South African authorities yesterday (Tuesday) stalled the return of the second batch of Nigerians from the country following another delay, this time in granting landing permit to Air Peace.
The airline had volunteered to evacuate Nigerians willing to return home following the recent violence fueled by xenophobia against foreigners in the southern African country, and had succeeded in returning 178 last week, however after announcing its willingness to evacuate another 320 today the further delay had occurred.
Chairman of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, told newsmen in Lagos that the airline’s B777 aircraft deployed for the operation was still on a standby at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
According to him, the aircraft was supposed to have departed Lagos at 1.00 am, but it was denied landing permit by the South African authorities.
“We did not take off at 1:00am as scheduled because South African authorities are yet to give us landing permit. We are hopeful that they will give us the permit.
“Our crew waited till 3:00 am, but when the permit did not come, they went back to the hotel.
“Once we get the permit, we will set off to South Africa.
“We don’t want to speculate, but we are hopeful they will give the permit,” Onyema said.
On September 11, also prevented some Nigerians from leaving the country, by insisting on a fresh profiling exercise in spite of the one earlier conducted by the Nigerian High Commission.
The situation led to several hours of delay before 178 of the more than 300 Nigerians were successfully evacuated.
However, later today Nigeria’s Consul-General in Johannesburg, Mr. Godwin Adama confirmed that the South African authorities have granted landing permit to Air Peace Flight B777 to enable it to evacuate the 320 Nigerians stating that he is unaware of the reason for the denial in the first place.
Mr. Adama, made the confirmation in a telephone interview with News Agency of Nigeria on Tuesday said the permit had been granted the airline and that the flight would be late in the night of Tuesday.
Adama said, “They want Nigerians to arrive during the week, they are taking-off from here midnight.
“I do not know the exact time, but they will be leaving (South Africa) midnight.
“I do not know why they were denied the landing permit. I think it is an airline operational issue. They did not get it yesterday; but they told me that it came late yesterday (Monday).
“It was weekend and they were going to get it this morning; the airline did not tell me it was deliberate, but they explained to me that they have gotten it.
“Our manifest arrived last night towards the close of work and they were to take-off 1a.m. Nigerian time yesterday (Monday) but they did not because it was late.
“I have gotten it now; so they will be able to make me know the time of their arrival here so that we can know when to take-off.”
Adama said buses provided to convey Nigerians wanting to return home were still at the mission premises and everyone was there.
“We are still really working on the number (320) to see how we can fill up the airline capacity with anyone that is readily available.
“We have more than enough, we are even trying to ensure that the aircraft is filled up; that is why we are readily taking people who are on ground now.
“We have more than enough to fill the aircraft. The delay has also helped us because as we call names to board. We see some people cleared at the last minute.
“The truth is, they are people who have not been cleared, those who are ready to go are all here and we are trying to queue them up.
“We may not even be able to take all of them who are hopeful,” he added.
Adama said that the next batch of evacuation would be based on the Federal Government’s directives.