The Federal Government has said the evacuation of Nigerians from different parts of the world originally scheduled to begin today Monday May 4, will now begin from Wednesday May 7, following adequate arrangements made by the government to provide isolation centres for the over 4,000 Nigerians who have indicated interest to return to the country. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said this on Monday in Abuja, at the 25th joint national briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
Those waiting to be evacuated are mainly in China, which recorded maltreatment of Nigerians in the city of Guangzhou in the Guangdong Province; while other include; United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, India, Canada and Middle East countries among others. According to him, the change in date was caused by the constraints in resources but assured that Emirates airline will commence the evacuation from Dubai on Wednesday.
“So, by God’s Grace on Wednesday we would start the process of repatriating our nations from outside the country. There are about 4, 000 Nigerians wishing to come back home. If we had our way, we will bring them all back immediately and all at once, but there are various constraints and the biggest constraints is where to quarantine them.
“We have done everything we can to get beds here in Abuja and in Lagos. In Lagos we have almost 300 beds available, and I would like to take some time out to again express our gratitude to the governor of Lagos state because without his personal engagement it would have been more difficult for us.
So, the first flight (Emirates) on Wednesday will be to Lagos,” Onyeama said. The minister said that the country is also making another arrangement with the British Airline flight that is coming to Nigeria on Friday to evacuate some British nationals in Nigeria. He said that that since the plane would be coming empty, the government has negotiated with the British Government to bring back Nigerians from the United Kingdom (UK) on Friday.
He, however, regretted that the plane would not be coming to Abuja, where the government has made available over 1,000 hotel rooms for the evacuees. He said, “So, we are hoping that on Friday we will be able to evacuate from the UK anything up to 300 Nigerians from the UK. Ideally, we would have liked that flight to be coming to Abuja because we have been able to secure more hotel rooms (almost 1,000) in Abuja than we have in Lagos but unfortunately that plane cannot come to Abuja but only Lagos.
“So it is going to put quite a strain on our capacity in Lagos because in addition to just getting the rooms, the Port health authority, the NCDC will have to monitor every one of the evacuees on regular basis and of course the security elements have to be in place and all the other support services have to be in place and they are not all available for the evacuees because the numbers are going up in the country and resources, both human and material are the real challenges that we are facing.”
The minister said that the Nigerian missions in New York, Washington and Atlanta are trying to strike a deal with the American authorities for any flight available to bring back Nigerians. He said that the government is making arrangement with an Ethiopian Airline that does regular commercial operations in US to bring back Nigerians on Monday next week.
He said that Nigerian Air Peace plane chartered for a medical evacuation of a Nigerian couple to take a family member to London will also be engaged to evacuate Nigerians since the plane will be coming back from London empty, thus the government hope to strike a deal with Air Peace on Saturday to bring the citizens. Speaking on Nigerians in China, the Minister said “China is a huge crisis and we are trying to see if we can get a plane quickly to go and evacuate our people who are in large numbers in China, who also have additional challenges.
We are trying to source funds to also support these compatriots of ours, but there are capacity issues. “It has not been easy sourcing a plane but we are making arrangement with one of the carriers and we are hoping that within two weeks we will be able to move to China and bring back our people and those who are in South Africa, India and France,”