COVID-19: On the repatriation of Nigerians

In what many people have considered as a timely response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has directed all its missions abroad to compile a list of willing Nigerian nationals who wished to come back home. According to the Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the decision was sequel to requests received from Nigerians stranded abroad amid the ravaging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa, however, said that the financial implications would be borne by the prospective evacuees that would be compulsorily quarantined when they returned home.

The Head, Media and Public Relations Unit of NIDCOM, Mr. Abdur-Rahman Balogun, who spoke on behalf of NIDCOM Chairman, further stated that interested citizens should inform the embassy in their countries of residence about their intentions to return to Nigeria. She said that while embassies in several countries were on lockdown, those interested could also go online and fill a form provided on the commission’s website: Form101 of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission. Interested Nigerians were advised to inform the missions in the various countries they are in, which will then collate and coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To this end, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa urged Nigerians stranded abroad willing to return home to key into the gesture by providing information to the mission in their respective host countries.

Earlier, the Federal Government had said it had no plan to evacuate Nigerians in countries with high cases of COVID-19, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama told Nigerians while speaking at the second joint national briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, said that while some countries had evacuated their nationals from the country, it was not the case for Nigerians abroad due to diplomatic procedures. It would be recalled that nationals from the United Kingdom, United States of America, Israel and member States of the European Union, among others, had been evacuating their citizens from Nigeria using emergency flights permitted in Nigeria.

Despite concerns raised that leaving the country in droves could signify danger, the Federal Government had doused tension that the foreign citizens were only being evacuated from Nigeria because they are more familiar with the health systems in their countries. The minister disclosed that with the evacuation, a large number of foreigners were still in Nigeria without any plan of leaving. He said, “This is a case where people are more familiar with the health systems in their various countries and so prefer to go to the various countries so that in the event that they might have to be confined, they will be in more familiar surroundings and will also have access to medical practitioners they are familiar with”.

The intervention of the Federal Government should be revisited without further delay. No doubt, there are several successful Nigerians living and working in various parts of the world. For such people, coming home may not be difficult for them in terms of logistics and purchase of flight tickets. Since the focus of the government is on those that are stranded and that could cover those willing to return to Nigeria but do not have the means. Therefore, asking them to foot the bills may be counter-productive and defeat the purpose for putting in place the intervention in the first place. Many Nigerians live miserable lives abroad but would rather prefer doing so that come home to beg for a living.

The truth is that many of the nationals had travelled abroad for greener pastures in view of the harsh economic situation at home. Ordinarily, they would prefer not to return home prematurely within having something reasonable to fall back on. For them, COVID-19 could be an unfortunate development that could warrant them going back to Nigeria, especially because most of the European countries are recording escalating number of casualties as a result of the pandemic. Hence, leaving such an environment for now is certainly going to be a safe and wise decision for them and that makes the Federal Government offer very timely. Rather than ask the affected citizens to pay for their flights, which they may not be affordable by many of them, the government should have classified such cost as an intervention fund. Aside from direct funding, government could utilise part of the huge donations received so far for this purpose or reach out to more generous individuals and corporate organisations for assistance.

Few months ago, Nigerians in South Africa who wanted to escape any possibility of further violent attacks were offered a free flight out of the country. The owner of private Nigeria airline Air Peace Airlines, Chief Allen Onyema volunteered to send an aircraft to evacuate Nigerians. The ministry had advised Nigerians in South Africa who might be interested to take advantage of the gesture. This paid off then as many Nigerians were repatriated home freely. This is the right step to take under the present circumstance for the initiative to be helpful and truly make the desired impact on our brothers and sisters in this critical time of need.

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