On the 27th of January 2016, history was made as South African Airways, Africa’s leading airline that have won the SkyTrax Awards for the best African carrier for 13th consecutive years, touched down in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city in the early hours of the morning at exactly 6:15am.
Not that this is the first time SAA is landing on Nigeria soil, but it is certainly the very first time, heralding a new chapter in the history of South Africa and Nigeria that the airline touched down in Abuja – All the works, plans and commitment of both nations came to fruition as SAA commences Johannesburg-Abuja flight on that epoch day.
The inaugural SAA Johannesburg-Abuja flight like any other all over the world landed with pomp and celebration with over 150 passengers which included dignitaries from both countries, businessmen, private passengers and of course members of the media.
The Nigerian Fire Service stationed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport became the very first agency to welcome the aircraft to Abuja with two colourful water tank shower.
South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ambassador Lulu Louis Mnguni received the dignitaries at the SAA check-in counter for a formal mini ribbon cutting ceremony before heading to the majestic Transcorp Hilton Hotel in the heart of Abuja business district where the gracious celebration took place later same evening.
In the evening of same day, the fountain area of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel was beautifully decorated with SAA blue and red colours, sparkling to the high heavens as the light rays clashed stunningly with the water fountains.
The dignitaries and the invited guests elegantly walked into the venue that have been so well decorated to celebrate another new positive chapter in the renewed brotherliness of South Africa and Nigeria.
“We are happy to witness this day in the history of both South Africa and Nigeria and to deepen Africa Agenda. This truly shows both countries commitment to the development human and business relations”, South African High Commissioner said during his opening speech at the SAA inaugural Johannesburg-Abuja flight launch dinner.
SAA acting Chief Executive Officer, Musa Zwane glaringly a proud man on the occasion of the launch said, “I am very proud today to stand in front of you on behalf of our staff to announce the launch of Johannesburg-Abuja route and it is such a great present for us as we attain 82 years. We have flown here for 20 years and have seen the growth of the Nigerian market overtime, hence the decision to fly to Abuja”.
Senator Hadi Sirika, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Aviation, who was represented at the occasion by Mr Hassan Musa, the Director of Air Transport, Ministry of Transportation, praised the commitment of SAA in ensuring further integration of South Africa and Nigeria – the two most powerful economies on the continent of Africa.
He observed that virtually all African airlines had more than one entry point into Nigeria. Therefore, Sirika said that Nigeria would work assiduously to ensure the integration of the African continent through aviation and other sectors.
In between the speeches, there were colourful traditional dance performance from the indigenes of Abuja, known as the Gbagyi people. The celebration also witnessed stand-up comedy performance from Buchi, popular Nigerian comedian.
Africa renowned entertainment personality, IK Osakioduwa host of Big Brother Africa added glitz to the event as compere while Praiz, Nigeria soulful singer infused dance and romantic rhythm to the event.
The Johannesburg-Abuja SAA inaugural flight extended beyond celebrations at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel. For two days, South African delegation toured the city of Abuja exploring all the beautiful sights and sounds including food.
The delegation started with a visit to Jevenik Restaurant for a taste of Nigerian menu, then explored the impregnable Zuma Rock – The rock with human face – just outskirt of the city of Abuja. Afterwards, the visiting South Africans visited Ushafa Village (otherwise known as President Bill Clinton Village) where the delegation danced to the live rhythm of the Gbagyi people, inhabitants of the village after a special reception by the traditional ruler. The delegation also witnessed the art of pottery for which the village is famous. President Bill Clinton had earlier in 2001 put Ushafa Village on world tourism map by visiting the village alongside his daughter, Chelsea during his state visit to Nigeria.
Undone with exploring the beauty of Abuja, the South African delegation also visited the new Jabi Lake Mall constructed and managed by South African firm before arriving the world renowned Nike Art Gallery where art speaks volume.
To appreciate a variety of handmade artefacts and souvenirs, the delegation also visited the Abuja arts and craft market.
In the end, SAA successfully connects Abuja to the tail end of the world #SAAConnectsAbuja