I was elated when invited to join Air Peace on the inaugural flight to South Africa. I secured a passport earlier to the invitation. While I expected the process to be seamless, it wasn’t. I was told to fill a short-term application visa form, get the requisite documents and proceed to the visa application centre in less than a week. Getting the yellow card for immunisation against yellow fever was not as tough as I had envisaged.
By the time I got to the visa application centre, sourcing 13 documents for a short-term journey of three days nearly sapped me. I spent over N5, 000 at the shop opposite the visa application centre in Lekki, Lagos.
On getting to the South African section, I was given number 47 at 10 am. At the end of it, I hurried back to the office to confront the backlog of work. My fear was when the visa would be issued. I was doing an application on the 7th for a trip scheduled for 16th.
On December 14, I got a call that my visa had left the consular general’s office and was heading for the address in my application. I put my parents’ address as the designated address. I was confident that I would get it. The dispatch rider called the next day and disappointed me. He went home but didn’t knock at the gate as instructed. He called while I was taking a painful COVID-19 test. I took the news really badly and spent most of December 16 tracking him. All went well after all.
Exactly 48 hours, the COVID-19 test was ready and I awaited the 1am flight later that evening with about 14 of my media colleagues. After the speech of the Chairman, Air Peace, Allen Onyema, we set for South Africa.
I first struggled with the seat belt. I had never put it on before. I had to ask my sit partner, Angela, to help me out. After she tried to lecture me to no avail; I begged her to do it. We chatted heartily for three hours. Food was served thrice and the airline was generous with it.
The flight was remarkable because of the skilled take-off from Nigeria and landing at Johannesburg. South Africa is organised. From the aerial view, one could see the terraces, farmlands and city markings.
After passing immigration, photo-taking began. I took a trolley and arranged my luggage. The Oliver Tambo International airport in South Africa was scanty with few efficient officials. There were no delays. My passport was presented and a few questions asked.
I left the airport and got onto a bus enroute Maslow Hotel. After filling another set of forms, I went to my room on the fifth floor. The altitude offered one of the greatest views of Sandton, Johannesburg. But I was too tired to sightsee. I proceeded to do some work, and got hooked on a call from Nigeria for an hour.
The moment I settled into the room, I was comforted by the Jacuzzi. It’s therapeutic. I lounged in it and slept. We went later for a press conference and when we returned, my package was missing. But it was sorted out eventually.
In the afternoon, there was an event where the Consul General of Nigeria to South Africa, Abdulmalik Ahmed, said the rainbow nation remained Nigeria’s biggest partner over the years. He noted that it’s why Nigeria’s yearly exports to South Africa now exceed $3.8bn and why South Africa’s exports to Nigeria was totalled $4.9bn in 2018.
He pleaded with Nigerians to establish more businesses in South Africa to tackle xenophobia. Besides, the National President, Nigeria Citizens Association South Africa, Benjamin Okoli, said Nigerians in South Africa weren’t having things easy.
He said, “I will say to Nigerians who are living in Nigeria to try to consolidate their position in Nigeria and make life better for themselves. In South Africa, it is quite challenging, difficult and not as it used to be. There is no buttered bread here and you have to work it.”
South Africans are friendly. I made many friends and collected several business cards during the press conference.
When I met the Chief Operating Officer, Airports Company, South Africa, Fundi Sithe, she welcomed me with a warm smile. She’s the biggest supporter of the Johannesburg—Lagos route due to increased passenger volume.
On my final day, I took a lazy stroll round town to survey Sandton and sightsee. There was no traffic warden on Sandton streets. No cop and motorists obeyed traffic lights without anyone warden to force them to do so. However, a reckless driver nearly hit me when I walked along the kerb. I trekked from Maslow to Nedbank into the city centre close to Nelson Mandela Square.
I took a bend at the Old Mutual and stopped a while to appreciate the quiet ambience. There were clearer skies. No traffic, no horns, cursing or a noise. I took a detour and luckily found myself at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange where the construction of a huge residential building was ongoing.
I headed for the hotel to relax. I restricted my movements and contact wit people to avoid COVID-19 spreading fast in the country at the time.
During my visit to the stores in Nelson Mandela Square, I was unable to do shopping because the debit cards from Nigeria didn’t work there. I couldn’t buy the two Zulu necklaces I wanted for my mum and sister. The driver said we couldn’t tour the square in an hour. I also longed to savour the scenes in Soweto or Durban. But there was no time.
When I retired to the hotel room, I spent the evening taking in fresh air and savouring the milieu and beautiful skies. They reminded me of the gorgeous South African ladies in their tight gowns and body-hugging cleavages. In retrospect, the six-hour trip back home was superb and indeed the Nigeria-South African flight indubitably fulfilled Air Peace’s six-year dream.
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