Meet The Little-Known Billionaire Who Is Singlehandedly Airlifting Embattled Nigerians From SA To Nigeria

By  |  September 13, 2019

A little-known Nigerian billionaire is flying 600 Nigerians who have asked to return home after the recent xenophobic attacks in SA from Johannesburg to Lagos. And he’s paying for all of it. Here’s all there is to know about the man who has taken philanthropy airborne.

As tempers flared and tensions heightened during the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, an unlikely hero stepped forward in the form of a Nigerian lawyer and businessman who offered to airlift embattled Nigerians from South Africa back to Nigeria all by himself — on his account.

The name of this Nigerian businessman is Allen Ifechukwu Onyeama and he is the Chairman of Air Peace Airlines; a popular carrier in Nigeria.

Allen Ifechukwu Onyema

As was widely reported, wave after wave of xenophobic attacks had affected many Nigerians living in SA, as well as other African nationals, and calls for decisive action to quell the attacks had grown louder.

The Nigerian government had intervened with diplomatic moves — sending an envoy to South Africa, recalling its ambassador to South Africa, and even boycotting last week’s World Economic Forum on Africa slated for Capet Town. 

But perhaps the most decisive action of all was taken by the Air Peace boss who went out of his way to offer free air transport to Nigerians who desire to return home.

It was quite an audacious offer from a man who, until that point, was mostly flying under the radar. And of course, he was lauded by all and sundry for his generosity.

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Returnees alighting the Air Peace Aircraft
Source: Taiwan News

Since Onyema made the offer to airlift troubled Nigerians for free, some 600 Nigerians have indicated interest. And just yesterday, the first batch of returnees, numbering 187, boarded an Air Peace B777 aircraft with registration number 5N-BWI, departed Oliver Thambo International Airport, Johannesburg, and touched down at the Cargo Wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, just after 9 pm.

Onyema told newsmen that the airline spent over NGN 300 Mn (USD 830 K) to airlift the affected Nigerians, and the gesture was his company’s way of showing support to the Federal Government.

Air Peace will now be expected to embark on at least two more such trips as it hopes to airlift all interested Nigerians in South Africa to their homeland at no cost; quite a gesture from the little-known multimillionaire.

Now, here’s all there is to know about Air Peace boss, Allen Onyema, who has taken philanthropy airborne.

Who Is Allen Onyema?

Allen Ifechukwu Onyema is the Chairman of Air Peace Airlines. He is also a lawyer, businessman and conflict resolution expert.

He is a native of Mbosi, in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, South East region of Nigeria. Onyema is the first of nine children born to “parents who were big on discipline.” He was born in Benin City in 1964.

Early Life

Allen Onyema grew up in the old Bendel State, often shuttling between Benin and Warri which resulted in him attending so many primary schools. For his secondary education, he attended a number of schools including St. Anthony’s Secondary School, Azia, Urhobo College, Effurun, and the prestigious Government College, Ughelli. 

When college years came, he helped himself to a law degree from the prestigious University of Ibadan. Onyema secured his law degree in 1988, and he was called to bar the following year.

How The Journey Really Began? 

After Law School, family ties initially positioned him for a default career in the Nigerian oil and gas sector — one that was served up to him on a platter — but the pursuit of personal dreams meant that he would leave the relative safety and comfort of his home in Warri in 1990 for the uncertainties that lay in wait Lagos.

Allen Onyema and wife, Alice.
Source: Pride Magazine

“I left for Lagos in 1990 in search of jobs. No money on me. I was squatting in Oshodi. I couldn’t afford taxis or buses; I was going to Lagos Island by rail. Going back to Oshodi, I would trek from Marina to Iddo to join the overcrowded trains. I wanted to practice my profession as a lawyer,” revealed Onyema, in a rare sitdown with City People from two years ago.

The young lawyer scoured Lagos for two months in search of a job before he landed one with the late Chief Vincent Amobi Nwizugbo who gave him the opportunity to work in his chambers in Martins Street, Lagos Island. He was placed on a monthly salary of NGN 500.00. (USD 1.38 as of today).

But he soon got his big break. The young Onyema took on a case that had a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and three other high-profile lawyers on the other side. It was a case even his own firm had adviced him to drop. But the unrelenting young man wouldn’t budge. And in the end, he won the case.

From that moment, things took a dramatic turn for the better. Within two years, he was in charge of the firm and by that time, he had honed quite a reputation in the real estate sector. Eventually, he left the firm to pursue several other successful ventures, mostly in real estate. And in 2007, Air Peace became one of his many undertakings, albeit, a rather lofty one.

How Far Has Allen Onyema And Air Peace Come?

Allen Onyema walked taller than his height on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Mauritius, when he signed a deal for 30 brand new Embraer 195-E2 aircraft with an order for the initial supply of 10 aircrafts. It was a huge investment worth over USD 2 Bn.

The aircraft is a 124-seater jet in dual-class and 146-seater in a single-class configuration. By purchasing these airplanes, Allen Onyema’s Air Peace achieved an unprecedented feat; one that rocked Nigeria’s aviation sector.

That would suggest how far the Nigerian multimillionaire has come with his aviation venture. 

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“I am over the moon with the prospects of the massive employment opportunities that would be generated by the 30 aircraft when they all finally come in. This particular order will create over 10,000 job opportunities in our country. We shall take a lot of Nigerians out of the streets and out of poverty.”

Those were Onyema’s words when Saturday Vanguard asked about what the achievement meant to him.

Just a year prior, Air Peace had ordered ten brand new Boeing 737 Max aircraft. Together with the most recent purchase, it’s an indication of the size of Onyema’s ambition and his big plans for the airline.

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Source: The Nigerian Lawyer

Currently, Air Peace boasts a fleet of no less than 27 aircraft. The Nigerian airline lands in up to 15 airports within and outside Nigeria, and it is also known to operate in at least 6 other African countries, including up to 18 cities across Africa.

What Is Allen Onyema’s Net Worth?

With sizeable holdings in real estate and aviation, Allen Onyema is easily a vastly wealthy man. But because he likes to keep a low-profile, apparently, there are no reliable public records of the actual size of his fortune.

However, some extrapolation on account of the sheer size of his investments and the fact that there are no known external investors in his ventures could easily place his fortune above NGN 100 Bn (USD 276 Mn). In any case, it is quite certain that he is a billionaire — at least, in the local currency. And he does have a heart of gold too.

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