More facts have emerged on the bottlenecks which nearly frustrated the evacuation of 313 Nigerians from South Africa by the Air Peace Boeing 777 aircraft on Wednesday.
The flight which was scheduled for 9 am did not depart the OR Tambo International Airport until 4 pm, following various obstacles reportedly imposed by the South African airport and immigration officials. The plane eventually arrived in Nigeria with 178 persons at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja Lagos at 9.34 pm.
Investigation by Saturday PUNCH revealed that Pretoria was not happy over the evacuation operation which senior Foreign Affairs Ministry officials described as “a yellow card to Nigeria-South Africa relations.”
This, it was gathered, was seen by SA authorities as a thumbs down, hence the decision to mount impediments to frustrate the evacuation exercise.
It was gathered on Friday that 84 Nigerians had boarded the aircraft at the Johannesburg airport, when the SA immigration officials announced that they must carry out a biometric capture of all returning individuals. It was learnt that all the people on board were deplaned for the biometric exercise with the immigration officials spending about 10 minutes to capture each person.
Officials who participated in the clearance process at the airport explained that the immigration service cancelled valid South African visas possessed by Nigerians during the biometric exercise. It was learnt that the biometrics was a smokescreen to blacklist Nigerians leaving the country over xenophobic attacks which Pretoria has strenuously denied.
An official said, “When you are evacuating your citizens from a country, it is like sending a strong message to that country about your relations with them. No country would be happy with the evacuation of foreign nationals from its territory.
“South Africans were very strategic. We arrived at Joburg by 6.15 am. The intention was to leave by 9 am, but after clearing about 85 out of the 313 who were scheduled for airlifting, they insisted they should do biometric capture for those who were willing to leave. “So, they had to come down from the plane and start the clearance process afresh. Now, there are reports that if they capture your biometrics and you leave, you won’t be allowed into South Africa again or you may be barred from visiting for at least 10 years.
“So, some Nigerians who planned to come to Nigeria to relax for some time and then go back eventually decided to stay back for fear of being barred from visiting South Africa, where they have investments and families.” Punch
Pix: Some Ngerian returnees from South Africa