The 189 Nigerian nationals evacuated from South Africa by the Nigerian government have narrated their experiences in the wake of xenophobic attacks on them and other foreign nationals living in South Africa.
They arrived the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on Wednesday and were received by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), and officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), among other government officials.
The Air Peace flight, which conveyed the returnees, arrived the airport at 9:35pm on Wednesday. The airline had volunteered to evacuate the returnees, when Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari ordered their repatriation.
The returnees, comprising men, women and children, were the first batch of the 640 Nigerians who indicated interest to return home.
A man identified only as Anthony, said he lived in South Africa for seven years. He alleged that the South Africa authorities were not responsive to the attacks and killings of foreign nationals living in the country.
“I witnessed the bestiality of humanity in South Africa. I have seen violence of blacks on blacks, I will not blame the people that much because what is happening in South Africa is coordinated,” he said.
According to him, “xenophobia is a policy driven right from the era of President Jacob Zuma or even the regime preceding Zuma and it is driven by the South African police.”
He stated that foreign nationals were being slaughtered like “chicken” in the presence of police.
“…There is no outrage from the west, the west is not condemning it, America is not condemning it because they see it as black on black violence. Which is very wrong, violence is wrong, criminality is wrong,” Anthony lamented.
Another returnee, Uche Victor, told journalists at the airport that he returned to Nigeria, leaving his Cameroonian wife and young daughter behind.
“I’m bleeding because I left my wife and baby but I have to come back because my mother cries for me to return. If something happens to me she will suffer,” said Victor.
He added that, “I left my business, I came back with nothing. South Africans believe all Nigerians are drug pushers, but I don’t know the colour of any drug.”
Victor stressed further that xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other foreign nationals was South Africans way of showing anger against their government.
“They are only venting their anger on foreigners. They started with black and will move to whites,” he said.
Similarly, Aliu Saheed, who hails from Osun State, Nigeria, told journalists that his shop was burgled and he returned with no personal belonging.
“But I’m happy to be home, I’m not going back again,” he said.
Also, a returnee from Abia State, who gave his name only as Onuoha, said a lot of Nigerians were still stranded in the country because they couldn’t return with their properties.
Xenophobic attacks on Nigerians have not ceased despite diplomatic actions taken by the Nigerian government. The returnees either suffered xenophobia or had their properties vandalized by South Africans.
Last Sunday, some South African protesters, stormed Johannesburg, where Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a Zulu chief, was delivering a mediation speech in the wake of the attacks.
They insisted that all foreigners must leave their country, chanting “foreigners must go back to where they came from.”
Government plans reintegration programme for returnees
The Nigerian government in collaboration with the Bank of Industry has offered entreneurship programmes for the returnees willing to learn.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) disclosed this to reporters at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport.
She also told journalists that the Federal Government of Nigeria was giving N40,000 worth of airtime to the returnees, which would last them for two months, to call their families.
“The Bank of Industry will also be here to offer some entrepreneurship programme and some support to start a small business and there would be some stipends for transportation to take you home and we will profile them and for those who want to get any training, they will decide what kind of training they want to do and the Bank of industry will be there to provide it,” she said.
“Thanks to President Buhari and Air Peace and everybody for achieving this.”
Dabiri-Erewa said she is unhappy about the attacks on Nigerians, but added that Nigeria will not end its relationship with the country.
“We expect to even be stronger and closer but we are saying that our people should not suffer and we can’t tolerate killings of Nigerians anywhere in the world,” she said.