The Lagos State Government on Wednesday gave N20,000 to each member of the second batch of 319 Nigerians evacuated from South Africa.
The fresh batch of returnees arrived a week after another 178 Nigerians fleeing xenophobia came back from South Africa.
The returnees arrived at the Cargo Wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, at about 7.21 p.m. aboard an Air Peace B777 aircraft with registration number 5N-BWI.
The flight, which originated from the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, was received by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema.
Also on ground was Jermaine Sanwo-Olu, Senior Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Diaspora.
Presenting the token on behalf of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Mr Jermaine Sanwo-Olu said that the money was a palliative for the returnees.
Mr Jermaine Sanwo-Olu said that the returnees from Lagos State would be transferred to the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), where they would be trained on skill acquisition.
Mrs Dabiri-Erewa told reporters the returnees would be ‘profiled’ according to their states and local governments of origin to complement the federal government’s effort in reintegrating them.
She said apart from giving the returnees stipends to get back to their respective states, there was also a medical team on ground to provide assistance to those with medical conditions.
Mrs Dabiri-Erewa also noted that the Nigeria High Commission was working with the South African authorities to reduce the unnecessary delays which had so far characterised the evacuation exercise.
Mr Onyema said some Nigerians were stranded in South Africa for over four years and could not return home due to financial difficulties and lack of proper documentation.
He said: “What Air Peace is doing to freely evacuate Nigerians from South Africa is part of our support to the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and we are doing it wholeheartedly.
“The airline is only asking the government to do what it has been doing to facilitate the smooth return of the Nigerians.
“We are not asking for any refund because we knew that the cost of evacuating the Nigerians will exceed N300 million at the end of the day.
“We are so happy that even our pilots and crew that went to South Africa refused to take their allowances saying that it is their own way of showing patriotism,” Mr Onyema said.
He commended the Nigerian government “for the matured diplomatic way it was handling the xenophobia issue with its South African counterpart”.
He called on other Nigerians to assist in the resettlement of the returnees.
One of the returnees, Chuks Okoma from Delta State, thanked God for sparing his life considering the ordeal faced by Nigerians in South Africa.
Mr Okoma said that he had been in South Africa for six years without a job and sleeping in the street.
Another returnee, Michael Udoh, narrated how some foreigners were burnt in South Africa, adding that they were unable to move around.
Mr Udoh, who had been in South Africa for six years, said that the country refused to renew his work permit after it expired, thus making him jobless.
Air Peace Commended
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Onyema was commended by Nigerian lawmakers at their plenary.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajamila, said Mr Onyema sacrificed his primary purpose of business at no cost.
He also recommended Mr Onyema to the federal government for a national honour.
“On behalf of the House and the people’s House, I appreciate and thank you and we use you as a point of call to all Nigerians to emulate this kind gesture,” he added.
Care For Returnees
Mrs Dabiri-Erewa had stated at a press conference on Monday that it was the “responsibility of state governors to integrate and empower Nigerians who are being evacuated from South Africa.”
She revealed that the Nigerians will go through a reintegration process. The 178 Nigerians who arrived last week received SIM cards and airtime alongside transportation that would last them two months. They are also “already being profiled to get soft loans from the Bank of Industry (BOI),” she said.
The evacuation comes as a response to xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa during which properties and businesses belonging to Africans were destroyed.
The South African government has condemned the attacks and President Cyril Ramaphosa sent a peace envoy to Nigeria to apologise and call for “Pan African unity and solidarity.”