Onyema was recommended for a higher national honour by the lower chamber of the National Assembly for his exemplary decision to evacuate stranded Nigerians from xenophobia-ridden South Africa.
His deft action, which has cost him N280 million, has seen hundreds of Nigerians returning home on evacuation to the dismay of their South African persecuting hosts, thus earning praises from government officials and individuals in the last few days.
The lawmakers also resolved to make Air Peace their flight of choice in appreciation of Onyema’s patriotism.
Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House, who addressed his colleagues, said Onyema should be commended for his charitable act, which he described as a rare show of patriotism that ought to be celebrated.
“We hereby commend Mr. Allen Onyema and recommend him to the Federal Government for higher honours in Nigeria,” the speaker said.
Recounting how he came about the decision to intervene, Onyema told the lawmakers that it was a spontaneous act of service that struck him while watching fellow Nigerians being hounded by South Africans and branded criminals for the mere fact that they sought better living away from home.
He said: “It was a spontaneous decision I took to do this. I didn’t do it for any publicity or award. In fact, I was at a meeting with DG of the NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) in his office when I saw on television what was being done to Nigerians and others, and I saw that as long as you’re a Nigerian, you’re a target of xenophobia or racial profiling across the world.
“I felt a sense of duty as a Nigerian to intervene and I immediately asked the DG if they could give me clearance and landing right in South Africa, we can evacuate our brothers and sisters free of charge. And he asked if I would do that, and I said yes.
“I’m not going to go into my grave with my wallets; I won’t take a dime with me to my grave, no matter the size of my bank account.
“But I will die a fulfilled man and rest well, knowing that I was able to contribute my little quota in the service of my fellow citizens and, today, that singular act has earned Nigerians some level of respect in the international community.”
Allen commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the manner in which he handled the crisis despite outcry urging him to retaliate South Africa’s bad behaviour.
“I commend the president for the maturity he’s displayed in handling this very provocative act from the people and government of South Africa.
“Today, as I speak to you, 319 have just checked in. This has led to enormous respect for Nigeria and Nigerians to the point that the South Africans are now begging that Nigerians should no longer leave. I’m sure it’s dawning on them now that their economy will be the worse for it and may crash,” he noted.
According to Onyema, “As far as Air Peace is concerned, we are ready to airlift every single Nigerian who’s willing to be evacuated from that country.”
While appreciating the speaker and the entire leadership of the House, the businessman noted that the recognition to address the green chamber was an honour that brought tears to his eyes.
“You’ve brought tears to my eyes today. I’ve never been so honoured in my life. Just a few days ago, Mr. Speaker got my number from one of the members here, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, and gave me a call and I was so touched by the things he said.
“Now, this incident has bonded all of us, we now see ourselves as Nigerians rather than Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba or Ijaw. We are all Nigerians and our diversity should be seen as a source of greatness through unity of purpose, and I hope that we will explore that diversity for that purpose,” he said.
Onyema reiterated Air Peace’s readiness to repatriate Nigerians still stranded in South Africa.
According to him, “We are ready to go into South Africa as long as there is one single Nigerian remaining in that country to be evacuated for free.
“The kind of support we have gotten from Nigerians through your commendations and everything gladden our heart, to the extent that my pilot and my cabin crew stood out there for 24 hours because they were some (South African authority) trying to frustrate us.
“They did not want us to evacuate, they pleaded with the Nigerian High Commission not to do it, but they told them that they cannot stop these private citizens.
“The cabin crew stood up for 24 hours; they delayed us for 15 hours, before allowing us to do the first evacuation; the crew refused to collect their allowances as their own contribution.”
The Majority Leader of the House, Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), said that the military had the responsibility of keeping the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Doguwa explained that citizens looked up to the military to save and protect lives and property and, for that reason, were called Lt. Colonels, Colonels, and Generals.
“Without any fear of contradiction, and with the support of this chambers, I can say that we now have General Chief Onyema in the private sector.
“What he did was an exhibition of selflessness, risking his business interest to save the lives of Nigerians in the face of war, because this xenophobic attack in South Africa is like a war.
“Onyema, you saved Nigerians from the face of war, you saved Nigerians from embarrassment, and what we are doing today is being done on behalf of the 360 constituencies of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to say thank you,” he said.
The Leader urged other businessmen and Nigerians in general, to emulate the selfless example exhibited by Onyema to foster unity and cohesion among the different ethnic groups.
“On behalf of all the members of the House of Representatives, the Federal Government led by President Buhari, I want to say a big thank you, we salute you and salute your family. God will continue to bless you and bless your business.
“For his selflessness, I want to give him my commitment, and by extension, urge members here that for this reason, from today, when I have cause to fly, Air Peace Nigeria will be my priority.
“I hope all other members here will keep that as a commitment, Air Peace will be our first priority,” he said.
Julius Pondi (PDP, Delta) said that he came in contact with Onyema in 2005 while he ran an NGO, Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria.
According to him, struggle and agitation for the Niger Delta was at its peak and, on his own, Onyema tried to bring out young men from the creeks to embrace peace.
The legislator said that Onyema tried to explain to militants that the use of arms was not the way to go.
“I was in the creeks and I still belong to the creeks, I am a proud member of the creeks, a militant, but as I am here now, I am now a lawmaking militant.
“Onyema used that NGO to train the militants in Lagos. I attended the first batch of it, and the second stage was in South Africa.
“I went with him to South Africa and I was trained there, not only me, but so many of us, and the third phase was in the U.S.”
Pondi said he was arrested a couple of times and detained at airports in the U.S. and in South Africa because he was labelled a militant, and Onyema stood with him while in detention.
He continued: “That is the character of the man that is seated here in this chambers.
“When, in 2010, the then President Yar’Adua proclaimed amnesty, about 70-80 percent of all the 30 thousand militants that were granted amnesty were all trained by his NGO.
“Onyema is a big name not only in the Niger Delta. He is more prominent there, because that is where he did major exploits.
“I want to join everybody in this House to thank Mr. Onyema, to say that you have done well. I am a loving testimony of all the good things you have done.
“Today, I am a ranking member of this green chamber because at some point in time, you were also part of the formation stage in my life, and I thank you for that.
“Onyema, for evacuating Nigerians in troubled South Africa, you have once again showed the strong character that is in you.
“There are people that are godlier than you, who own private jets and fleets of aircraft, none of them have summoned the courage to help.
“I want to thank you, Mr. Onyema, and to say that you are a great man and that prosperity will judge you correctly.”
The motion to urge President Buhari to confer national honour on Onyema was moved by Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), and seconded by Isiaka Ibrahim (APC, Ogun).
The motion, without any opposition, was unanimously adopted as a resolution for onward transmission to the executive.
At least 187 Nigerians have been brought home already; another 319 have checked in and are on their way back to Nigeria. More are scheduled to return this week.