Abuja — The federal government's plan to evacuate Nigerians from South Africa yesterday ran into hitches as most of the citizens willing to return home had no valid travel documents.
The development compelled the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria to cancel the exercise and fix a new date for it.
In a partnership with Air Peace Airline, the Nigerian government had slated yesterday for the commencement of the evacuation of Nigerians who have been targets of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
Mr. Allen Onyema, the chairman of Air Peace, said in a statement in Lagos yesterday that most of the potential returnees were yet to renew their documents.
Onyema said that the airline had placed its Boeing 777 aircraft on standby and was only awaiting the go-ahead from the government.
"The Air Peace flight to South Africa will take off from the Lagos Airport and also return to Lagos. As earlier stated, the take-off could be September 9 or September 10.
"This is because the Nigerians in South Africa have to obtain travel certificates because many of them do not have travel documents and their passports have expired. Air Peace has placed its aircraft, Boeing 777 for the flight since September 3, but the Nigerian High Commission needed time to register the Nigerians billed to travel.
"And, they are already doing that in Johannesburg and Pretoria."
FG Rules Out Severance Of Diplomatic Ties With South Africa
Meanwhile, Nigeria has played down the possibility of severing diplomatic relationship with South Africa over the killing of her citizens in that country.
Giving an update on the strained ties between the two countries due to the persistent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans, the government said that none of her citizens was killed in the renewed violence against foreign nationals in South Africa.
The government therefore declared that it would not sever diplomatic ties with South Africa despite the losses incurred by Nigerians resident in the country
But, the federal government insisted that it would employ the provisions in international laws to demand and obtain compensation from the South African government for Nigerians affected in the latest xenophobic attacks.
Briefing journalists at the Senate wing of the National Assembly after a closed door meeting with the Senate Committee on Diaspora, Foreign Affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said that the wide range of diplomatic moves made by the Nigerian government to get the South African government and her citizens realise the need to prevent such attacks against Nigerians and other Africans from recurring would pay off.
The row, according to him, had not in anyway reached the boiling point of severing diplomatic ties with South Africa.
Onyeama said that the special envoy sent by President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in South Africa on Thursday and was expected to return to Nigeria today.
He said that the panel had "reviewed the possible options, analysed the causes and agreed on a road map going forward. He should be back tomorrow (today) and that will give the government the basis on which to take further actions.
"We are not thinking at the stage of diplomatic ties being called off now. There are various options. We are not by any means at a stage where we are breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa. In any case, no Nigerian was indeed killed in the attacks."
The minister, however, said that despite the declaration by the South African government that there would be no compensation for affected people in last Monday's attack, Nigeria would push for that by all means.
"The Nigerian government will be demanding that the victims should be compensated. This is important despite the position of the South African government that there is no provision for that by their law. They will definitely be made to resort to other insurance companies or other private arrangements for that.
"So, the options that are being considered are weighty enough to ensure that the government of South Africa is alive to its responsibility on the rule of law but not in any way relating to severance of ties," he added.
The minister appealed to Nigerians not to retaliate the attacks for the sake of interests of both countries, particularly the 800,000 Nigerians resident in South Africa.
"Fundamental in resolving this matter is for us to appeal to Nigerians not to take laws in to their hands. As it has been stated in the earlier statement by the Senate Committee of Diaspora, we need to exercise restraints as Nigeria is a leader in Africa and as a country we must also show that we are responsible as two wrongs can never make a right. So we appeal to Nigerians to remain calm," he said.
In his remarks, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Diaspora, Senator Surajudeen Bashiru Ajibola (APC Osun Central), said that diplomatic options were the best approach to the problem and not retaliation or diplomatic face off.
He said, "As we are today, from reliable information, no fewer than 800,000 Nigerians are living in South Africa. So, if you want to take decisions you must be able to protect their interest because they have been tied to the South African society for many years."
Onyema described the attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa as unfortunate, especially with the alleged tacit support being given to the perpetrators by the authorities.
He advised Nigerians without legal documents in South Africa to take advantage of the evacuation flight to return to the country.
Gbajabiamila Confers WithPMB Over Budget, $9.6bn Judgement Debt
By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday held a crucial meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, over the 2020 budget and $9.6billion United Kingdom (UK) judgement fine imposed on Nigeria.
In an interaction with State House correspondents after the talks, Gbajiabiamila said that he also discussed security issues with the president.
A UK court had on August 16, 2019 awarded the judgment authorising P&ID to seize Nigerian assets anywhere in the world worth $9.6 billion for contract default.
According to the speaker, "we discussed the issue of the budget, as you are aware we want to bring the budget circle back to what it used to be - January to December - and the only way to do that is for an early presentation of the budget and we have discussed that.
"We discussed security issues and that of the recent $9.6billion award against Nigeria. I say that with a smile but not really smiling. Clearly, we are in opposition to that and steps will be taken," he said.
When asked if it's likely that the budget could get to the National Assembly this month, Gbajabiamila replied: "I cannot give you a definite answer but I know the budget is going to come as early as possible. It maybe the end of this month or shortly thereafter, but I cannot give you a definite date.
"But it's going to be an early presentation so that we can pass the budget before the end of the year and return to the January to December circle," he said.
The speaker further disclosed that the House of Representatives had shelved plans to reconvene the House over the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
"As you are aware, I cut my trip to Tanzania to return with the hope of reconvening the House so that we could discuss this very important issue. We have called that off because events have overtaken it, the government has taken proactive steps the same we would have taken.
"We are all on the same page with the president and the government. So I came to fully discuss that with Mr. President and other national issues that require the attention of both the legislature and the executive, and we had very fruitful discussions on those issues."
On whether there were moves to cut diplomatic ties with South Africa, he said: "We are not there yet but nothing is off the table, we will take each day as it comes. As of now Mr. President has taken proactive steps in evacuating our citizens and inviting the high commissioner. We will stand with him and Nigerians.
"We issued a statement today (yesterday) and it is in tandem with what the executive is doing and we stand by our citizens. Our priority is to protect the welfare of our citizens and that is exactly what we are doing and that is what the president is doing."
On the refusal of South Africans to compensate the victims of the xenophobic attacks, the speaker said that "I don't know if that statement is official or one by somebody. When it's official we will take further steps. After the delegation to South Africa returns, I'm sure there are probably other avenues that we can pursue."