Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government will tomorrow begin to evacuate at least 4,000 Nigerians outside the country.
This is even as it said it was still striving to secure enough spaces to accommodate that number for the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, made this disclosure at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to Onyeama, evacuation flights for Nigerians will commence with an Emirates flight from Dubai to Lagos tomorrow and would be followed by a BA flight on Friday, from London to Lagos, and Ethiopian Airlines from the United States, adding that the evacuees will be mandatorily quarantined in hotels and monitored for 14 days.
According to him, the biggest challenge in bringing Nigerians back was where to quarantine them on arrival.
While noting that there was a large number of Nigerians in China who needed to come back, Onyeama said: “We want to do it as quickly as possible, but it hasn’t been easy. Within two weeks, we hope we can do that.”
The Federal Government had said interested persons would be responsible for the cost of logistics to return to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had also stated that the financial implications would be borne by the prospective evacuees, who would be compulsorily quarantined when they returned.
Onyeama said the change in date for evacuation of Nigerians from different parts of the world originally scheduled to commence Monday May 4 was caused by the constraints in resources.
The Nigerians waiting to be evacuated are mainly in China, which has become controversial as reports have alleged that some Nigerians were being maltreated in the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Other countries include the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, and India, among others.
Onyeama said: “By God’s grace, on Wednesday, we would start the process of repatriating our nationals from outside the country. There are about almost 4,000 Nigerians wishing to come back home. If we had our way, we would bring them all back immediately and all at once, but there are various constraints and the biggest constraints is where to quarantine them, the beds.
“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.”
The minister added that the country was also making arrangements for a British Airways flight coming to Nigeria on Friday to evacuate some British nationals in Nigeria, since the plane would be coming empty, Nigeri had negotiated with the British government to bring 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.
“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 their 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, human and material, are the real challenges that we are facing,” Onyeama said.
For Nigerians in the US, the minister noted that the Nigerian missions in New York, Washington and Atlanta were trying to strike a deal with the US authorities for any flight available to bring back Nigerians. He added that government was making arrangements with an Ethiopian Airlines flight that does regular commercial operations in the US to bring back Nigerians on Monday next week.
He added that Nigeria’s Air Peace plane chartered for a medical evacuation of a Nigerian couple to take a family member to London would also be engaged to evacuate Nigerians, since the plane will be coming back from London empty: “So we are hoping to strike a deal with Air peace on Saturday to bring our people.”
On Nigerians who in China, Onyeama 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 arrangements 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 in France,” he said.
Similarly, government has admitted indicating interest to be part of the global solidarity trial of medicines being used to tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The country representative of WHO Nigeria and member of the PTF on COVID-19, Dr. Fiona Braka, had last week said Nigeria had signed up for drug trials.
According to her, the four drugs that will be monitored in the trial are Remdesivir, chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, Lopinavir, and Ritonavir.
This is even as she disclosed that over 100 countries have joined the solidarity trial and, till date, over 1,200 patients have been randomised from the first five countries to evaluate the safety and efficacy of full drug and drug combinations.
Braka had also said that 89 vaccines were being developed globally, including seven in clinical evaluation and several therapeutics in clinical trials to tackle COVID-19.
On Nigeria taking part in the drug trials, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said: “We have indicated interest to the WHO to be part of the global solidarity trial of medicines being tried to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts on to also conduct research here in Nigeria. Other drugs can be added to the trials, based on emerging evidence. In all this, we shall ensure the maintenance of ethical standards and safety of our people.”
The minister, while speaking on the cases of the virus, noted that Nigeria was currently in community transmission mode, adding that the strategy was to take all persons who test positive to isolation, whether they exhibit symptoms or not, to prevent the risk of them infecting others who may be more vulnerable due to underlying diseases.
“We need to protect not only ourselves but each other and our loved ones and make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. As we begin a new week and the prospects of gradual easing of the lockdown, I wish to remind citizens that this phase comes with added responsibility to be extra vigilant and compliant with the accompanying measures and guidelines that are meant to assure that we do not lose the health gains we have made so far.
“Since our COVID-19 statistics are of considerable concern, attention has also been drawn to the observation that countries who eased or lifted restrictions, suffered an increase in new cases,” the minister said.
On the situation in Kano State, Ehanire said the Federal Ministry of Health was strengthening its support for the state’s ministry of health with service delivery and training, in consultation with the state governor.
“With regard to Kano, the teams dispatched from Abuja have continued to work with the state structure and appreciable achievements have been recorded in improving manpower support, deploying appropriate equipment, increased testing capacity and treatment centres,” he said.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, confirmed that efforts were also on to upscale the training of medical personnel in Kano and neighboring states on the management of infectious diseases and provide them with PPEs.
Jonathan Foundation blames scourge in Africa on governance failure
The Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) has attributed the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging Africa on the long history of failure of governance.
It warned that, if not addressed promptly, COVID-19 might lead to the collapse of many African states.
The foundation stated this during the first edition of its flagship programme, Policy Dialogue Series, held at the weekend, with the theme “COVID-19, Peace and Security in Africa: Impact, Risk and Mitigation.”
The foundation said in a communiqué yesterday that the rationale for the series was to create awareness on some of the effects the African continent faced in the wake of the global pandemic.
The communiqué was signed by Mrs. Ann Iyonu, executive director of the GJF. The dialogue attracted participants from many nations, including Kenya, Gabon, Uganda, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Nigeria and was used to examine the impacts and risks associated with the pandemic on peace and security in Africa.
The online dialogue was also used to seek approaches and strategies for mitigating such impacts in the light of current realities and the fragile nature of some African states. It called on African leaders to look inward and develop country-specific, original and organic solutions that spoke to peace and security issues, taking advantage of the talents, skills and experiences that abound within the continent.
It urged African states and the continent to go beyond rhetoric and start collaborating and leveraging on their comparative advantage.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the vulnerability of many communities, placing citizens at a high risk of recruitment by extremist groups.
“There is tendency for African leaders in their attempt to ending the cycle of infection of the virus to shift focus or be blind to the peace and security issues facing the continent.
“Shutting down tertiary institutions during this period of crisis is counterproductive to the growth and development of the continent, as the pandemic presents an opportunity for African leaders to leverage on technology and ensure that learning continues.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the long history of failure of governance in the continent and if this is not addressed it may lead to the collapse of many African states.
“Economic concerns are beginning to take priority over the health, peace and security of citizens.”