Hundreds of Nigerians stranded in India following the outbreak of COVID-19 in that country have been crying out to President Muhammadu Buhari, praying him to intervene and facilitate their return home.
Our correspondent gathered that a sizable number of Nigerians resident in India wants to return home but they are unable to do so due to restriction of flights. Among the citizens crying to come back home are many who travelled to India for medical tourism but were caught unawares by the COVID-19 pandemic, students in various tertiary institutions across India, and businessmen, among others, who have been trapped in that country by lockdowns and other restrictions.
Many Nigerian citizens who have run out of cash and other supplies were said to have been stranded, with some begging for food and money just to survive amid the challenges brought by coronavirus, which is ravaging the Indian sub-continent.
It was further gathered that those who sent a Save Our Souls home and have had some money sent to them were unable to access the cash because of the lockdown imposed on the country as part of measures to curtail the spread of the pandemic.
The distraught citizens are unhappy that, recently, an Air Peace flight touched down in India bringing home scores of Indian citizens who wished to return home. But rather than taking home Nigerians who were in dire straits, the flight jetted back to Nigeria with some army personnel attending a course. They contended that, if the Federal Government had made the necessary arrangements, the flight could have hauled evacuated many Nigerians home at a minimal cost. They want the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, to urgently initiate steps aimed at saving them from pain and anguish.
Among the hundreds of stranded Nigerians are Sambo Umar Abubakar, a businessman from Zamfara State and his wife, Hausanna. Abubakar was said to have been involved in a motor accident last year and was at the point of losing both legs. After his treatment in hospitals in Nigeria, he was airlifted to India on the invitation of the W. Pratiksha Hospital, in Gurgaon, with a firm promise that Abubakar would walk again
Abubakar’s wife accompanied him on the trip. Since he was involved in the accident, he has spent a fortune, after selling off his belongings to restore his health.
“We arrived here on February 18, 2020,” he said in a telephone conversation with Daily Sun. “It has been a traumatic experience. I was discharged to go home since three months ago, but we cannot make it. We have been here doing nothing. Every kobo we brought to India has been exhausted. We were thrown out of our hotel amid the raging coronavirus. We are at the mercy of everything. Only God is keeping us here.
“We need urgent help. Please, let this cry for help go out to the Federal Government and President Buhari so that they will help us. Our situation here is pitiable,” he said.
Hausanna said they had an Emirates Airline return ticket, which is more of a useless paper now, all because flights are not operating.
Said she: “We have been billed to return to Nigeria on two occasion but the effort ended as easily as they were made.
“The Indian government said we would not be allowed to go home until we were tested for coronavirus. Already, we have been tested and luckily our results were negative. Yet, we cannot travel home.
“Just days ago, an Air Peace flight arrived here with many Indians in Nigeria wishing to return home. When the news filtered out, we were jubilant that the aircraft would take us home, but we were wrong. The flight returned home with some members of the Nigerian Army who were said to be attending a course here. Honestly, we need urgent help. We are living at the mercy of Indians.
“There are lots of others here – many Nigerians. We need urgent help; we need to return home.”
Another stranded Nigerian, in a tweet he directed to Minister Onyeama, Abike Dabiri-Erewa and the Presidential Task Force on CoVID-19, said: “Sir, help us return home. Three times in a row, it was said that our Indian evacuation would be postponed.
“After we carried out our COVID-19 test, many travelled 16-24 hours for June 04 departure. We are now a laughing stock in India.”
It was learnt that in their desperation to return home, stranded Nigerians had pressured the Nigerian High Commission in Indian to make some moves. The mission was said to have set up a chat platform to coordinate those desperate to return home.
The mission directed all stranded citizens to join the group to confirm Nigerians who had paid for their evacuation.
A directive bearing the name of one of the mission’s officials, Eva Aigbogun, had said the High Commission “reserves the right to remove anyone who joins the group without payment.”
That, many said, has confirmed the Federal Government’s earlier insistence that Nigerians wishing to return home must pay for their passage.