Xenophobic Attacks: I’ve never been so honoured in my life – Air Peace Boss
The Chairman of Air Peace Airlines, Allen Onyema, on Wednesday thanked members of the House of Representatives for honouring him for his role in the evacuation of Nigerian victims of xenophobic attacks from South Africa.
The aviation businessman was in the chamber of the House of Representatives on the invitation of the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The lawmakers had at their Tuesday plenary commended the airline chief for his kind gesture to his compatriots.
Many Nigerians in South Africa have suffered from the latest xenophobic attacks with many businesses destroyed and looted.
Although at least five people have been killed in the attacks targeting foreigners of African descent, the Nigerian government said no Nigerian was killed.
Air Peace offered to evacuate Nigerians to complement the efforts of the Federal Government to check the death of Nigerians residing in South Africa.
The airline has in the past two weeks evacuated over 400 Nigerians from South Africa free of any charge.
Appreciating the airline, the speaker, Mr Gbajabiamila, said Mr. Onyema sacrificed his primary purpose of business at no cost.
The speaker also recommended him 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,” the speaker said.
In his remarks, Mr. Onyema said it was a great honour to him for the speaker to personally call him.
“I have never been so honoured in my life. I remember two days ago, the speaker got my number from a colleague to call me.
“Even if I wasn’t invited here today, you have done me an honour,” he said.
“I thank you all for allowing me to come and address you this morning.”
Mr Onyema said he did not evacuate the stranded Nigerians in South Africa for publicity, adding that he saw it as a responsibility he must carry.
He said he was not concerned if his private business is affected and also did not collect any form of payment from anyone.
“I’m very happy to announce to you that that singular act has brought a lot of respect to Nigeria.”
Mr. Onyema commended the way President Muhammadu Buhari handled the issue with what he described as a high sense of maturity.
“The evacuation would not have been possible if my country did not allow me.
“South Africa didn’t want this evacuation to take place because it is not good for any country.
“Xenophobia will die a natural death because of this evacuation.
“I call on government to look at the plight of those who have lost everything they have worked for.”
“Air Peace is ready to evacuate Nigerians, we are ready to go into South Africa even if it is one Nigerian that is remaining.”
He said his pilot and crew stood for 24 hours and came back and refused to take their allowance because they said it was their own contribution to Nigeria.
Also speaking, Jerry Alagboso (Imo, PDP) described Mr Onyema as a businessman and a veteran employer in Nigeria.
“What Onyema has done is part of the legacies that we are talking about.
“What Onyema has said applies to you and me and that is to say that in this world, what matters is not wealth, status or power.”
“It is about love, it is about what you have done to better the lives of others. I therefore commend him,” Mr Alagbaso said.
Also speaking, the Deputy Minority Whip, Nkiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), thanked Onyema for restoring the dignity of Nigerians in South Africa.
According to her, if Onyema had not done this, some South Africans would think that their Nigerian victims do not have a country.
“As long as the earth remains, seed time and harvest time will not cease; whatever you sow, you shall reap; those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.
“You have sown a good seed and you shall reap the reward; I join all our leaders to say thank you,” she said.
By Nasir Ayitogo