From Fred Itua and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Nigeria is expected to repatriate over 600 citizens from South Africa with effect from tomorrow.
Preparatory to the exercise, two aircrafts have landed in South African to ferry the first batch back home.
The number of Nigerians eager to return as a result of recent xenophobic attacks, as at yesterday, had risen from 400 to 640 yesterday.
Making the disclosure to journalists at the Senate wing of the National Assembly, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said more home-bound Nigerians resident in South Africa were being attended to by way of documentation.
Dabiri-Erewa, who stated this after appearing before the Senate Committee on Diaspora, explained that emergency travel documents were being issued to some of the home-bound Nigerians whose papers had expired.
Some in the batch would leave on two flights tomorrow, Godwin Adamu, Nigerian Consul General in Johannesburg, said.
A first flight will carry 320 Nigerians, he said, adding: “We will have another one immediately after that.”
However, only those who were in distress as a result of the attacks would leave the country.
Dabiri-Erewa said eight South African policemen were being prosecuted for various acts of xenophobic violence against Nigerians.
“As I speak with you now, we have 640 Nigerians voluntarily registered to come home and they will be home in a couple of days.
“We believe that more will still be coming to register. Two planes will convey them. The envoy will be briefing the President. When we receive the first two batches, we will know how many more will come.”
She explained that the envoy’s briefing to the President would influence the next line of action.
In the meantime, she said the aurthorities would continue to demand compensation for Nigerians that have been attacked in South Africa.
“Also, we know that eight policemen have been charged to court for their involvement in killings of Nigerians in South Africa and four more have been recently arrested.
“We are demanding that these investigations must end so that we can know exactly what is happening. As it is now, Nigerians in South Africa are very excited about the move taken by the government.
“We continue to reiterate Mr. President’s directive that no Nigerian should be treated anyhow anywhere in the world. We assure Nigerians wherever they are that the Nigerian government will continue to come to their aid.
“As for Nigerians in South Africa, we advise them to remain calm. There are some shops in volatile areas, which should not be opened, while we continue to engage to get justice for all Nigerians affected,” she said.
When asked what plans government had for Nigerians returning from South Africa, Dabiri-Erewa said government could not offer financial help to them.
“They went on their own and have volunteered to come back. They belong to states as well but, on the part of the Federal Government, we have the Special Intervention Programme that we encourage them to enrol in.
“This administration is doing everything possible to make Nigeria a better country to live in. We will also be issuing more advisory as to what to expect, where to go to, and what to do,” she said.
For the first time since the South African crisi began, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, ordered the immediate evacuation of all Nigerians willing to return home.
He gave the directive when he received the report of the special envoy to South Africa, Amb. Ahmed Abubakar, director-general, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
A statement by the President’s spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, in Abuja, said the special envoy was in Pretoria from Thursday, September 5, to Saturday, September 7.
He said Abubakar conveyed President Buhari’s special message to President Ramaphosa, expressing the concerns of President Buhari and Nigerians about intermittent violence against Nigerians and their property/business interests in South Africa.
He said the President stressed the need for the South African government to take visible measures to stop violence against citizens of brotherly African nations.
“Buhari is worried that the recurring issue of xenophobia could negatively affect the image and standing of South Africa as one of the leading countries on the continent, if nothing is done to stop it,’’ he said.
The envoy also conveyed assurances that Nigeria was willing to collaborate with South Africa to find a lasting solution to the involvement of few Nigerians in criminal activities.
“Nigeria would partner with the South African government to protect the life and property of the larger groups of other law-abiding Nigerians and indeed Africans in general against all forms of attacks, including xenophobia.
“Buhari assured that the Nigerian government would guarantee the safety of life, property and business interests of South Africans in Nigeria,’’ it further stated.
On his part, President Ramaphosa agreed that the violence was most disconcerting and embarrassing.
He was quoted as saying that his government completely denounced such acts, which undermine not only the country’s image but also its relations with brotherly African countries.
Ramaphosa has reaffirmed his stand against criminality and committed to do everything possible to protect the rights Nigerians and other foreign nationals in the country.
Adesina said that the special envoy also interfaced with his South African counterpart, where they reviewed the situation of migrants in general and Nigerians in particular.
“They agreed to work together to find a permanent solution to the root causes of the recurring attacks on Nigerians and their property,” he said.
According to the presidential aide, President Buhari has taken note of the report and instructed the minister of foreign affairs to continue to engage with appropriate authorities on the measures the South African government is expected to take.
More than 100,000 Nigerians are estimated to live in SA, Adamu said.
Foreign workers in SA – the continent’s second largest economy after Nigeria – are often victims of anti-immigrant sentiment in a nation where almost one in three people are unemployed.
The violence prompted reprisal against South African firms in Nigeria and the temporary closing of South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.