, but you won’t know them because they came in groups. So, nothing was done; the case is closed.

“Since then, I’ve been coping with the children, but I returned them to Nigeria because I was no more meeting up in training them. So, they are here now in Nigeria. I came back to take care of them, but we came with nothing because they burnt our shops,” she said.

Blessing Ozor from Enugu State also confirmed that a lot of things happened in South Africa that she wouldn’t like to talk about.

“My husband is still in South Africa but he will be coming back anytime soon. My children will soon be enrolled in a school here very soon. There were losses of property and lots of injuries. I want the government to work on our economy. If the economy is good, our people won’t leave Nigeria for another country because there is no place like home. I traveled to South Africa in 2016.”

Also, an indigene of Imo State, Victor Chimeze, said he lost his valuables in South Africa, adding that Nigerians were more affected in the attack.

“They damaged so many things. They killed our brothers; it was a very pathetic situation. Nigerians were more affected by the killings than other foreigners. There was a direct hatred for Nigerians. They said we were taking their jobs and corrupting their people. I’m into furniture and I work for my money. Now that I am back in Nigeria, I don’t know how to start all over. It’s only God that can help me.

“I hope the government will be helpful by giving me employment or open a school for me to train the youth. The apologies from the South African government are not genuine. Even today, when we were coming back, they didn’t want us to go. They delayed us; I don’t understand how devilish those people are. The government should make sure that all our brothers come back home.”

Also, Comfort Akpan from Akwa Ibom State who came back with three children disclosed that it was marriage that took her to South Africa. She hinted that she would like to go into business as soon as possible.

Her words: “My husband is still in South Africa but he is joining us in Nigeria soon. I hope to get involved in business now that I am in Nigeria, which was what I was doing in South Africa. I would like to sell cloths in wholesales. It was marriage that took me to South Africa. My husband took me there after our wedding. God forbid that I should return to South Africa.

“When I was there, they burnt my shop and car. Nothing can make me go back there. They just hate foreigners, not only Nigerians; even the whites are victims of xenophobia. If they see the whites in a quiet place, they will break the screen of their car and take their things. We have been in pains and I hope that the government will assist us. I’m grateful for what the government has done for us by bringing us back. I just hope that they will do more.

A kid returnee, Miracle

“The South African government didn’t expect that we were going to be evacuated. It came like a surprise to them; they were just creating unnecessary problems and frustrating the whole efforts. Maybe they wanted us to use their aircraft to come back home so they could also benefit from it. But it was not like that; it pained them.”

Seven-year-old Miracle was schooling in South Africa. She is, however, happy to be a Nigerian and back home. “I’m happy to come to Nigeria. The South African children in my class loved to bully me but my teacher was nice. I love to have Nigerian friends so that I can feel happy among them. I’m happy to be a Nigerian.”

Why We Offered To Evacuate Nigerians From South Africa, By Onyema
Speaking to reporters, Chairman, Air Peace Airlines, Allen Onyema, said a lot of them were happy to return home adding that he decided to come to the rescue to save Nigeria from the embarrassment meted out to her by South Africa.

Onyema said his decision to intervene in rescuing Nigerians from the country was borne out of genuine love and not to curry publicity. He said the 18-man Air Peace crew went on a rescue mission, adding that they spent over 24 hours to bring them back.

“When Capt. Egonu and his team came back, they rejected allowances of $42,000, saying it was their own contribution to bring these Nigerians back. They said if their chairman could decide to do this job free of charge, they too said they want to learn to give back to the society. They had the money but they returned the money,” he explained.

He said the singular action has brought back respect to Nigeria.

“I can tell you that. It was a bad advertisement for South Africa. All over the world, people are talking about this evacuation. They said once Nigeria rises up to the act, they will be respected and we are now respected. It is not about Air Peace, it is about nationhood. The truth is that, without this non-violent action that we engendered, xenophobia will still be happening. That is the non-violence we have engendered by doing this. If not, nobody would have come here to apologise to Nigeria. This evacuation is a bad signal to any country. That was why they wanted to stop us from evacuating because flights are now going back empty to South Africa.”

Onyema stated that tourists are now shunning South Africa because of xenophobia, asking why South Africa degenerated to the situation where fellow Africans were killed. He commended the Federal Government for the strong support given to his carrier to rescue trapped citizens of the country.

Abike Dabiri-Erewa

FG Has Plans To Reintegrate Returnees, Says Dabiri-Erewa
The Chairman of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the Federal Government sympathises with the returnees, and had put structures in place to properly reintegrate them.

“The Lagos State government is also here to support them, though some states are also here to take care of their citizens. Bank of Industry (BOI) is also going to be giving them soft loans. We will keep up with them. In another two weeks, we are going to call all of them again to have an assessment. There is a medical team on ground for check up. A lot of things are in place to ensure that they have a warm welcome back home.

“Some state governors are being asked to do full reintegration of their indigenes. So, we will profile them according to states and send their names and numbers to the various state governments and they are eager to receive them.

“One of them who came back the last time has fully reintegrated. He lives somewhere in Surulere with his family. Many of them are back to their homes. One of them said to me that why should he stay in a place where he is not sure of what will happen the next minute. We thank Air Peace for doing this and the President for giving the instructions for their evacuation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for his leadership and Nigerians who have been supportive,” she said.

