On Wednesday, the House of Representatives held a session in honour of the chairman of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, following the free air services offered by his airline for the evacuation of Nigerians fleeing xenophobic attacks in South Africa. In addition, the House passed a resolution asking President Muhammadu Buhari to honour him with a national award in recognition of his patriotism. Speaking on the occasion, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila enthused: “I believe that we are all witnesses to what he has done for our brothers and sisters in the last couple of weeks. We watched the scenes of Nigerians on TV being reunited with their families and friends. The emotional scenes were brought about by only one man among many men, a businessman who is into business like every other businessman to make money, but who sacrificed his wealth and business. At no cost – and I dare say at a loss – he deployed his aircraft to bring back our brothers and sisters who were facing danger in South Africa. This is a feat that should be commended.”
In reaction, the Air Peace boss noted that the evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa had brought respect to Nigeria from around the world. He added that South Africa was suffering dearly for the attacks on non-citizens, as stocks in the country were falling. The Air Peace boss said: “The kind of support we have got from Nigerians through commendations and everything gladdens our hearts. My pilot and cabin crew stood for 24 hours because the South African authorities tried to frustrate us. They didn’t want us to evacuate Nigerians; they pleaded with the Nigerian High Commission not to do it. But they (the commission) told them that they could not stop private citizens. They delayed us for 15 hours before allowing us to do the first evacuation. In the last one week, this country has bonded.” He added that it was only by fighting for one another that Nigerians could have a nation.
It is indeed highly commendable that as the lives and properties of Nigerians and nationals of various African countries came under attack in South Africa, a private Nigerian citizen was willing to go the whole hog in providing succour for his fellow compatriots, using his airline. The Air Peace intervention is a prime example of corporate social responsibility. Symbolically, as the first set of Nigerians arrived the shores of the country last week, they sang the Nigerian national anthem with gusto. As many of those who granted media interviews stressed, they were elated to have escaped lynching in South Africa. However, as we noted in previous editorials, it took the outcry by Nigerians on social media and other platforms to ginger the government into speaking out forcefully against the attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, and it is apposite to mention that the gesture by the Air Peace boss was a personal response to the sad situation in South Africa, even if he enjoyed diplomatic cover.
Truth be told, there are patriotic, law-abiding Nigerians across the country and all over the world. Over the years, even as politicians habitually failed the people, many of these citizens have opted to make great personal sacrifices for the comfort, security and safety of their compatriots, and their heroic sacrifices must never be forgotten. We endorse the call by the House of Reps that the Federal Government should honour Mr Onyema for his noble deed. In addition, however, we urge the government to be much more serious about the safety and security of Nigerians all over the world.