Full Marks, Onyema/Dabiri

Ifechukwu Onyema


Few things bring out the fellow-feeling in humankind than adversity. Nothing trumps the feeling that a fellow mortal has got your back, even when you think your back is against the wall. Ever fractious Nigeria stood up as one to show unparalleled empathy with their countrymen and women caught in the maelstrom of xenophobic hate in South Africa, and no two individuals epitomise this outpouring of love and charity than Allen Ifechukwu Onyema, businessman and owner of Air Peace, and Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chair of the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission. 

Onyema volunteered an aircraft from the fleet of Air Peace to ferry home his compatriots free of charge. Such noble spirit at a tie when hundreds of his countrymen with private jets, including billionaire pastors, business moguls and politicians, looked the other way.

Touching ground in Nigeria was like entering paradise for those who had virtually seen death face to face in South Africa. Nobody needed to preach to anyone that home was where you would find solace even if the whole world rejected you. The passengers are indigenes of various parts of Nigeria. All that had not mattered in their hour of distress as the enemy did not distinguish between Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba. In the aircraft too, adversity united them as they sang as one.

In a spontaneous show of gratitude they belted out a song in Igbo: “Onyema, Onyema! We go forth with him in his journeys; hither and thither, its Onyema we shall follow”. They followed that up with a rendition of the Nigerian national anthem, at which point it was all too much for the Air Peace boss and he burst into tears.

 I have made the point over the years and it bears repeating: No matter the problems in Nigeria — and there are many of them — we shoot nobody but ourselves in the foot when we de-market our country as the worst place on the planet. The social media is full of negative invocations against this patch of earth called Nigeria as if there is one single country in the world that is problem-free. It is not blind patriotism to wish one’s country well. When the chips are down, this is really the only country we can truly call our own. This is where our roots are. We must fix our country to make it a destination of choice for the rest of the world. Forget what prosperity preachers tell you. The road to sustainable wealth is hard work!

 It wasn’t too long ago when foreigners shipped themselves en masse to Nigeria in search of opportunities. We blew our prosperity of the 70’s to the extent that we now export crude oil only to import refined petroleum products. We have the ocean in our backyard but are forced to bathe with spittle. Oh, sure, we ought to do better — and we must. So, let’s stay here to prosecute the developmental battle instead of putting ourselves in a position where we are no better than sitting ducks for target practice by xenophobes.

\ All through the process of documenting the returnees in South Africa, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa was the visible face of the Nigerian government. Her commitment and empathy showed that Nigeria cared for her citizens no matter the situation. This is a new perception of government as the caring mother-hen. The fact that government could so seamlessly collaborate with the private sector to bring home our returnees is something that gladdens my heart. 

The resettlement programme announced to help the returnees rediscover their economic footing is equally commendable. Nigeria’s money must work for Nigerians. Announcing the measures via Twitter, Dabiri-Erewa said, said, “Apart from transport stipend to convey them to their various destinations, they are to receive airtime which would last for well over two months, as well as a soft loan from the Bank of Industry to support those interested in little businesses. A program for reintegration will also be put in place.”

 If every entrepreneur had the heart of Allen Onyema and every government operative had the commitment and efficiency of Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Nigeria of our dreams can’t be too far off anymore. Onyema, by the way, deserves a national award. 

Back to prosperity preachers who have been egging some Nigerians on to perdition in the name of Biblical promises. The more you sow (not the harder you work) the more you reap! Hawking miracles and illusions, they have blurred the lines between homily, motivational talk and 419! One of them, Pastor Benny Hinn, recently confessed that he had misled a lot of people with his prosperity gospel. According to him, “I am correcting my own theology … The blessings of God are not for sale. And miracles are not for sale. And prosperity is not for sale.”

 So, we are back to the good old gospel of how to get ahead in life: hard work, tenacity, honesty, with or without a pinch of luck. With those, you can approach the Throne of Grace to bless the work of your hands. 

If only our political leaders all over the federation would stop looting the treasury and deploy our resources towards the development of our land and people! 

The red carpet treatment accorded the returnees is quite in order. Now, let us roll up our sleeves and work hard to make Nigeria better so that our children will no longer suffer the indignity of being hunted down with cudgels and guns as unwanted foreigners in countries they had, not too long ago, sacrificed so much to liberate. Welcome home, sojourners!