Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government will begin on Wednesday to evacuate about 4,000 Nigerians outside the country.
This is even as it says it is still battling to secure enough spaces that will accommodate that number for the mandatory 14 days quarantine.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, made this disclosure at the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce on coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to him, rvacuation flights for Nigerians will commence Wednesday this week—an Emirates flight from Dubai to Lagos; it will be followed by a BA flight on Friday, from London to Lagos and Ethiopian Airline from the United States, adding that it will be mandatorily quarantine in hotels and monitored for 14 days.
According to him, the biggest challenge in bringing Nigerians back is where to quarantine them on their arrival.
While noting that there is a large number of Nigerians in China who need 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.
Recalled 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 instructed that the financial implications will be borne by the prospective evacuees, who will be compulsorily quarantined when they return.
Onyeama said the change in date for evacuation of Nigerians from different parts of the world originally scheduled to commence on Monday, May 4, to Wednesday May 7, was caused by the constraints in resources but assured that Emirates airline will commence the evacuation from Dubai on Wednesday
The Nigerians waiting to be evacuated are mainly in China, which has become controversial as reports have it that some Nigerians are allegedly being maltreated in the city of Guangzhou in the Guangdong Province. Other countries include United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, India and many others.
Onyeama said: “So by God’s Grace on Wednesday, we would start the process of repatriating our nations from outside the country. There are about almost 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 –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 is also making another arrangement with British Airway flight that is coming to Nigeria on Friday to evacuate some British nationals in Nigeria, stressing 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.
“So, we are hoping that on Friday we will be able to evacuate from the UK anything up to 300 Nigerians. 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 are trying to strike a deal with the US authorities for any flight available to bring back Nigerians. He added 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 further 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. “So we are hoping to strike a deal with Air peace on Saturday to bring our people,” he said.
On Nigerians who are 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 in France,” he added.