By Chido Nwakanma
One thousand and seventy-six (1076) compatriots hitherto based in Ukraine returned to Nigeria on 4 and 5 March 2022 courtesy of a coordinated effort by Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government.
Max Air and Air Peace were the carriers. Nigeria airlifted them from Romania, Poland, and Hungary, where they ran to on the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Abuja registered their relief.
Nigeria brought her citizens back through four flights in two days. Max Air carried 415 persons who arrived at 7.14 am on 4 March from Romania. The first set of 181 returnees came from Poland at 6.30 pm same 4 March on Air Peace. Those from Hungary came in two batches of 174 on 4 March and 306 on 5 March, all courtesy of Air Peace.
Russia attacked its neighbour Ukraine on 24 February 2022 following a period of hostility. The Russian action, though forewarned, surprised many people in Ukraine and outside. The surprise was because of previous threats that the Russians did not carry out.
As the war broke, “the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the modalities for evacuating Nigerians living in Ukraine”, a note by the Minister Saddiya Umar Farouk stated.
She stated that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management is “responsible for the human dignity and protection of all Nigerians irrespective of their places of abode”. With that mandate, Humanitarian Affairs “led the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) and National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in a multi-Agency coordination effort to evacuate more than 5000 Nigerians from the crisis.
The other MDAs in the evacuation committee include MFA, NIDCOM, NIA, ONSA and Nigerian Missions/Embassies in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia (Austria), Germany and Belarus”.
Mrs Saddiya Umar Farouk said that “the Ministry sought and secured Presidential approval to commence the immediate evacuation of the 5000 Nigerians that have escaped from Ukraine into any of the other countries that have a contiguous land border with Ukraine”.
The rescue efforts flowed from presidential approval of the request and consequent release of US$8.5m. Nigeria gave each returnee an honorarium of US$100 for transportation to their bases.
The rescue effort will continue. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs “is in continuous discussion with eight countries (through their ambassadors here and the Nigerian Mission in the respective countries) towards the safe passage of Nigerians. The countries involved are Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia (Austria), Germany and Belarus”.
Nigeria’s Foreign Ministry will meet with the European Union and G7 Ambassadors. MFA is also discussing with various organisations, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
According to Minister Saddiya Farouq Umar, Nigeria will arrange with host countries on the continuous stay/study of Nigerians who are unwilling to come back home”. The collaboration of the MDAs ensured the issuance of emergency travel certificates to all Nigerians who crossed from Ukraine.
Umar added, “Let me assure you that the Ministry will draw on appropriate lessons and frameworks from migration exercises and work towards updating and or developing evacuation provisions, plans and protocols to cater to emergencies with new contexts and dynamics. This is essential as over 15 million Nigerians live abroad, and geopolitical situations can dramatically change within a relatively short period.”
The evacuation staved off attacks of delay against the Federal Government. However, Nigeria was not alone as many countries only airlifted their citizens after the war. Ghana and India airlifted one or two days ahead of Nigeria. The refusal of Nigerians to board the available flight caused a further delay by at least 24 hours.
Daily Trust reported an official stating, “The reluctance of some evacuees to return home made the trip impossible. The airline got only half of the passengers that could fill the entire plane. There was an arrangement to bring back those who agreed to return, but the airline refused to fly a half-filled plane.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Geoffrey Onyeama earlier informed the House of Representatives of the reluctance of some citizens to return as the MDAs planned the operation. Citizens who declined preferred to face the rough roads in Ukraine and other countries to which they ran instead of returning home. Some sold their properties to go abroad and do not fancy staying afresh here.
Treasure Chinenye Bellgam, a medical student in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, explained the situation. “Most Nigerians here on hustle are not willing to leave. They prefer to die here. It’s like after God has lifted you one step higher, you want to go two steps backwards. It’s like being demoted. But you need a lot of humility to go back to Nigeria because some people sold lands, cars, and the rest to come here, and they have amazing stories”.
The MDAs earn commendations for eventually delivering on this life-saving mission and doing it competently and effectively. We have not heard the usual complaints about such activities. Well done to the ministers Saddiyya Farouk Umar and Geoffrey Onyeama, Abike Dabiri, who leads the Nigerian Diaspora Commission and other agency heads.