Dabiri-Erewa said notwithstanding what is going on in South Africa, “we need to do everything possible not to disintegrate Africa. The president of South Africa has sent an envoy and promised to address the parliament today (Wednesday, September 18) so they would put a stop to all these. We hope that we will be stronger together.”

Rivers Ready To Reintegrate South African Returnees
From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt

Rivers State government has expressed its readiness to receive and reintegrate Rivers indigenes who voluntarily returned to Nigeria following the resurgence of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Although findings showed that out of the total of 493 persons that had been airlifted by Air Peace airline, there is no profile of Rivers State indigene among them yet. And it is not clear if there would be any indigene of the state among the 600 persons that expressed their desire to return to Nigeria.

However, the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communication, Paulinus Nsirim, told The Guardian that the state was prepared to reintegrate any of its people who returns from South Africa.

Meanwhile, some Nigerians who are still in South Africa and are reluctant to return, have blamed the unfriendly economic atmosphere in Nigeria as one of the major reasons they don’t want to return home. Others averred that they had established legitimate businesses over there that were thriving, stressing that it would be difficult to abandon such establishments and return with no plans.

One of them, Mr. August Nwagbara, said: “It is not as if I don’t want to come back; I am willing to return but the problem is the critical conditions back home. My family borrowed money and sold land before I could travel out and I have established tangible legitimate businesses over here. How can I come back with no plans on ground to enable us start all over again? Also, what will happen to my businesses if I abandon them? What will happen to my children’s schooling? Will Nigeria government help me to sponsor them through school? So, these are my fears.”

Another Nigerian resident in South Africa, who spoke with The Guardian, Magreth Birabi, stated that lack of industrialisation and electricity was a major factor discouraging Nigerian migrants in South Africa from returning home.

She said: “I have a well-established hair dressing saloon here powered by good electricity supply. If I return, what is the assurance of steady power supply to enable me continue with my hair making business since I am already skilled in that?” She queried.

However, she said the situation was improving in South Africa, adding that she was optimistic that with the apologies by the South African government to the Nigerian government, things would soon normalise.

Meanwhile, some stakeholders in Rivers State have emphasised the need for the Federal Government to improve Nigeria’s economy as a means of helping the returnees to settle down quickly.

The Executive Director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, said the reason some Nigerians preferred to be jobless outside the shores of the country than to be engaged in Nigeria was because of bad economic conditions.

“When you bring them back, what will they do? Where will they start? Is the environment and the economy friendly enough to give them a foot?” He queried, adding, “it is not enough to bring our people back. The important thing is there should be plans to help them start up again.”

He observed that addressing the economic challenges of the country and upgrading the nation as an attractive place for investments requires a lot of work by the leaders and the entire citizenry.

Similarly, the Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights (ISSJHR), Omenazu Jackson, described the situation Nigerians found themselves in South Africa as a very sorry one.

He said the development was a wake up call for the Federal Government to begin to industrialise the country, thereby making trips to other countries for greener pastures less attractive.

“There is need for high level of industrialisation and improved electricity supply which would go a long way to create jobs in the country and thus discourage migration to other countries,” Jackson stated.

Returnees From Libya Cry Out To Obaseki For Start-Up Capital
From Michael Egbejule, Benin City

Returnees from Libya in Edo State have appealed to the state Governor, Godwin Obaseki, to assist them with financial support to get back on their feet.

They also urged the government to initiate further strategies to eradicate human trafficking and discourage irregular migration by indigenes of the state.

Many of the Libya returnees, who spoke with The Guardian on condition of anonymity, said the state governor meant well for them following the programmes his administration designed to reintegrate the returnees from the state, but alleged that those saddled with implementing the programmes were shortchanging them.

They, therefore, called for probity and accountability on the part of the Edo State Taskforce on Human Trafficking (ETAHT), which oversees the programmes.

Some of the skills acquisition and training programmes organised for the returnees since the inauguration of the ETAHT on August 15, 2017 include courses on sewing, bead making on fabric, make-up and gele. The trainings, organised by Women’s Helping Hand, an initiative of the wife of the Vice-President, Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo, recorded a total of 277 beneficiaries.

On their part, the ETAHT with support from other organisations also assisted in providing vocational training programmes for the returnees. The taskforce had contracted Genius Hub, a private company to train the returnees on cosmetology and digital marketing. The Action Aid Organisation in partnership with the taskforce also provided a rigorous training to the returnees on various vocational such as fashion, poultry, auto electric, crop farming and auto mechanic.

Some of them also benefitted from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Entrepreneurship Training, targeted at equipping them with entrepreneurship skills.

One of the returnees, however, told The Guardian that after the trainings, no form of financial assistance has been provided for him to start up her own business.

A male returnee also lamented that the government stopped assisting them immediately after the training despite its earlier promise to support them with start-up capital.

The returnees called on the state governor to overhaul ETAHT to ensure that all returnees get the necessary support they need after the training to start up their own business.

A returnee alleged that the government had released a huge sum of money to ETAHT to rehabilitate and empower them, adding that the money was not judiciously used by the taskforce.